Spider-Man is almost in Disney's (NYSE: DIS ) sticky mouse paws.
The family entertainment giant's $4 billion deal to acquire Marvel Entertainment (NYSE: MVL ) is nearly complete. Marvel shareholders are expected to approve the deal Thursday, with absorption into Disney's bloodstream to come fairly quickly after that.
It's at that point that Disney will have to justify the deal. It has time and experience on its side. The media giant has put up more than it's spending on Marvel in bankrolling Pixar and Capital Cities/ABC, so it's no stranger to multibillion-dollar deals. Given the success of Pixar's computer-animated releases and Capital Cities' ESPN juggernaut since Disney took over, it's fair to say that making Marvel work won't be a problem.
The catch for Disney is that it can't just dive right into Marvel's meatiest properties. Many of its marquee franchises -- including Spider-Man and Fantastic 4 -- are in the hands of rival movie studios. It even has to be careful with how it incorporates Marvel characters within its Florida theme parks, given the contract Marvel has in place with Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure. That particular theme park -- owned by Blackstone (NYSE: BX ) and General Electric (NYSE: GE ) -- has a Marvel Super Hero Island that will stick as long as the park adheres to its licensing agreement terms.
Thankfully, Marvel's massive character library and Disney's vertical opportunities will still give both companies plenty of opportunities to make the merger pay off.
1. Disney can finally win back teen boys.
Teen boys don't like Disney, for the most part. They berate their little sisters for their Jonas Brothers posters and tease their little brothers for logging into Club Penguin. Marvel will change that, adding an arsenal of action heroes to Disney's fleet of characters.
Disney rival Viacom (NYSE: VIA ) has successfully made the leap, running Nickelodeon and teen magnet MTV and the Rock Band video game series. It's Disney's turn now.
2. Pixar can render Marvel properly.
If Disney had acquired Marvel before snapping up Pixar, this would have been a gutsy call. However, if anyone can turn some of Marvel's lesser-known heroes into animated art, it's Pixar's Bard Bird -- the guy responsible for Pixar's The Incredibles and cult favorite Iron Giant before that. Animated treatments of some of Marvel's more obscure franchises will help Marvel, in turn, reach younger audiences, ideally without alienating its core fan base.
3. Marvel will broaden Disney's range.
Bridging the mid-generational gap can be huge for Disney. It already scores a healthy premium to the cruising industry by catering mostly to young families, letting the rock walls at Royal Caribbean Cruises (NYSE: RCL ) woo the teens as the value-priced revelry aboard Carnival (NYSE: CCL ) attracts the twenty-somethings.
From its cruise ships to its theme parks to its cable channels, there is so much to gain by reaching out to older kids and young adults. Marvel can help Disney get there.
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