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[Article] – Is Disney’s Media Monopoly A Good Thing?

 

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Posted August 22, 2017 by

 
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In unsurprising news Disney has announced another move to extend their global media empire, with their own streaming service, which will no doubt have other steamers looking over their (digital) shoulders, indeed Netflix is already scrambling to secure the rights to retain the Disney owned Star Wars and Marvel titles. This new service is just a fresh entry in an extraordinary wealth of delivery systems for Disney, as their monopoly continues to grow, is it a good thing for the industry?

Disney’s biggest output for a long time was it’s animations, which Twere of course hugely successful, turning Mickey Mouse into a household name and Walt Disney still holds the record for most Oscar wins with a staggering twenty-two to his name. Such success began the start of their empire, The opening of the first Disneyland in 1955 was the first entry in a long line of expansions, which has seen the corporation become merchandising moguls and broadcasting several of their of television channels.

But these efforts were all based around their own content; movements in the last few decades have seen them broaden their horizons. In the nineties, which the company itself called “the Disney decade’ they made huge efforts to increase their revenue streams. With the acquisition of Miramax films, the creation of the Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim NHL team and a merger which brought them the ABC and ESPN networks, to name a few, Disney had entered the global economy.

Disney’s growth in the 21st century has been gargantuan; its current list of assets is scary and is now the second largest media conglomerate, for revenue, the company currently has a market value of $178 billion (as of may 2017) with Forbes naming it a the worlds 7th most valuable brand, an incredible achievement for a company that started off making animations of a cartoon mouse.

After looking to expand further afield, Disney has come back to where it made its name, the movies, and it is their acquisitions in this industry in recent years that have turned heads. Disney’s own film studios have hardly been a failure, far from it in fact, but they have made some astonishing purchases in bringing in other studios under their umbrella: Pixar, Marvel and most recently and famously, Lucasfilm, giving them command a huge number of well known franchises.

In the last decade alone, Disney has had thirteen films gross over $1 billion at the worldwide box office, and they currently have five entries on the top ten highest grossing films of all time, and would be top if it weren’t for James Cameron. This year alone they have already grossed over $3 billion, and there’s the little matter of Star Wars Episode VIII to come…

With the accumulated studios under their flag, Disney now own the rights to franchises: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Avengers and any other Marvel Spin-Offs, Toy Story, Pirates Of The Caribbean and Frozen, all of which have had billion-dollar entries, command global audiences and have a huge merchandising market.

All of this has seen Disney exact a stranglehold of sorts over the rest of the industry, their global brandability has allowed them to maximise the profits of the ever growing worldwide box-office, where overseas receipts now tend to outweigh domestic results. But is Disney commanding a Lion’s share of the box-office a bad thing, has their growing dominance had a damaging effect on the industry?

Of course the biggest success story for Disney recently has been the revitalising of the Star Wars franchise. It was dead in the water after George Lucas destroyed its credibility with the prequel trilogy, it is now burgeoning again, a critical and commercial home-run, with The Force Awakens becoming the 2nd highest-grossing film of all time.

Quality has been a clear focus concerning new Star Wars projects, after wisely relieving Lucas of creative control and rejecting his ideas for a new trilogy, the torch was passed to Kathleen Kennedy, who has worked rigorously to find the right talent for the job. And as this has happened, Disney has done little to exert authority over proceedings, they were happy to allow new writers to come in over the man the appointed, Michael Arndt, whose script was not up to scratch.

Their logo didn’t even appear at the beginning of the film, honouring the traditional appearance of the Lucasfilm logo.

Star Wars’ resurgence illustrates that while Disney’s output has not only been financially successful, but critically successful as well. Their releases from Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar all continue to garner strong reviews, with only Pirates Of The Caribbean suffering from franchise fatigue.

Diversity has also been key in recent releases, one of the biggest praises about Rogue One was its breath of ethnicity amongst the cast, and of course the appointment of a female lead, in what has typically been a very male-centric galaxy. This issue has been addressed in their own films as well, with the landmark casting of their first black princess in The Princess And The Frog, given that Disney now target a global market, diversification is always going to increase audience appeal.

Though despite a continued level of quality and increased diversity, Disney’s output has created a template fro success that is very hard to replicate, and one the rest of the industry is struggling with. When promoting films to a global audience, the marketing costs become astronomical, sometimes they can cost more than the actual production, this means titles must have a number of things to guarantee profits, characters or stories based on existing property (including sequels,) merchandising opportunities, star names and of course action, plenty of it. These traits have become staples of the films that are released under Disney’s umbrella.

Marvel’s The Avengers typifies this approach and was a stroke of marketing genius, collecting several already successful characters under one banner combined all the respective fans bases into one huge box-office bonanza, and popularised the concept of a cinematic universe, where a series of different characters films are all connected. While this has worked for Disney, they have the resources and the intellectual property to make it work, other studios have struggled and scrambled to try and replicate its success, as seems to be the only method for success right now.

Sequels and franchises heavily saturate the current market; with films aiming to kick-start a on-going series becoming more and more commonplace, but it doesn’t always equal success. While others can copy the template, they don’t have the property that Disney has at its disposal, you only have to look at this year alone to see how many have tried and failed.

Universal has had a nightmare with its dark universe with The Mummy unravelling on them, Warner Brothers had a night to forget with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets, the most expensive European film ever made lost over $100 million. And that’s without including The Emoji Movie, Power Rangers and the continued demise of the Transformers franchise. The over-saturation has gotten to a point where studios are looking to R-rated movies – a field Disney stays away from – to create franchises, with the planned John Wick cinematic universe.

The risk of failure from globally marketed productions has had a trickle down effect. With studios hedging their bets on their ‘tentpole’ productions, the funds for smaller, independent features grows ever smaller. The gap in budgets between blockbuster and indie films continues to increase, and the likelihood of anybody taking a leap of faith on a risky original feature is ever diminishing.

Today’s market is a far cry from eras gone by, The Hollywood new wave in the seventies, and the indie boom in the nineties, which birthed some of the greatest directors, and indeed films. Often they may have not been fiscally prudent for studios, but it created film that were challenging and original, originality is all to rare right now, Disney’s template for success has created a conveyor belt of identikit films that recycle the same ideas and themes, all engineered for profit, it stifles new ideas because they can’t guarantee box-office results.

And though Disney’s films continue to be enjoyed by audiences and critics, they cannot claim to be original, Disney hardly venture into original content territory, the rare occasions for them such as John Carter and Tomorrowland resulted in failure, so any subsequent attempts are increasingly unlikely. Much of Disney’s success in recent years has come via their subsidiaries and exemplifies an era where franchises, sequels, remakes and reboots rule the day, where original content can no longer compete.

Disney’s ninety plus year existence has seen them from beginnings as an independent animation studio to becoming one of the most well known names on the planet and evolving into a box-office titan. Their expansion into the global market has had definite positive effects, increased diversity across their output and a focus on quality that hasn’t been sacrificed over profits. The worldwide appeal has no doubt been a boon to cinemagoers around the globe, with ever strengthening markets in overseas territories meaning you no longer have to live in North America or Mainland Europe to have good access to cinemas.

But Disney’s effect on he global economy has also shown drawbacks, where a the risk of failure is too great for other studios, restricting the freedom for original features, this is also creating a marketplace that has become oversaturated with familiarity and is beginning to show the strain. Their on-going expansion emulates Walt Disney’s ceaseless determination, but while they continue to grow, the others must sit in their shadow, and with Marvels next ‘phases’ laid out years in advance and plans for Star Wars to continue on ‘forever,’ Disney show no signs of slowing down.

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Written by:

Sam May
@Sjmay92
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