Out of the top five highest grossing films of all time – Disney has ownership of four. Avengers: Endgame, Avatar, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avengers: Infinity war. Disney’s merger with Fox now means that this one company single-handedly owns 40% of the US film industry. Data on it’s own isn’t much to really scare anyone and many are still eager to defend Disney under the presumption that it is a fair company doing good for the film industry. The best films and film companies simply make the most money, but rarely are things ever that simple.
Before we continue, it is important to understand what a monopoly is and why it is bad – it is definitely not a frustrating board game to play with family members. A monopoly is the exclusive possession or control of the supply of or trade in a commodity or service. The commodity or service in this case is not just films and media in general but also streaming services, the likes of Hulu or Disney+. The reason why a monopoly is not necessarily good and should largely be feared is that, once a company has a locked monopoly, they are free to do whatever they wish. They can fix prices to whatever rate they desire because they know that people have no other options but to go to them. The lack of competition allows the quality of their services to decline and innovation will be sparse (see the current ten thousandth live action remake of a Disney cartoon classic).
At the moment, Disney has not yet managed to monopolise the entire film industry or streaming services, but they are crafty in their trade and it is truly only a matter of time before they do own just about everything. They are also generally, not the nicest of companies. When faced with criticism, they bite back harshly, whether it be from banning an entire newspaper from early screenings of their films due to reporting about their unfair practises to shutting out smaller theatre chains due to their demands for playing their films in the larger auditoriums and demanding a larger cut of ticket sales.
Despite all this, popular attitude towards Disney and public perception has yet to sour in any form. Many saw the Fox merger with Disney in a positive light – largely as an opportunity for a fandom cross over, many understandably, expressed excitement and eagerness to see the crossover emerge between X-Men and Disney. This was also a chance for new exciting media to emerge. However, audiences failed to acknowledge the more serious issue at hand, which is how much Disney gains from this and how the deal was purely based on greed and not a genuine love or affection to see artistry thrive. It has been suggested that with this new merger, Disney plans to reduce the amount of films produced by Fox up-to 5 – 6 films a year, which had previously been 12 or more a year.
A perfect example of the goodwill Disney still wields over its competitors in the film industry can be very well illustrated in public reaction to the Sony and Disney dispute over Spider-Man which occurred last summer.
It was time for Marvel Studios to extend their deal with Sony of their shared rights on the Spider-Man franchise and there had been on-going talks for a while. Reportedly, Disney was attempting to renegotiate where the profit from the films went – they wanted a deal where if they paid for half the costs of production, they could take half of the box office gross. This deal was not in Sony’s favour, because while it sounds sensible, (put in half the pay into making the film, get half the profits back) Disney still had merchandising rights over Spider-Man, which was where the bulk of the money came from (specifically $56.6 billion) and they also took home 5% of first dollar gross (profit from the first day of a film’s release). Sony needed the larger box office margins in order to make a profit and pay for their end of production – to split it and lose half that profit would be disastrous for them so they refused the deal. Disney in turn refused to return to the old contract and as a result of not being able to strike a deal – Sony took Spider-Man back. The issue was layered and complex, Disney was adopting an aggressive stance on this deal and Sony’s refusal wasn’t out of the ordinary when looking at the larger picture but that is not how it was told to the general public.
A huge outcry emerged as the story leaked, people calling for a boycott of Sony studios causing #SaveSpiderMan to trend for days and Sony was cemented in the story as the ‘bad guys’ for refusing to continue a fair deal and taking away one of the most beloved Spider-Men. Petitions were written, fans recounted their hatred for the Amazing Spider-Man series and begged Disney to do something to make the big mean Sony give back their beloved superhero. The outcry was so huge that it prompted a response from Sony, where they attempted to calm the fans concerns, assuring that Tom Holland (the actor for Spider-Man) would still remain in the pivotal role and they had a planned creative direction for the film to continue along, which may not include the current Marvel Cinematic Universe but would do justice to the character. Fan’s, however, did not care and continued to fight Disney’s corner, attacking Sony’s standard PR response. While Disney remained silent and instead, other actors and celebrities associated with Disney (Jeremy Renner, Tom Holland), joined the fight and expressed their dissatisfaction for Sony and lamented Disney’s loss. This happened in the summer of 2019, since then, Sony and Disney did eventually come to an agreement and the current Spider-Man story over seen by Kevin Feige in the MCU will continue, much to fans enjoyment. We do not know the terms of agreement this time around that Sony and Disney agreed to but we don’t need to in order to understand the lesson that this story tells us, which is that eventually, Disney will always get their way and they are allowed to.
The best we can do is to remain aware of these changes, always support your independent film studios and creators, and don’t fall for the happy family friendly schtick Disney wants to impose. By all means, watch Frozen 2 and enjoy your childhood memories of Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers but do not be ignorant of their power and influence as a dominating global power and conglomerate in the film industry. Also, stay aware of the date January 1, 2024 because that is when Mickey Mouse is supposed to enter the public domain. Be aware of any lobbying or laws being fronted and pushed by Disney regarding domain’s around this date. Lastly, be aware as to whether or not Trademark Law will change to accommodate Disney’s favour. They’ve done it once and they can most certainly do it again.