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Looking back / looking ahead at Marvel Entertainment's merger with The Walt Disney Company

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Looking back / looking ahead at Marvel Entertainment's merger with The Walt Disney Company

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It's been almost three years now since Bob Iger asked then-Marvel Studios chairman David Maisel to pass along a message to Isaac Perlmutter. To be specific,  the Chairman & CEO of the Walt Disney Company wished to talk with the Chief Executive Officer of Marvel Entertainment, Inc. about the Mouse possibly acquiring Marvel and its portfolio of over 8,000 characters.

What followed was three months of highly secretive, very intense negotiations. Mind you, what made these talks particularly ironic for Disney Company veterans is that they remembered all of the other times Mouse House managers had previously considered trying to acquire Marvel.

"When Michael Eisner was in charge of Disney, I can recall three separate occasions when senior management had some very serious discussions about possibly going after Marvel Entertainment," recalled one longtime member of Disney's board of directors. "But each time, it was Eisner himself who derailed the deal. Michael just didn't think that Marvel and Disney would be a good fit. He couldn't see how these two very different sets of characters could ever come together."

Michael Eisner and Jay Rasulo at the October 2002 grand opening of "a bug's land" at
Disney's California Adventure theme park. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Whereas Iger ... Well, Bob pushed for this deal because -- as Jay Rasulo (i.e. the Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of The Walt Disney Company) explained during his January 2012 appearance at Citigroup's 22nd annual Global Entertainment, Media and Telecommunications Conference ...

"(Disney) really did lack a property with strong young boy and teenage male affinity. (So by acquiring Marvel Entertainment, Inc.), we've now filled that."

As Rasulo explained, whether Disney and Marvel naturally fit together was really a secondary concern. At least as far as Bob Iger was concerned. What Disney's CEO saw when he looked at Marvel Entertainment, Inc. was one of the world's most prominent character-based entertainment companies and its library of over 8,000 characters. And companies like this rarely -- if ever -- come on the market.

Copyright Marvel Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved

Jay continued:

"(As far as Disney management was concerned, our August 2009 acquisition of) Marvel was clearly an intellectual property play. (The management team at Marvel Entertainment, Inc. was)  running a business ... that simply did not have either the bandwidth, the touch points, the machine that Disney is. And we thought that taking (Marvel's)  great capability to create intellectual property with deep story, talented executives that knew how their story and their brands work, and putting it into the Disney apparatus, the machine that takes our product all over the world, (that) would be a very profitable partnership/"

And -- to be honest -- that was what also struck Marvel insiders about the beauty of merging with the Mouse. As Joe Quesada, the Company's Chief Creative Officer recalled in a recent interview with JHM:

Joe Quesada, Marvel's Chief Creative Officer

"I remember those initial meetings before the merger (actually) happened. We were given research by Disney executives  ... Let's show you where your characters lie in popularity not just domestically, but let's see what they look like in Brazil, let's see what it looks like in Japan, what it looks like in Russia. And we all just sat there with our jaws slack because it was ... To be honest, it was proving what we kind of knew in our gut. but we never actually had the chance to do the research."

And the fact that the Mouse was willing to put its money where its mouth was (EX:  Disney's October 2010 deal with Paramount Pictures to take over the marketing and distribution of "The Avengers" and "Iron Man 3." In order to acquire these rights, Disney had to agree to pay Paramount a minimum of $115 million. Mind you, this was in addition to the $4 billion in stock & cash that Mickey had spent the previous year to acquire Marvel Entertainment, Inc. outright) really impressed people like Jeph Loeb, the Executive Vice President in charge of Marvel Television.

Which isn't to say that Marvel fans weren't initially very worried about the changes that could possibly come about once Disney execs was calling the shots at the House of Ideas. As Loeb told me last month at the "Ultimate Spider-Man" press event:

Jeph Loeb meets with Marvel fans & signs autographs at the Anaheim
Convention Center last month during WonderCon 2012. Photo by
Jim Hill

"At least from the television side of things, we absolutely did hear from (our) fan base. They were concerned that suddenly that Punisher was going to be hanging out with Mickey.  And that was never going to work.

It really was from the first day -- from the top, from Bob Iger himself -- who basically said to all of us. 'We did not bring you over here because we could turn you into something else. We want Marvel to be Marvel. You guys know what it is that you do. and we want you to be able to do  it and do it well.'

 And one of the things that I think has been absolutely extraordinary is that (the Disney acquisition) has given us an opportunity to do things that we otherwise would not have been able to. Marvel would not be in the television business. This is not a business that makes sense to Marvel. I mean, look how long it took us to get into the motion picture business and build our own studio. For us now to be able to have a live-action television division and -- as of January 1st  -- we  just opened a state-of-the-art facility in Glendale where we'll now be able to make our own Marvel Animation specifically for Disney XD. We would have never been able to have the bandwidth to do that. And now we do. And the encouragement to do so."

Clark Gregg ("Agent Coulson"), Joe Quesada (Chief Creative Officer, Marvel Entertainment
and executive producer, "Ultimate Spider-Man"), Spider-Man, Stan Lee (co-executive
producer, "Stan the Janitor," "Ultimate Spider-Man") and Jeff Loeb (Head of
Marvel Television and executive producer, "Ultimate Spider-Man") at last
month's press event for the launch of Disney XD's "Marvel Universe"
programming block. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

More to the point, with the April 1st launch of that "Marvel Universe" programming block on Disney XD ... Well, because this cable channel already has a pretty extensive global reach (Disney XD has 23 existing channels and programming blocks around the world and will soon be seen in Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia), showing "Ultimate Spider-Man" and "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" on Disney XD is actually a very smart way to grow and support the Marvel brand, to introduce the Company's characters to parts of this planet that aren't already all that familiar with Iron Man and the Hulk.

Of course, given the way that the Disney publicity machine has been gearing up to get the word out about "The Avengers" (EX: The "Avengers" -skinned monorail that's now making the rounds daily at Walt Disney World. Not to mention tomorrow's red carpet premiere of this Joss Whedon film at Disney's movie palace in Hollywood, the El Capitan Theatre), I seriously doubt that there'll be anyone left on the planet who doesn't know the Marvel characters by this time next week. Which suits Joe Quesada just fine.

"That's what's so amazing about this merger with Disney. When people used to interview me about what my future plans for Marvel were, I used to joke that I wanted total world domination. Well, now that we're with Disney, that's no longer a joke. We are now within a company that will actually allow us to do that ...

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Have there been growing pains and adjustments along the way? Sure. But that sort of stuff always happens whenever two companies with their own distinct cultures merge. But Bob's initial words to us have never been truer. It's always been about keeping Marvel Marvel.

And thanks to the overall muscle of Disney, look at what we've managed to accomplish in less than three years time. We've got two great new animated series on Disney XD. A terrific new feature film about to bow in theaters. Jeph's got some exciting new Marvel-based TV series in the works for ABC and ABC Family. Plus stuff for the theme parks.

This is a really exciting and exhilarating time to be working for Marvel. And it's all happening because Bob reached out to Ike back in 2009.  I just wonder where we're going to be four or five years for now."

Your thoughts?

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  • Dear Jim Hill

    Could You Please tell us more about Disney's plans with Marvel.

    Also I know Disney is distributing the avengers but does that mean that The Avengers will open up with the Walt Disney Pictures Logo. Plus could you elaborate more on Michael Eisner and Disney trying to acquire Marvel before 2009. Also I know this might be a lot to ask but is it true that Disney once had the option to own Hanna Barbara.

  • Are there any plans for attractions based on Marvel?

  • To echo Ayefour's question, can Disney do anything with the Marvel characters as far as attractions are concerned?  Joe Quesada quotes at the end of the article that there are plans to do Marvel-based "stuff" for the theme parks, but do you think this might be limited to appearances by the characters or could a full-fledged show/ride be developed?  I don't know how Marvel's deal with Universal works, and if it prevents Disney from putting something together at Hollywood Studios (the most natural fit for something like that).

  • For Jim from NJ:

    It's always been my understanding that the Marvel deal with Universal theme parks is a regional deal.  That Universal has the rights for the east coast of the U.S. (though I don't know how west you can go and stop being east coast).  So Disney couldn't put in Marvel attractions at Walt Disney World.  But they could put stuff into the two theme parks in Anaheim and into Disney's overseas parks.  Maybe Jim Hill can confirm this.

    The Marvel deal for Universal Florida is in perpetuity.  Disney couldn't get the east coast rights until Universal makes a decision to abandon them or sell them back to Disney.  Which is pretty close to never.

  • There are already plans to add Atlantis (and the Sub Mariner) to Tokyo DisneySea.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Um ... You're referring to the story that Honor Hunter published over on Blue Sky Disney on April 1st, right? And you understand the significance of most stories that are posted on April Fool's Day (i.e. that they're not true / they're deliberate spoofs)?

    This is why I wouldn't exactly hold my breath in regards to waiting for an Atlantis / Namor - based "land" to pop up at Tokyo DisneySea. If anything, my understanding is that we'll see the first really significant Marvel presence in a Disney theme park in 2013 or thereabouts. And that will be out in Anaheim.

    Why "2013 or thereabouts" ? To be honest, a lot depends on whether Disney wants to use "Iron Man 3" (which hits theaters in May of 2013) or "Captain America 2" (which hits theaters in April of 2014) as the inciting event to finally bring these characters into the Parks. The current thinking seems to be "Captain America 2." And the Park that the Marvel characters would first appear in is DCA, over in the Hollywood Studios Backlot area.

    As to how they'd fit in and where ... I've heard talk of a NextGen style meet-n-greet which would either be built inside of the old "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" theater (with the Studio Store gift shop right across the way then selling Marvel themed merch) OR inside of the old Hollywood & Dine food court building.

    There's also been some talk of a Marvel-themed night-time party serving as the follow-up to DCA's yet-to-be-officially-launched Mad T Party. Which -- again (given that this new Tim Burton-inspired night-time family celebration is supposed to run at that theme park for at least a year or more) -- suggests that a 2014 arrival of the Marvel characters at DCA is far more likely than in 2013. Especially since the Company is hoping that Cars Land and Radiator Springs Racers will remain a major attendance driver for that theme park for at least 18 months.

    Now please keep in mind that all plans are subject to change. But as of this week, that's the current Marvel-related news coming out of 1401 Flower Street.

  • Eisner was right.

  • I dunno why I'm supposed to be excited about Disney owning Marvel when I don't even see the Disney name on "The Avengers" poster. I do see Paramount's logo, though?

    I have nothing against Marvel and have enjoyed many Marvel characters. But Marvel isn't Disney to me, the same way that the Muppets aren't Disney to me because I knew them before I ever associated them with Disney. Disney can buy Beetle Bailey, Broom Hilda, Wheel of Fortune, Forrest Gump or Woody Woodpecker for all I care. The mere fact that this big conglomeration would then own them doesn't make them any more Disney to me than Marvel does now.

    Disney's evolved into a zombie corporation seemingly incapable of their own content creation without having to buy other "brands" to feed off and generate merchandise or theme park attractions. The only surprise is that Disney, arguably THE most creative entertainment company in the 20th century, eventually succumbed to the same lack of vision that infected the rest of Hollywood. If anyone could have remained "Disney," surely it would have been Disney!

    Left unchanged, I believe that within 20-30 years, a newer, bigger corporation (probably Apple) will gobble up Disney and then Disney will just be a bigger company's "brand" holdings. Very sad.

  • So, in response to this deal, Disney produces...a monorail cover and announces plans for Avatar.  Then, they announce a TV channel but refuse to even call it a Marvel channel.  Last comment about Eisner was right was spot on.  He had this right.  I can't imaging Spidey crawling up the firehouse on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom.

  • I love the purchase, as a Marvel fan and a Disney fan I can see this as a great fit if done well.

  • If done well? This feels more like Touchstone pictures setup.

  • I wouldn't mind seeing an Avengers overhaul of Catastrophe Canyon. Maybe repaint the ill fated oil tanker with the "Hammer, Inc." (Tony's business rival in IM2) logo, or perhaps feature Mjolnir embedded in the walls with new thunder and lightning effects.....

  • Now if there was a way that Disney could help fix Marvel's graphic novel line of titles - which are always out of print, sometimes poorly glued, and encourage Marvel to send out more review copies so their books actually got reviewed by magazines and blogs for markets like libraries, book review sites, and more, that would be great. Right now it's a total mess.

  • Why is the Paramount logo still on The Avengers trailer and poster?  I thought Disney is marketing and distributing the film?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Well, sort of. Under the terms of the deal that The Walt Disney Studios, Paramount Pictures and Marvel Studios cut on October 18th, 2010, Paramount transferred its worldwide marketing and distribution rights to Disney for Marvel Studios' The Avengers and Iron Man 3. But under the terms of this deal, because Paramount did most of the heavy lifting during the development phase of these two films, it's Paramount's logo that will appear on these films' trailers and posters.

    The way Disney insiders explain it to me, it won't be 'til April of 2014 and the release of "Captain America 2" that we start seeing these Marvel Studios productions touted as full-Disney-owned-and-operated franchises. Which is why we may wind up waiting 'til 2014 to see the Marvel characters appear in Disney's West Coast theme parks.So that this "Marvel-is-the-Mouse-and-the-Mouse-is-Marvel" rebranding effort comes across as one unified whole, rather than a bits-and-pieces program that's then hyped by only one or two of Disney's divisions.


  • OK, I'm a few days late on this but, I for one am encouraged by all this news. Now I don't really care about Marvel, I'm not a die-hard, and the only movies I've seen from them are the Spider-Man movies. However, I think, with time, it can fit neatly into the Disney empire.

    And I don't understand this speculation, dating back to 2009, that Disney XD could/should be rebranded as "Marvel." It's not an "action/comic book" channel, it's basically Disney Channel for boys. Over time, as the Marvel characters become more integrated into Disney, they can possibly become more of a presence on this fast-growing network, and the Marvel Universe block is a good start to that. But for a channel that still airs Phineas & Ferb and Zack & Cody 24 hours a day to suddenly become "The Marvel Channel" is misguided. That's like, as also speculated, News Corp. buying Dow Jones and suddenly the fledgling Fox Business Network becomes "The Wall Street Journal Network." It's just not realistic, or necessary. Heck, it wasn't The Hanna-Barbera Channel, it was Cartoon Network, a brand in itself.

    As far as Marvel fitting into the unique Disney brand and theme parks, well...I'm with others in saying, if the Marvel/Universal Florida arrangement passes into history, that Marvel should have a stronge presence in Disney's Hollywood Studios. There are similarities and differences between Pixar and Marvel. Pixar (or Disney Pixar, as it were) is a strong brand, but has always, in the public mind, been synonymous with Disney, due to their special history. Woody and Buzz fit into any part of Disney as well as Mickey and Pooh. Marvel, on the other hand, has a unique brand and history all its own, independent of Disney or anyone else. So I think, in the parks, the Hulk won't be mingling w/ Goofy in Adventureland, just as I don't think the Muppets (a better Disney fit than Marvel) will be hangin' around the Magic Kingdom anytime soon. But merchandise, as well as this-or-that promotional event, isn't a bad thing.

    Eisner. Look, I understand where Eisner was coming from, at the time. Disney and Marvel are two separate, dynamic brands. But it's not like Mickey and Spider-Man will be holding hands. And in this post-Pirates world where Disney is making PG-13 movies, and where the Marvel characters have a strong connection with young and older audiences, I think Disney getting one of the last few independent companies with a strong, intellectual property base was a savvy move. I'm still awaiting the day down the road where I wake up and read that Disney bites the bullet and buys the entire Jim Henson Company, even though they got what they wanted I guess.

    Lastly, someone commented that, in a few decades, a company like Apple will swoop in and buy Disney, and well, you're probably right. But, currently, they're the world's largest media and entertainment conglomerate, so I think they can delay that day for a while. Maybe one day Jim will write an article or make a podcast of potential suitors of Disney over the years. Suggestion...

    I'm more into the Disney brand and the Muppets than I am into Marvel and even Pixar, but with patience and wise decisions, I think the Disney/Marvel union can pay off for the Disney company and its fans. Seeing Marvel at something like the D23 Expo can be a bit of a culture clash, but it's only been a couple of years. The more Marvel movies Disney makes on its own, and the more cartoons they make for Disney XD, I think it will all fall in its place. Now, let's hope the Muppets will get more of that too.

  • As if to underscore that what Disney is doing with Marvel is not "Disneyfying" it or particularly integrating it into the Disney banner, but "letting Marvel be Marvel" while hooking it up to Disney's incredible franchising machine,  it was announced today that Iron Man 3 will be co-financed by and significantly filmed in China.  This is the first  multi-billion dollar franchise to be produced between Hollywood and China.  As a result the entire Marvel universe of characters will be introduced to Chinese audiences in a big way.  This would NEVER have happened with Marvel on its own.

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