Disney is almost certainly the world's most widely known and best-trusted entertainment brand. After years of ailing performance following the death of its founder, it found a whole new lease of life in the 1980s by reinventing the concept of the animated family movie. The huge popular success of The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and others encouraged the group to spread its wings into other areas; a key development was the takeover of Capital Cities/ABC to create one of the world's biggest media conglomerates. But by the end of the 1990s a good deal of the shine had come off the company's prestige as the house of mouse was rocked by management rows and lacklustre performance from both its core movies division and the ABC Television Network. The years of rumbling discontent culminated in a rift in the group's board, followed by an unexpected (but unsuccessful) takeover bid from cable giant Comcast. Peace was finally restored in 2005 when divisive CEO Michael Eisner agreed to step down in favour of his deputy Bob Iger. Performance continued to be mercurial for a few years, buffeted by recessionary forces, declines in DVD sales, and several under-performing movie releases. In fact, the group's most consistently profitable subsidiary for several years was not its high-profile movies, parks or ABC divisions but top-rated cable sports network ESPN. Disney finally got into its stride again with the takeover of Marvel and the astonishing success of the various movies inspired by its diverse collection of superheroes. In an even more startling move, it announced a deal to acquire most of entertainment rival 21st Century Fox at the end of 2017 for $66.1bn in stock and debt.
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|ABC Network||Animal Kingdom|
|Walt Disney Pictures||Disney's California Adventure|
|Touchstone Pictures||Disney Home Video|
|Hollywood Pictures||Walt Disney Records|
|Disney Vacation Club||Walt Disney Books|
|Disney Interactive||Tokyo Disneyland|
|Disney Theme Parks||Walt Disney Cruises|
Adbrands Weekly Update 11th Jan 2018: Streaming service Hulu keeps going from strength to strength. It scored another triumph at the Golden Globes with two big wins, including Best Drama, for The Handmaid's Tale. (Amazon won Best Comedy for The Marvellous Mrs Maizel). The enormous success of Handmaid also encouraged Hulu to release revenue and subscriber data. The company said ad revenues topped $1bn for the first time in 2017, while subscriber numbers soared by over 40% to 17m. That's still far behind Netflix (109m) and Amazon (around 90m), but it's a big encouragement to prospective majority owner Disney. If and when its acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox goes through, Disney will become the majority owner of Hulu (with 60% of equity) as well as of Sky in Europe and Star of India. The big question is what rival Comcast will do at that point. Comcast inherited NBCUniversal's one-third stake in Hulu when it acquired that group in 2013, but was forced by regulators to surrender its voting shares for a set period. That lock-out ends in September this year, at which point Comcast will regain a 30% voting stake in Hulu. Time Warner (or possibly AT&T by then) will have the remaining 10%. So what happens then? Will Hulu's junior investors accept their new senior partner's control, or will they force a sale?
Adbrands Weekly Update 4th Jan 2018: Walt Disney was undeniable champion of the US (and global) movie box office in 2017. On release for just the last two weeks of the year, Star Wars: The Last Jedi roared to the top of the US charts with ticket sales of almost $540m, overtaking Disney's live action Beauty & The Beast. That crowdpleaser retained its title as the global #1 with box office of $1.26bn. (Last Jedi has yet to open in several global markets, including China). Another Disney release, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, was the #4 movie in the US behind Warner Bros' Wonder Woman, one of the year's most unexpected box office sensations. Globally, though, Disney shared the top honours with Universal Pictures, whose Fate of the Furious and Despicable Me 3 were the #2 and #4 movies. In terms of combined US box office takings, Disney held the #1 spot with $2.4bn, ahead of Warner with $2.0bn. (Without the contribution from Last Jedi, Disney and Warner would have been on level pegging). Universal ranked #3 at $1.5bn while 20th Century Fox had $1.3bn. Sony, Lions Gate and Paramount held the next three places. However, the biggest contributing factor in the numbers was the record highs reached by ticket prices. Total US takings were still down a little over 2% from 2016 at $11.17bn, while total admissions in volume terms are thought to have hit a 27-year low. The downturn in the US was offset by surging attendance (and ticket prices) in international markets. Total cinema takings are expected to top $40bn for the first time in history, helped by a 20%-plus surge in China to $8.6bn.
Adbrands Weekly Update 14th Dec 2017: Comcast dropped out of negotiations to acquire selected assets of 21st Century Fox, citing a lack of engagement on the latter's part. That allowed Disney to seal a deal, which was announced this morning. Disney will acquire all of 21st Century Fox for $52.4bn in stock, plus the assumption of $13.7bn of Fox debt. It will keep Fox's movie and TV studio, its entertainment-based cable channels including FX and regional sports strands, and its controlling stakes in satellite broadcasters Sky and Star of India. The other units - the Fox broadcast network, Fox News cable channel, Fox Sports 1 & 2 and Big Ten Network - will be spun out to existing Fox shareholders as a separate quoted entity. Fox investors, including the Murdoch clan, would also end up with around 25% of an enlarged Disney.
Adbrands Weekly Update 7th Dec 2017: Walt Disney re-opened talks with 21st Century Fox regarding the acquisition of a collection of assets including the Fox movie studio, the Star TV satellite broadcast business in India and a controlling stake in Sky in Europe, as well as selected US entertainment cable channels including FX. The Fox TV network, and Fox News and Fox Sports cable channels are not included in any discussions. Comcast is also said to remain in active talks with Fox, which suggests that some form of deal with one or other or even another suitor is likely. Disney and Comcast could even potentially join forces on a bid for Sky and Star. They are already joint owners with Fox of Hulu in the US. A deal with Disney could also solve another problem on the horizon for that group: finding a successor to current CEO Bob Iger. According to some reports, Fox CEO James Murdoch is ready to step out from under the shadow of his father Rupert and brother Lachlan. He may choose to follow a more entrepreneurial route of his own, but leadership of a much enlarged Disney group would be a considerable temptation.
Adbrands Weekly Update 23rd November 2017: The outpouring of sexual harassment allegations appears to have claimed two new scalps in the media industry. Veteran reporter and business commentator Charlie Rose was sacked by his two main employers CBS and PBS following an expose in the Washington Post in which several women alleged unwanted sexual advances. Rose said there were some inaccuracies in the allegations but admitted culpability and apologised for his inappropriate behaviour. Separately, Disney/Pixar's top animation executive John Lasseter took a six month leave of absence, citing unspecified "missteps" and apologising for any of his actions that may have made co-workers feel "disrespected or uncomfortable". Lasseter is known for hugging people. For a business profile in 2011, a Wall Street Journal reporter spent a day with Lasseter and observed him give out no fewer than 48 separate hugs to different co-workers. In his email to employees Lasseter said "I especially want to apologise to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape, or form."
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