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Disney and Marvel Team Up

What in the World?
A weekly peek at Walt Disney World

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

I had originally planned to talk about some of the things I’m looking forward to during the remainder of 2009, but news broke today that made me eek like a fanboy.  And while I don’t make it a habit to discuss the inner corporate workings of the Walt Disney Company in this column, I did find this particular piece of news important enough to diverge a little bit from the usual focus of What in the World?

In a deal that combines two of entertainment's most popular brands, the Walt Disney Company announced its agreement to acquire Marvel Entertainment and its over 5000 characters in a stock and cash transaction.  Under the deal, Marvel shareholders will receive $30 and 0.745 Disney shares for each share of stock they own.  This brings the total price per share to approximately $50, making the total value of the deal around $4 billion.  The deal has been approved by each company's board of directors but is still waiting for the approval of Marvel shareholders and anti-trust clearance.

The Big Cheese himself, Disney President and CEO Robert A. Iger, explained that the transaction “combines Marvel's strong global brand and world-renowned library of characters including Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, Fantastic Four and Thor with Disney's creative skills, unparalleled global portfolio of entertainment properties, and a business structure that maximizes the value of creative properties across multiple platforms and territories. [Marvel CEO] Ike Perlmutter and his team have done an impressive job of nurturing these properties and have created significant value. We are pleased to bring this talent and these great assets to Disney."

Ike Perlmutter had this to add: "Disney is the perfect home for Marvel's fantastic library of characters given its proven ability to expand content creation and licensing businesses. This is an unparalleled opportunity for Marvel to build upon its vibrant brand and character properties by accessing Disney's tremendous global organization and infrastructure around the world."  According to reports from various news sites, Perlmutter will continue to oversee Marvel's properties and will "work directly with Disney's global lines of business to build and further integrate Marvel's properties.”

An investor call early this morning provided more details about the move.  First, Disney XD (a cable channel) is likely to be the new home for Marvel-related TV projects.  Questions regarding movie properties were also brought up – as Marvel licensed many of its popular comic characters to various studios in the past (but has recently been hard at trying to reacquire characters).  Deals for Fox's Fantastic Four, Sony's Spider-Man and Paramount's Iron Man won't be affected in the short term but according to Disney representatives, "it would be clearly be more attractive to us if, over time, we became the sole distributor of these films." More interestingly, Disney has reported lots of enthusiasm in internal talks between Pixar and Marvel. The company indicated that co-branding of properties isn't likely but that the two groups are looking "very expansively at all the opportunities."

It appears already that the intersection of these two brands will have a tremendous impact across all fields of entertainment given the recent success of the Marvel brand in movies and video games.  While we await more news on the specifics on the Marvel buyout, there are many questions Disney park aficionados are asking themselves.  What will this mean in terms of Walt Disney World and Disney’s other theme parks?  Will we see rides like the Hulk and Doctor Doom at the Studios?  And what about the state of the Marvel-themed land at Universal’s Island of Adventure?  While the status of the Marvel presence at Universal's theme park is unclear, Marvel’s affect at Walt Disney World will likely not be felt for some time.  Do I think that we’ll see Wolverine wander the Streets of America?  Do I believe that we’ll see Marvel merchandise hit Downtown Disney? And do I think a fifth gate is bound to be centered around the Marvel Universe?  Quite frankly, the easy answer is: it’s too soon to tell. 

It definitely looks like Disney wants to expand on Marvel’s box office success with television shows, interactive medium, and of course, more movies.  But just because we will likely more Marvel media with Disney’s backing, does not mean this venture will translate into rides and attractions at Walt Disney World.  Without knowing more about Universal’s deal with Marvel, it is difficult imagining a Marvel presence in Lake Buena Vista anytime soon.  Universal will fight hard to keep Marvel’s presence in its park as Universal has spent millions of dollars in securing the rights to and building Marvel Super Hero Island at Universal Studios Florida.  Moreover, any Marvel presence at Walt Disney World will most likely be piecemeal at first, so that Disney can gauge guests’ reactions to the comic book company making the parks its permanent home.

As a Marvel Universe and Disney fan, I am excited to see what these companies can accomplish together.  Even though it is unlikely the parks will see the effects of the Marvel buyout in the near future, I’m sure Imagineers and guests alike are already dreaming up ways to infuse super heroes and super villains on property.  Who knows, instead of a Pirates League or a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, you may be taking your kids to make their own super hero costumes.  If so, sign me up!