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Disney, 21st Century Fox Shareholders Approve $71.3 Billion Merger

The Walt Disney Company and 21st Century Fox shareholders have voted in favor of Disney’s $71.3 billion buyout of a majority of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox assets.

The deal between the two companies was announced last December. Last month, Comcast tried to outbid Disney, but Disney prevailed in the end.

Shareholders from the two companies gathered for separate votes this morning at the New York Hilton. Voting was in favor at both meetings, with Disney shareholders nearly unanimous in their support of the takeover. More detailed coverage of today’s voting can be found on The New York Times and Variety.

No ones knows at this point what the deal actually means. What we do know is that it’s a desperate Hail Mary on the part of Disney CEO Bob Iger and Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch to keep their old-guard media companies relevant as tech upstarts like Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook have aggressively moved into entertainment and content creation.

Disney’s long-term plan is to forgo cable and satellite in favor of a ‘direct-to-consumer strategy,’ which Iger believes is “vital to the future of our media businesses” and the company’s “highest priority.”

In terms of scale, the Fox acquisition dwarfs the previous ones that Iger made for Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, which cost around $16 billion total. This single Fox deal is 4.5x the size of those three companies combined.

Disney now owns the film rights to Avatar, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Deadpool, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Hidden Figures, Gone Girl, Planet of the Apes, Ice Age, The Shape of Water, and The Martian, as well as tv rights to This Is Us, Modern Family, The Simpsons, Family Guy, The Americans, and dozens of other shows. They also get a controlling interest in the streaming service Hulu; FX Networks and National Geographic channels; and Indian media company Star, Tata Sky, and Endemol Shine Group.

Around 5,000 to 10,000 Fox employees are expected to be laid off once regulatory approval is granted in various countries, and many Fox projects in development are guaranteed to be cancelled.

As for the animation studio Blue Sky Studios and its parent Fox Animation, the future of both remains unknown at this point. Fox Animation had been expanding its business, and had recently signed a deal with the U.K.’s Locksmith Animation to create a second pipeline for animated films, in addition to Blue Sky.

Disney and Fox/Fox Searchlight currently have 48% of the market share at the 2018 U.S. box office. A single company controlling half of America’s theatrical movie spending is unprecedented territory.

The merger is expected completed in the first half of 2019. At that time, Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox News Channel will remain separate, is set to become one of the largest individual shareholders of the Walt Disney Company.

Bob Iger will stay on as CEO of Disney until late 2021 to oversee the integration of Fox’s businesses into Disney’s corporate culture.

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