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With Lucasfilm Acquisition, Disney Has Itself Another Marvel-sized Problem

Editor: Please welcome Brad Phillips whose In The Life of a Nerd blog we linked to back in February for its review of Disney’s gaming efforts. Today he sent us this analysis of the Lucasfilm deal:

When Disney acquired Marvel in 2009, there were several issues. Many people saw the potential of the deal, but there were problems such as Disney’s perceived lack of knowledge with non-family films and the rights to characters being tied up elsewhere. With this week’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, Disney will find itself in a similar situation. In fact, many parallels can be drawn between the two deals.

Marvel and Disney Cross OverFirst off, Marvel fans were in an uproar after the announcement was made over three years ago. What would Disney do to their beloved franchises? Would they become Disney-fied? Less mature? Now think about Star Wars. This is a franchise beloved by millions. Hardcore fans are concerned about where the franchise will head under Disney’s control.

When you look at Marvel, Disney not only acquired the franchises and characters, but the people who knew them best. The people who worked on the films and comics are still with the company and Disney has largely left them in control of Marvel. This has led to consistent storylines and great films. Lucasfilm will be more of the same. The people who have worked on Star Wars over the past 30 years or so are still in charge of the franchise. In other words, Star Wars is in good hands. Disney isn’t starting from scratch, they do have general plans for films 7-9, plans that Lucasfilm were already at work on. Disney would be wise not to scrape those plans.

Secondly, When Disney bought Marvel; rights to some of the biggest franchises were tied up with other Hollywood studios. Paramount was in control of distribution for Iron Man and The Avengers. Disney had to repurchase those rights in order to self-distribute the films. Even now, Spider-man film rights still lie with Sony, the Fantastic-Four and X-Men with Fox, and theme park rights with Universal Studios. Disney has made no attempts to get those rights back, mostly because of the expense of getting them back.

This leads us to a very similar issue facing their purchase of Lucasfilm. Outside of Star Wars, Lucas’ biggest franchise is Indiana Jones, no doubt about that. However, Disney has already said there are no plans for a sequel, because of distribution issues with Paramount. Star Wars currently has no distribution deal in place, but Paramount has the rights to distribute Indiana Jones and that’s not going to fly with Disney. This is bad news, because Indiana Jones is a huge franchise, with a strong fan-base, and has generated millions in revenue for Lucasfilm. It’s a huge loss for Disney to not be able to do anything with the franchise. However, that may have been the reason that none of the purchase price was due to Indiana Jones. The franchise was essentially written off as being worthless in the acquisition.

Even with Star Wars, Disney has an issue in comic books. Similar to when Boom! Studios had the rights to make comic books based on Disney and Pixar franchises, Dark Horse Comics currently has the rights to make comic books based on Star Wars and has been doing so for the past 20 plus years. While Marvel never had an interest in making Disney or Pixar comics, you can bet the company is itching to do something with Star Wars; it just fits right into the company’s action-oriented comic books. Dark Horse has said they plan to keep those rights for the near future.

This brings us to our third and final problem: the integration of another horizontal media company into what is already the largest horizontally-integrated media company. This was a trick for Marvel and another one with Lucasfilm. Lucasfilm has an extensive list of business, from Skywalker Sound (a post-production audio studio), Industrial Light & Magic (a visual effects studio), LucasArts (video game developer), Lucasfilm, and Lucasfilm Animation. Not only that, but add Lucasfilm Books, its licensing and marketing businesses, et al, and you have one complicated merger.

One concern for video game fans arises here. Disney has stated that they will focus in-house on bringing Star Wars to social and mobile games, and license out console games to a third party. However, the acquisition included LucasArts, a video game developer. What will happen to LucasArts and its current projects, namely Star Wars 1313? That’s one area of concern for this deal that is warranted.

However, if Disney can overcome these hurdles, there is so much potential in this deal. Potential for Disney to market (potentially) two major franchises, assuming it can get the rights to Indiana Jones back. Star Wars is, without a doubt, one of the biggest franchises in the world. Disney has the potential to evolve its film business, television, animation, special effects, sound, publishing, music, and comic books. That is a lot of opportunity for the Mouse House.

Looking beyond Lucasfilm, Disney has countless opportunities for the future, but is currently squandering some of its options. If Disney can get back all rights associated with Marvel characters, the rights to Indiana Jones, rights to Star Wars comic books, and leverage its Disney and Pixar brands in comic books, Disney will arguably be a different, even more magical, company.

In this regard, we can say that the deal for Lucasfilm will truly change the future of Disney.

14 thoughts on “With Lucasfilm Acquisition, Disney Has Itself Another Marvel-sized Problem”

  1. If Disney was smart they’d pull a Pixar regarding LucasArts and leave them separate while giving their management the reins of Disney Interactive. I have much more respect for the track record of LucasArts than I do for Disney Interactive.

    1. In console and PC titles, yes, LucasArts has a great track record, but Disney Interactive is moving deeper into mobile and social games to some degree of success. This is an area that LucasArts has little to no experience with. It’s going to be interesting to see how they handle LucasArts. Disney desperately needs help on the games front.

  2. I heard a few years back of a deal between Disney and Universal Studios as far as the Marvel characters in the theme parks. As I recall it said that Universal would have the characters for seven or so years then the rights would be given Disney. Is this true? Cause I really want to see a Marvel Star Wars theme park in florida in the next ten years.

    1. Universal has the right to renew the license, but Disney could make it difficult in other ways. I think the best case scenario involve Disney paying Universal to give up the licensing rights. Probably something around $350 million or so, plus the cost of building Marvel attractions at WDW. So it has to be a pretty rosy financial forecast for Disney to want to spend that sort of dough.

      1. Yes, it would be very pricey, no doubt, so Disney would have to believe it would be successful enough to justify their investment.

  3. Pingback: Parallels Between Disney’s Acquisitions of Marvel and Lucasfilm « In the Life of a Nerd

  4. They also need to make getting the Marvel Characters back from Universal a huge priority. I would love to go to DHS and see not only Star Wars, Muppets, and Pixar Characters, but a whole section of the park dedicated to Marvel. Marvel and Star Wars “Lands” at DHS would definitely turn what is usually a half-day park experience into a Full Day for me.

    1. I think that many people would feel the same way you do. If DHS had separate parks or “lands” for Marvel and Star Wars, combined with all the Pixar, Muppets, and Disney characters, Disney would have all it’s bases covered. It would appeal to nearly everyone.

  5. I think another problem will be in-house competition. Disney itself, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm are all going to be releasing movies and some of them are bound to clash on release dates. Marvel already has The Avengers 2 (May 2015) and Ant-Man (Nov 2015) lined up, Pixar normally takes June/July, so Star Wars 7 will have to find a slot somewhere outside these dates, while it may also be good for Disney’s theme park business if it does not clash with Avatar 2. So it is going to be really tight. Are there enough months in a year for the Disney empire?

    1. While it’s true, more studios lead to more problems, Walt Disney Pictures has cut back on the number of films in releases in recent years. Disney appears to be taking a quality over quantity approach to theatrical releases. That appears to be paying off based on what I’ve heard about Wreck-it Ralph. Then, on top of that, they have Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm. So, they pick up the slack on the number of releases.

    1. Assuming they eventually get back the rights to the Marvel properties in parks in America. They currently only have the rights for international parks, I believe. It will be interesting to see what happens to the parks because of this deal!

  6. This would probably never happen, but I would like to see Disney help Universal get the park rights to DC from the Six Flags corp in exchange for the Marvel rights. Then Avengers could get the E-ticket ride of all time at Disney, and Universal could retrofit all its marvel attractions to include DC characters. I think Batman/Superman deserve proper, non-roller coaster rides, too.

    1. To me, I agree, very unlikely to happen, but it’s an interesting proposition. I think it goes to show the difference between Disney and other media companies. Disney seems, above others, to put a huge emphasis on parks and multi-media entertainment.

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