Disney didn’t acquire the entire company, leaving behind its network-TV channel and news and sports programming (which are now part of the rebranded Fox Corp). But along with 20th Century Fox, Disney now owns the prestige film company Fox Searchlight; the cable channels FX and National Geographic; Fox’s TV production company (which owns The Simpsons); most of Hulu; a huge library of classic films stretching back more than 80 years; and (most crucially to many a comic-book fan) the rights to Marvel’s X-Men and Fantastic Four characters, who can now be folded into the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe. The initial announcement of the merger stirred up so much online excitement about many of these details that some of the larger implications of the Disney-Fox deal got drowned out.
All these efforts might not be enough in the end. Disney and its rivals are competing with an entirely different brand of media provider in Netflix, which pumps out “original content” at a staggering rate, backed by ambitious venture-capital funding. Disney released 10 movies in 2018; Netflix debuted 93. Even with the extra apparatus of Fox, the studio will likely continue to make big event films rather than pursue Netflix’s quantity approach. With Fox under its wing, Disney can add giant-scale projects such as the upcoming Avatar sequels to its slate, pushing out a major release every month in order to control the box office.
Disney and Netflix offer the two clearest visions of Hollywood’s future. The former is a media company that’s as old-fashioned as they come, trying to make movies that will pull audiences en masse to the theater. The latter is a tech company that’s largely uninterested in the theater business but has won subscriber loyalty by offering a wealth of viewing options. As the cinema business continues to evolve, perhaps only the biggest films will survive as in-theater experiences, with streaming becoming an equally profitable venue. By adding Fox, Disney has gained ground in that second sphere, but other studios could get left behind in the race.