I’m going to approach Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox through speculation – a speculation based on past business decisions by Disney involving other acquisitions and the company’s history of handling synergistic branding over the past three decades (something I first started studying in the mid-90’s when a Disney marketing executive pointed out during a presentation that a banner for Tarzan at the X-Games was strategically placed to appear in a brief shot in the IMAX film Ultimate X).
First thing to understand is that often Disney will purchase a company for certain, but not all, of its assets. This usually entails the entire company being dissolved and key assets, especially technology, being integrated into other Disney divisions. Dream Quest Images, renamed by Disney as The Secret Lab, is an example of an entire company that was dissolved. Lucasarts is an example of a dissolved division of an acquired company.
Within Fox, two particular divisions come to mind as candidates for dissolvement. First is Blue Sky Studios, the animation house behind the Ice Age and Rio franchises. Blue Sky is not as strongly marketed an animation studio as Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, or even Universal’s Illumination. This is partially due to Fox having concentrated its marketing and distribution efforts on DreamWorks Animation pictures once it acquired distribution rights to that studio’s films. Ultimately, Blue Sky is more valuable for its intellectual properties than for the studio itself.
If Disney opts to continue producing animated films under the Peanuts or Dr Seuss animated franchises as begun by Blue Sky, it will need to consider that other theme park companies hold the licenses for those brands.
The other unit that will likely be dissolved is FoxNext, a newly created division of Fox overseeing gaming, virtual and augmented reality, and location based entertainment, including theme park development and attraction licensing. The division will likely be discontinued as much of what FoxNext does is already handled internally by several existing units within the Walt Disney Company.
Porting Fox IP into the Disney parks, I expect the following:
Most Fox properties will show up within Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida, Disney California Adventure, and Walt Disney Studios Paris, unless they can be thematically linked to an attraction or land at another park.
Blue Sky properties Ice Age and Rio will likely find homes within Animal Kingdom and Epcot. Those two parks will also see a National Geographic branding overlay as Fox holds majority control over National Geographic Partners and its branded attractions, including the new Ocean Odyssey that just opened in New York’s Times Square.
Existing Blue Sky licenses to third parties, such as Merlin Entertainments and SimEx-Iwerks, will need to be reevaluated.
Over the past few years, Fox has had a successful partnership with Universal on Halloween Horror Nights with such franchises as Rocky Horror Picture Show, Aliens v Predator, and American Horror Story. With the purchase of Fox, Disney now has enough horror franchises to hold two events at each of its American resorts each year – one a traditional family festival at one park and the other another park for more mature guests, allowing the Disney resorts to compete against leaders in the theme park haunt market within their regions, such as Universal, Cedar Fair, and Six Flags.
Disney will likely announce that it is pulling out of Miami Wilds, a $930 million Fox themed resort located next to ZooMiami. The project has been delayed for some time due to concerns over endangered species on the property. The cancellation of the project will have an adverse effect on the Miami Seaquarium, which was purchased by Parques Reunidos at the same time that Fox won the rights to build its resort. Miami Wilds, designed by Hettema Group, was to be managed by Parques Reunidos, which would have brought the company $5 million on average in management fees once its theme park and waterpark were fully operational. With Miami Wilds no longer in the picture, Parques Reunidos will need to re-evaluate its plans for the Florida market.
There is the possibility that as the Miami Wilds waterpark was themed to the Ice Age franchise, elements of its design could see new life as an overlay of Disney’s existing Blizzard Beach waterpark.
Marvel is a given. Except in Florida.
The Simpsons is a different issue, with Universal having invested heavily in Simpson-themed lands in Florida and California. However, the lucrative franchise will likely find its way to Disney’s overseas parks, such as in Japan, home of Mr. Sparkle.
One of the biggest unknowns surrounds the Fox World theme park currently being built at Resorts World Genting in Malaysia. Construction is well underway, but would Disney allow a Fox-only theme park operated by a company that operates a Universal Studios-licensed park in nearby Singapore to exist? I expect that over the next six months, we’ll find out the fate of the Malaysia park – if it will continue as is under its current contract, or if Disney will sink its participation in the project faster than the Titanic attraction going into it, causing Genting to seek out another (or multiple other) studio(s) to partner with.