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Disney Is Wasting No Time in Finding "Synergies" With Fox

By Motley Fool Staff - Updated Apr 16, 2019 at 10:39AM

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If the goal is to cut $2 billion in costs from your bigger, post-acquisition media empire, the layoff ax will be busy.

Disney's (DIS 0.34%) purchase of most of the Fox media empire closed on March 20, giving it a monster infusion of intellectual property for its streaming, cable, television, and film units, not to mention handing it majority control of Hulu. Those, of course, were the things it wanted out of the purchase. What it wanted less were all the employees that came with those things -- by March 21, the pink slips were flying in earnest, from high-level execs on downward.

In this segment from Motley Fool Money, host Chris Hill and senior analysts Jim Mueller and Jason Moser discuss exactly how the enhanced Disney will factor into the new media landscape, just how many layoffs are likely, which Fox studio is slated to close, how its new intellectual properties will pay off, and more.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on March 22, 2019.

Chris Hill: We begin with a big deal finally closing. This week, Disney finalized the $71 billion deal buying the television and film assets held by Twenty-First Century Fox. In addition to owning The Simpsons, the X-Men franchise, and a whole lot more intellectual property, Disney also now has the controlling stake in Hulu, Jim. I should also point out that the ink was barely dry when the layoffs began.

Jim Mueller: Yeah. Disney CEO Bob Iger sent out a memo trying to set this up in a nice way. Then the layoffs began. Disney had said before the deal closed that they were looking for about $2 billion in savings. An efficient way to do that is to do that by shutting studios and laying off people. They got several studios in the deal. They got 20th Century Fox, which made The Martian and Avatar, really big properties. They got Fox Searchlight, which made The Shape of Water. I think that won an award recently, is that right?

Hill: Oh, yeah! That won some awards.

Mueller: And the Super Troopers. They also got Fox 2000, which made Devil Wears Prada and Hidden Figures, that awesome movie. They decided they're going to keep the first two, 20th Century Fox and Searchlight, and they're closing off Fox 2000. They'll finish the production of the movies currently in production and release them and then say goodbye.

Hill: Jason, it does seem like Iger is very much sticking to the plan that we've talked about before: "Let's get a lot of intellectual property so that eventually when the Disney streaming service is available, we've got even more in the pipeline."

Jason Moser: Yeah. I think you really hit on something there, now that they have the content. We've seen the distribution of all of this content really evolve, particularly over the last decade, as over-the-top has taken over. I think fewer people are really interested in going to the movies if you're going to be able to deliver that stuff to their home. You're seeing Netflix really take advantage of that. I suspect Disney will do so as well. But I mean, they're going to have a lot of different ways to win with ESPN+, Disney+, Hulu. You have this landscape where the standard services -- Netflix, I think, is always going to be a given. I think Amazon is probably there by virtue of Prime. But then you have those hybrids, like Hulu and YouTube Live. It's going to be interesting to see how all of those other legacy properties like CBS and NBC fit their way into that landscape. I can't help but think that maybe they're better off figuring out ways to partner with those hybrids like Hulu and YouTube, as opposed to going it on their own. But we shall see.

Mueller: I think you're right there, Jason. There's a lot of these streaming companies around, and more coming. Disney+, of course. That should do all right. You've also got NBC, CBS, HBO. They're doing their own thing. Apple is doing a bundling thing.

Moser: It's getting very overwhelming. [laughs]

Mueller: Exactly. That's my point. How soon are consumers going to reach saturation? "Oh, I have to sign up for yet another service, I'm going to get that." The producers, the studios, might actually come out and say, "Hey, instead of trying to launch our own streaming service, we're just going to sell the content." I think Fox 2000 is going to survive just fine doing that kind of thing.

Moser: I think you're right. Really, it's the size of the audience that matters the most. We've seen a couple of situations -- Netflix, for example, has won bidding rights to content not by offering up the highest bid, but by the fact that they have the largest audience. There's a lot to be said for that.

Hill: I know we're focused on the streaming here. That seems like the most obvious needle-mover. But doesn't it also stand to reason that, with this additional intellectual property, it should also flow through to other parts of the Disney empire? I'm thinking about consumer products and more things in the parks?

Mueller: Oh, sure. Yeah. Disney is a master at monetizing IP like that, whether it's in the parks or T-shirts and pillowcases or what have you.

Moser: I suspect we'll have another report sooner or later from our very own Mac Greer on Disney Cruise, where they've incorporated some of this latest IP. Mac, I insist that you follow up with that, please.

Check out the latest earnings call transcript for Disney.

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