From the December 19th issue of The Ankler
So a week in, we all get what this deal is all about, right? Everyone?
The main takeaway from the coverage so far: It will be big! Big all over! Big where it counts! Look out Netflix!
Or as Deadline dutifully put it, (do they ever put it any other way?) “The deal, officially valued at $66.1 billion including assumption of debt, will create an entertainment colossus that expands Disney’s footprint in every area.”
Expanded in every area! And that’s good, right?
There’s been a lot of talk about Disney’s now unparalleled filmmaking capacity, as if they didn’t already have as much of that as they wanted; as if they were only making six movies a year because they couldn’t find anyone to rent them a soundstage or give them notes on the scripts they had piled up.
The fact that people are flailing around to figure out what the point of this deal is, should tell you something. Great giant acquisitions don’t generally require access to secret plans to figure out what they are for. When Disney acquired Marvel or Lucas, people weren’t scratching their chins for weeks trying to figure out what the point of that would be.
So what the hell is the point of this? Presumably IPB doesn’t shell out in the mid-eleven figures range and shut down one of Hollywood’s great studios with no idea why he’s doing it at all. For those waxing about all the great new areas this takes Disney into – R-rated indie dramas! Hardcore TV violence! Awards! – is there anything in IP Bob’s background that suggests to you he has any interest at all in any of that. This is the man who was so taken aback by the horrors of the movie game that he did more than anyone in history to turn the moviemaking process that he figured out how to take his company out of those terrible creative decision. Bob Iger is not interested in making movies – he makes product lines.
As for the little bets on indie films, dark TV anti-hero dramas – Disney could’ve gotten into any of those games anytime they wanted. Does that fact that they never moved an inch in that direction tell you anything?
So let’s step back and have another peek at the psychology of the individual, in this case the individual being the behemoth master, Disney Overlord, IP Bob Iger himself.
After a brilliant run of buying a few big companies and thus cementing his name in the annals of swashbuckling executive heroes forever, 2017 should have been his victory lap, before heading off to lead the country to Disney Corpesque glory.
Instead what has IPB been dealing with all year: ESPN in freefall, network troubles in general, sexual impropriety charges against his #1 division head, investigations about his very very cozy very lucrative impoverished host cities to his theme parks, petty spats resulting from those investigations and finally being told his whole legacy is worthless unless he now re-orients his entire company to go to war with some APP!
When trying to figure what’s driving a company, there’s only one factor that means anything: it’s not profits, or assets, or even awards. In the end, all that matters is the story the CEO wants to tell about him or herself when they are sitting at a dinner party with their fellow poohbahs.
After a decade of unmatched success in Hollywood, IP Bob was no doubt very accustomed to the story being something along the lines of his hero’s journey – a corporate epic so magnificent, he didn’t even need to tell it; he could see in their eyes, everyone knew the legend.
But suddenly, over the last year, when whoever was seated on his right asked, “How was your week Bob?” it took a little fumbling to keep the narrative on track. Worse, perhaps he noticed a familiar look in their eyes; that look pity tinged with creeping scorn. A look he’s familiar with, having seen it before in that terrible, dark era known as the Last Days of Eisner.
Having witnessed that up close, Iger knew how fast it could all go away. You’re the most successful Grandee Hollywood has ever seenone minute, the next you’re begging for meetings to pitch webisodes…
Well, no one’s giving Robert Iger pitying looks today! It’s the biggest deal Hollywood has ever seen! Sweeping aside one of Hollywood’s great studios with a wave of his hand and a stroll through Rupert’s vineyard. Hollywood will spend the next two years tying themselves in knots to explain just how brilliant this move was.
And he’ll only be 73 in 2024.
One other thing that occurs about the deal, however. There is of course, another studio acquisition going on across town, and that one hasn’t been going so well for a couple years now and counting.
When IP Bob thought about changing his narrative, reigniting his Presidential campaign, and the Final Showdown against Netflix, spending the next three or four years haggling with Justice Department functionaries probably isn’t what he had in mind.
Which is to say: would have gone down this road without pretty strong assurances that he wouldn’t be spending the next few years doing just that?
That despite that fact that in the effect on jobs and consumers, these two deals couldn’t be more similar. If anything, Disney/Fox looks to be far more harmful.
My vision of a world governed by general incompetence doesn’t leave room for conspiracy theories, but the fact that one of these companies includes CNN and the other includes Fox and Friends; and that the first company’s merger is infinitely mired in red tape while the other seems to have been given a Fast Pass to media domination does make one say “hmmm.”
And the Legend of IP Bob gets more complicated with every passing day.
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