A Marvel-ous Deal?
OK, so the news last week centered on the acquisition of Marvel comics by the Disney Company for a cool $4 billion. It took many people by surprise, including yours truly.
I knew how I felt about the deal but I wanted to know what others felt.
First I wanted to know what the Marvel side felt about this deal so I turned to Chris Eliopoulos, author of the Misery Loves Sherman (www.miserylovessherman.com) comic strip and a freelance illustrator and letterer for Marvel Comics for the last 20 years.
The first thing Eliopoulos noted was that the deal was “...a good thing.”
He acknowledged that Disney is an “all ages friendly company” and that its marketing engine focuses on a wide audience as it should, being a media giant.
He felt that this is a great deal for Marvel and a “…win-win for everyone.”
Disney has already captured the pre-teen to teenage girl demographic with all the focus on princesses, Hannah Montana, and other properties.
The pre-teen to teenage boy demographic is another story. Sure Johnny Depp did his best with the “Pirates” films but that was then and this is now.
Marvel needs people to come back to reading comic books and Disney needs that male demographic to come back to Disney... hence the win-win feeling.
Eliopoulos paid Walt Disney Company President and CEO Bob Iger a compliment saying that Iger is “…very respectful of properties…” and sees any approach by Disney to market their newly acquired properties as being top drawer.
So from a Marvel perspective Eliopoulos sees this as a very positive deal for both sides and is excited about the future.
Bob Sehlinger, author of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and owner of the Menasha Ridge Press, notes that print media is in decline and sees Disney as looking to exploit “umpty-billion Marvel characters” in film, theme park attractions, games, merchandise, and online.
Sehlinger posed the question as to how the acquisition will affect Universal Orlando’s Marvel Super Hero Island at IOA.
Sehlinger went on to say that he thinks Marvel characters aren’t a very good fit with Disney and Pixar characters and wondered if long-term Disney would create a Marvel theme park.
Sehlinger did say that the “…age demographic is key and that licensing agreements are assignable so Disney will either have to honor or buy out agreements in place. What they do with new licensing opportunities remains to be seen and certainly will depend on their long term strategy for the Marvel brand.”
Len Testa, who co-authors the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Sehlinger says, “I think Disney's motivation was to get a stable of well-established characters and storylines that it can use in movies, websites, books and theme parks.”
When asked about the impact on theme park guests Testa says, “I'm not sure how it's going to affect the in-park experience. I mean, it's tough to see where Spiderman or The Hulk would fit into anything other than the Studios. It's relatively easy to continue with movies, comics and the like, but the theme parks are already built around specific ideas. Tough to see how a bunch of characters built around someone else's ideas are going to merge into those.”
A Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom cast member said, “I was surprised by the acquisition of the Marvel characters. I am very curious to see how these characters will play out in the parks. I don't see most of them at the Magic Kingdom, but I think they could be a good fit for Studios or Epcot. Like the Power Rangers or Kim Possible.”
This cast member did have a concern and it is a valid one. It involves guest confusion and says “…many guest get Disney confused with Universal. Often I get asked how do I get to Universal or will my tickets work at Universal.”
She feels that this acquisition may contribute even more to guest confusion.
The licensing issue was also a concern.
She notes, “I am wondering what will happen with the license rights to characters featured at Universal and Islands of Adventure. I find it amusing Disney will probably get a cut of Universal's gate. Only Disney could pull off such a coup as this.”
Another cast member was “totally excited by the Marvel deal. I think it was a smart move on our part. I'm proud of what we did, we bought a brand that was already known- -- we're going to let it be its own product.”
As far as impacting the guest experience this cast member thinks Disneyland will see more of an impact than Walt Disney World.
For my own take on all of this I have a number of thoughts:
• I do think that the price that Disney paid for the Marvel properties was a steal. If you’re wondering for fiscal year 2008, Marvel reported revenues of $676 million and a net income of $205 million, as compared to revenues of $485 million and income of $139 million for fiscal year 2007. I’ll be expecting those numbers to go up over the next few years.
• I recall some 20 years ago, has it been that long, when the Walt Disney Company struck a deal with Jim Henson Associates to bring the Muppets into the Disney fold and how I felt about it. The number of characters Marvel Comics brings certainly dwarfs the Muppets world. Does Disney see some promise in one of the now obscure characters? One can only imagine.
• There is a downside to this acquisition. 2009 has been a rather not so exciting year for theme park guests as other than the American Idol Experience in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, guests have not seen any additional attractions to Walt Disney World’s four main theme parks. Does the acquisition of Marvel Comics indicate that there are no plans in the immediate future for the parks? I would hope not.
• Getting back to the Muppets -- I don’t recall liking the idea that Kermit and friends could pop up in The Magic Kingdom…the house that Mickey built. I expect that we won’t see Spiderman scaling Cinderella Castle or The Incredible Hulk picking up Space Mountain, but instead may see a subtle introduction of such characters in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I feel very strongly that the Magic Kingdom be home for only Disney created characters. My guess is that most of you out there feel the same way.
One last thing…I cannot help but think that sometime in the next decade or so we’ll all be lining up for the Great Marvel Movie Ride with a very realistic audioanimatronic Stan Lee as our guide.
Mark my words.