In this segment of the Motley Fool Money podcast, host Chris Hill, Million Dollar Portfolio's Jason Moser and Matt Argersinger, and Total Income's Ron Gross give their views on the biggest media news in years: Disney's (NYSE:DIS) mammoth purchase of assets from Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOX) (NASDAQ:FOXA).
The entertainment powerhouse gets an array of properties that will mesh well in its empire, from the X-Men to The Simpsons, movie studios, the regional sports networks, the cable networks, and a stake in Hulu that will put them in control of the streaming service. They consider its pivot toward a more direct-to-consumer model, its expanded sports footprint, its long-term plans, and its efforts to stay relevant against Netflix. But the best news for investors, in their view, might be the planned extension of CEO Bob Iger's tenure by several years, which makes the search for his successor even more interesting. And what's next for Fox?
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Dec. 15, 2017.
Chris Hill: We begin with the deal that is remaking the entertainment industry: the Walt Disney Company is buying the bulk of Twenty-First Century Fox's business for $52 billion and change. Here's what Disney is getting: the movie studios, TV networks like FX and National Geographic, Fox's regional sports networks, and majority control of Hulu.
Ron Gross: That's all?
Hill: There's a lot to unpack here, guys. Ron, let me start with this. Do you like this deal for Disney at this price?
Gross: I do like this deal. I've been a Disney shareholder for 15 years, and quite frankly, I was waning a bit. ESPN is struggling, sports streaming, Iger leaving. This has reinvigorated me. I like the injection of these assets. I like that Iger is staying longer. This bodes well.
Hill: Here's not just staying longer, Jason. He's staying several years longer, through 2021.
Jason Moser: Yeah, I think that may be the key part to this deal. It probably has everybody feeling pretty good. Just knowing his track record there with these three big acquisitions before, Marvel and Pixar and Lucasfilm, and maybe this is the Grand Slam here to bring it all home, because this is a big deal. It's funny, I was talking to my daughters last night about this, I said, "Did you guys hear about this in the news? Disney is buying all these properties." And they had this blank look on their face. And I said, "Disney is going to own The Simpsons." And they were like, "What?! No way!" So, that really drove it home for them at this point. To me, look, Bob Iger is trying to figure out how to build this business in such a way where it develops a long lasting, sustainable sort of relationship with the customer, a direct-to-consumer relationship. That's the whole point behind all these acquisitions, he's trying to figure out how to be part of this whole over-the-top distribution, take this company to the next level, where the media space is headed here in the 21st century. And I know a lot of people like to make this a Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) vs. Disney thing. I don't think this is a shot across the bow at Netflix. I mean, yeah, they're going to be competing with them directly, but I don't think this is a deal intended to try to sink Netflix. It's simply intended to really participate in this tremendous opportunity that's going to unfold over the next 10 or 20 years.
Matt Argersinger: I totally agree with that. I like, Chris, in your opening, that you ended with, your last bullet point was the Hulu majority stake. I think the headline to me here is, the whole idea that Iger had last summer with rolling out the separate ESPN app and Disney app, I think that's out the door now. I don't think that's going to happen. I think the majority stake of Hulu, in my mind, that should be the destination where all this new content is going to go. That becomes the home now. And it positions Hulu against Netflix and Amazon and gives you what I view as the three main streaming video apps. Rolling out a separate ESPN or Disney app, it's just going to clutter an already cluttered landscape for this entertainment. I think Hulu is now positioned to be the third player.
Gross: Iger has signaled that he does want three distinct streaming platforms. We'll see how that shakes out. One which is family oriented, which is Disney, Marvel, Lucas, Pixar. Sports. And then something more adult-themed, which is kind of a weird way to phrase it, but the Hulu streaming. So, it'll be interesting to see how that shakes out. Now, there are some restrictions on the Hulu, especially because Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) still owns a 30% chunk on it. You can't make many changes to that until after September 2018. When that rolls around, then I think it's up for grabs what changes get made, and we'll see what happens to the Comcast stake. But I do want to mention that I saw one really interesting quote that says, this isn't an entertainment deal, this is a sports deal. And we can argue that probably until the cows come home. But once you add these Fox sports regional networks into this mix, and to help bolster ESPN, I think that's where it gets interesting.
Hill: Let's get back to the sports in just a second, because there was a lot of great coverage of this story, and there were a lot of different angles to it. The only thing that I saw in terms of the coverage of Disney and Fox that made me raise an eyebrow was some people asking the question with regards to Hulu, "What about the minority stakeholders? They might not like what Disney is going to do." And I just thought, "Then they should have figured out a way to be the majority shareholder," because to Ron's point, Matty, if they own 60% of Hulu then guess what? It's kind of game over.
Argersinger: Yeah, that's a controlling stake in my view. At least, I think 60% is.
Hill: If we're doing the math right.
Argersinger: I'm still going to push back on the idea of rolling out those apps. I just think customers want less apps, less subscriptions to worry about. I don't know if that necessarily means that Disney is going to kick of Comcast or other content or allow other partners to get on there. I just think it can be the go-to destination if you want Disney or ESPN content. Hulu can be the platform for that. It doesn't mean it's exclusively Disney or ESPN.
Hill: Ron, to go back to the sports, because we entertainment piece of this got the big headlines, and probably rightfully so, but as you indicated, the regional sports networks that Fox owns really could be the hidden gem of this deal, because these are sports networks that are spread out across Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the NHL across 44 teams, including little markets like Los Angeles and New York City.
Gross: Right. That's not a little deal, that's a big deal, and I think it may just be what ESPN needed to stem the tide and make this a real offering. Before, when we talked about, months ago, the streaming service they were going to offer, I was just unsure about how successful it was going to be. Adding this content, I think, might get them over the top.
Hill: Jason, right before we started taping, we were talking about featured games in the NFL and how, if you're the casual fan, if your team isn't playing, you're probably not going to watch. But to the regional sports network, this is all about capturing those local fans. If they really can do this across the country, and take some of that content and serve it up to people wherever they are, it could really be huge for them.
Moser: I think it definitely will be huge. I think it's just a matter of looking at it from two different timelines. We can look at it in the short run and admit there are plenty of challenges as all of these sports rights shake out. We've witnessed here over the past couple of decades how access to all of these leagues and their games, that dollar figure just continues to go up. And at some point, the economics don't make a lot of sense. And we're already seeing, broadcast TV, they've having trouble making ends meet so then it goes to cable, and now cable is having trouble making ends meet, so where do you go from there? Well, I think where you go from there is, as soon as these deals start expiring and you have to start renegotiating, you make it to where the economics make more sense. I think the company that holds the majority of these properties or most of these properties, and now it seems like Disney is going to be the company that holds them, they're going to have a little bit of an upper hand there in those negotiations and how they play out. I think, if you can look at it from the perspective of 10 years down the line, I think it becomes a bit more attractive. And when we talk about regional sports in more local markets, I think we're also seeing, in the form of social media companies, whether it's Twitter or Facebook or even Amazon Prime, to an extent, they're serving distribution now for all of these sporting leagues as well, so they're taking part and bidding for access. And I wouldn't be surprised to see Disney look at those channels as potential points of distribution down the line as they start renegotiating these deals as well.
Hill: Bob Iger was going to step down in 2018. Then it got pushed back to the middle of 2019. Now it's the end of 2021. Among other things, that means he has even more time to figure out who his successor is going to be, which, in my mind, makes it all the more crucial that that person is the choice. But, assuming that the Murdoch family gets their 5% of the company and their seats on the board, it's quite possible that one of Rupert Murdoch's sons is at least going to be on the shortlist.
Moser: Maybe. But I have a proposition. Just hear me out. You know how the United States Postal Service, they've introduced that forever stamp where it doesn't matter how the price of a stamp goes up, you can use it? I think Iger needs to go on the next forever stamp, because really, we're talking about Bob Iger forever, right? Just an idea.
Hill: He was already going into the Hall of Fame, whatever Hall of Fame exists for CEOs, but this obviously cements the deal. Am I wrong about the successor? It seems like the bar is higher now for whoever that next person is.
Moser: There's no question that bar is higher. I think, also, in all honesty, we have to look back at Bob Iger here and recognize the fact that, for all of the success that he's had to this point, this is likely going to be what we remember about him for the years to come. When he retires, we're going to be looking at this deal to judge him, at least in the near-term. Granted, he's had a lot of success leading up to this point, but he needs to make sure he goes out in a blaze of glory here, because this is going to be the toughest deal to date because there's so many moving parts involved.
Hill: There are two public companies involved in this deal. Let's talk about the second one for a moment here. Fox is a smaller company now. They are going to be more streamlined, more focused, with access to a lot of capital. Is it crazy to think that over the next five years, Ron, Fox is the stock you want to own instead of Disney?
Gross: I don't think it's crazy. I don't know if you're right. It's an interesting business now. With Fox broadcasting, basically the 28 Fox stations, Fox News, obviously well-known, and Fox Sports 1 and 2. And I believe the Big Ten Network is part of that as well. No longer a content producer, and really the only broadcast network that's not affiliated with a TV studio, which is interesting, which allows them to go out and get content from others who are not affiliated, like Warner Brothers or Sony or Lions Gate. And there's plenty of content out there, but it's interesting, now they're freed up, they're independent. And it's a valuable collection of assets, and they probably will have a bright future. I'm going to Disney, if you're asking between the two. But I still think this company looks interesting.
Argersinger: Just playing the law of numbers here, Fox, once this deal happens, they're going to have a $12-13 billion company, vs. Disney, which is probably going to be around $200 billion --
Gross: A trillion.
Argersinger: [laughs] So, I think there's credence to that. I think it's worth looking at Fox and what they have to offer. What I worry about it is, you can see clearly that Disney has a plan, they have a direct consumer plan. They're going after it hard. I don't know what that means for Fox News and FS1 and things like that, because they're in the same situation of the cord cutting trend and things like that. Do they have a plan? I'm not sure.