Disney Buys Marvel

In one of the most notable acquisitions in some time, Disney announced today that it will acquire Marvel Entertainment. Marvel is best known as a comic book company with a broad portfolio of over 5,000 characters. Some of its most notable comics include Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America and Fantastic Four. Disney will pay around $4 billion in stock and cash for the firm. Find the official press release here. I listened to the conference call regarding the acquisition this morning and had several thoughts.

First, the potential synergies of this deal are obvious. Disney has always been in a similar business to Marvel's. As a result, it can relatively easily absorb Marvel into its empire. According to the call, much of Marvel's management team will remain in place and will continue to have creative control over future efforts involving Marvel characters. But the Disney platform and infrastructure will give Marvel new opportunities to enhance and broaden its brand. Disney's global reach should also benefit Marvel abroad.

Marvel characters expand far beyond just comics. They've had great success in recent years with films like Spider-Man, Iron Man and X-Men. Their characters have also brought about television shows, video games and other merchandise. Disney can soon begin to reap profits on all of these levels. But it can also soon utilize the Marvel characters in its own endeavors, including its theme parks. Expect to see a Spider-Man character walking around Walt Disney World garnering almost as much attention as Mickey. I would also expect to see new theme park rides and rollercoasters based on Marvel characters or stories.

Marvel has hundreds of characters that are largely untapped beyond comic books. We saw the kind of success that great characters and stories can have in the film sphere with Iron Man. That was a character well-known to comic book junkies, but lesser-known to the rest of the public. If Marvel can continue to bring such characters to life on the big screen, that can translate to huge profits for Disney.

Another really interesting dynamic is that Disney will now own both Marvel and Pixar. This could result in some Pixar-assisted animated movies based on Marvel characters. I wouldn't be surprised to see a Marvel story made into a 3-D movie before too long. On the call Disney mentioned that the Pixar staff was excited about the acquisition.

One bit of complication is Marvel's licensing agreements. But this is both a blessing and a curse. The good news is that Disney already licenses many Marvel products, including around 20 hours per week of Marvel TV shows for its Disney XD cable channel aimed at young boys. Disney will feel an instant synergy there, as it did with the acquisition of Pixar. The bad news is that there are currently other third-party licensing agreements in place that will preclude Disney from making full use of the Marvel franchise. Disney made clear that these agreements will generally stay in place until they eventually expire.

Of course, not everyone is probably thrilled about this acquisition. It may anger some comic book enthusiasts. They likely view Disney in a negative light, as there are definitely cultural disparities between the Disney and Marvel brands. Comic books can sometimes be edgy, while many Disney endeavors pride themselves on being benign. Still, such anger may be misplaced if Disney is being truthful it its claim that it will allow Marvel to maintain its creative control. Disney can certainly do racier stuff, as seen by its independent film arm Miramax. I see no reason why Marvel comics would necessarily undergo any sort of fundamental change simply due to its new owner.