Monday, August 31, 2009

Winners and Losers - Disney buys Marvel

With the news that Disney is going to be purchasing Marvel Entertainment we find the landscape of the comic industry undergoing a potential major change. Marvel has already seen changes in recent years as the publishing arm of the company has shifted focus to maximizing profits by inundating the market with more and more material (a case of quantity over quality if you will) in order to meet the return expectations of their stockholders. This focus will likely become even more magnified as they will need to further increase returns in order to maintain the value of Disney’s investment and meet the expectations of Disney shareholders. While DC is part of a larger corporation (Time Warner), they haven’t been under great pressure to squeeze every possible penny out of their publication division to the degree that Marvel likely will be expected to perform. Easily the largest part of Disney’s return on their investment will be in utilizing Marvel’s properties for other media, but make no mistake that the publishing division will have to carry their weight in increasing Disney’s revenues and maintaining their stock value.

There is a lot to be excited about in this purchase, not the least of which is the potential for seeing Pixar’s handling of some of Marvel’s characters in animated projects. However, there are also a lot of questions generated by this purchase – a lot of things that can be good and a lot of things that may be bad. With Disney being such a family-oriented brand, will there be forced changed to Marvel’s presentation of their characters? Or will they treat their Marvel branch the way they do some of their movie production arms (Touchstone Pictures, Miramax Films, etc.) with the idea being the general public doesn’t directly associate those divisions with the Disney entity. Will Disney’s movie honchos have a negative impact on the portrayal of Marvel’s characters on-screen (think X-Men black leather outfits, Dr. Doom, Galactus)? Will we see a lot more animated projects (direct-to-DVD and theatrical releases) because of Disney’s deeper pockets?

The biggest loser in this merging of assets is likely to be BOOM! Studios. With their recent licensing of some of Disney’s library (The Incredibles; Cars; Monsters, Inc; Finding Nemo; Mickey Mouse and Co.), the publisher stood to make great gains in the younger reader’s demographic. As it stands now, BOOM! Studios will probably be expending a lot of resources to build a sustainable market for these projects only to have Disney move them to Marvel’s publishing division when the license has run its course. While you can’t really blame Disney for making that move (if they do) simply because they will have the means through Marvel to produce those books, it is really a shame that they (and the Marvel arm) will be reaping all the benefits of BOOM! Studio’s efforts to fully develop that market with those characters. BOOM! Studios will certainly see some short term financial gains through those publications, but then will watch all that future money go through Marvel when the licenses are not renewed. That really has to be frustrating to Ross Ritchie and Mark Waid.

It will be very interesting to see the full ramifications of this deal over the next several years. What will Marvel’s publications look like in 2015? How will movies based on Marvel characters be received with Disney making the major decisions? How much better might the animated projects be with Pixar’s involvement (or will there be a ‘dumbing down’ of the scripts to appeal to a younger audience)? In the end, who will be the biggest winners and losers? Will fans be better served when it is all said and done or will they be wishing for the days when Marvel was its own company.