Mouse-opoly: Is Disney Dominating the Entertainment Industry?
Avengers: Age of Ultron. Frozen. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. What do these three movies all have in common? Is it their record-breaking (or sure-to-be) sales? Their modern take on old stories? These things are true, but their greatest secret isn’t about the movies themselves, it’s about the company that made them.
Whether audiences know it or not, The Walt Disney company has dominated the entire entertainment industry in the past decade. Disney has been a household name since the late 30s, but it has been really expanding the properties it owns over the past ten years. Disney has bought up a lot of the most recognizable IPs (intellectual properties) in the entertainment business, and is bringing new life into these franchises.
However, this leaves two main concerns for savvy-minded audiences. First, is Disney monopolizing the entertainment industry? Second, if they are, is it actually a bad thing? Americans have been raised to hate the idea of a monopoly. There’s even a board game about it that is infamous for creating chaos and mania in the relationships of its players. For those who love conspiracies there’s even Disney versions of monopoly!
It Was All Owned by a Mouse
Before calling the anti-trust lawyers, it’s important to decide if there’s actually a threat of a monopoly present. For those unfamiliar with the concept, or those who have always heard it was a bad thing without ever knowing why, a monopoly is “complete control of the entire supply of goods or of a service in a certain area or market,” according to Merriam-Webster. This doesn’t really define Disney. Disney does not control the rights to all film, TV, and game franchises, nor does it systematically stomp out the competition. Disney is, however, going after the cream of the crop.
Whether the slightly out-dated members of the Academy are willing to admit it, the age of the nerd is in full swing. There’s no argument to be had; anyone who’s not living under a rock can see that geek culture has dominated the 2010’s. Nearly everyone is a gamer (Candy Crush and 2048 are games, which makes any one who plays them a gamer), superheroes are dominating and toppling box office records, and the biggest corporations are throwing billions of dollars at what, 20 years ago, would have been laughed out of the board room.
Disney has always had a great sense of audience. Disney knows exactly what an audience wants even before the audience even dreams of it. So it makes sense that Disney is utilizing nerd culture as its newest marketing tool. If there’s two things nerds and geeks love more than anything it’s superheroes and Star Wars. As far as business decisions go, buying Star Wars from George Lucas is one of the best, and one that has been largely fan-approved, but that’s a point for the next section.
One of the biggest tells of a monopoly is creating an environment where consumers are coerced into believing that the best option comes from one company, and that all other companies are only second-rate wannabes. Disney doesn’t have to do any of the heavy lifting, the adoring public will do that for it. But how can this possibly be the case, Disney doesn’t own every IP, and many of the other major studios are still doing fine. But does Disney really need to be a monopoly? When all the biggest movies are Disney’s, how long will it be until Disney is the only company who can risk big productions?
Sony’s superhero powerhouse, Spider-man, was recently bought by Disney, and there’s very little left in the way of Marvel superheroes. In fact, the only two Marvel properties being used outside of Disney’s reach are X-men, which is doing well but not Avengers well, and The Fantastic Four, which has yet to make any waves cinematically. The only real contender here is the DC cinematic and television Universes. DC (and their partner company Warner Bros.) have found a great deal of success with television audiences with their shows Arrow, The Flash, and Gotham. While the Dark Knight trilogy is beloved by movie-goers, DC has yet to produce a consistent formula for success. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of [the] Justice [League], may prove to be a worthy contender of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). However, Disney has been in the superhero-movie blockbusters since 2008, and many critics see the latest mass-release schedule as the first sign that the superhero genre is on its last legs, so DC may be joining the fight a bit late. Either way, Disney doesn’t seem to have any intention of buying DC movie rights away from Warner Bros., not that DC or Warner Bros. would be willing to.
Star Wars isn’t the only classic science fiction franchise to get a contemporary film. Star Trek, Terminator, and Robocop have all gotten sequels or reboots within the past few years, and none of those are owned by Disney. JJ Abrams is, however, the director for both the Star Wars and Star Trek films now, so Disney may be trying to cash in on the success Abrams had with Star Trek. So clearly, Disney isn’t trying to monopolize the entire science fiction genre, or even the classic science fiction reboot sub-genre. While Star Wars: The Force Awakens is sure to be a hit at the box office, so was Star Trek, and there has yet to be any talks of Disney buying that franchise.
So what about the original movies Disney actually created? Disney has always been an animation powerhouse, but lately have made a bunch of live-action films, specifically ones based off of their popular theme-park rides. Disney and Pixar have always been synonymous, but its important to remember that they actually aren’t. Pixar originally splintered off from LucasArts (which Disney Bought in 2012), and was later bought by Disney in 2006 for 7.4 billion dollars. While Disney had produced all the Pixar films, it never fully owned Pixar as a company. So now, even if it wanted to, Pixar can’t create movies for any other company than Disney.
But even with this acquisition, Disney still isn’t the only producer of animated films. Dreamworks has done its best to be Disney’s biggest animated competitor with films like Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon. Disney may be setting the bar pretty high for competitors, but there is plenty of business for other animation studios. The Shrek franchise alone brought Dreamworks over 3.5 billion dollars worldwide, and the How to Train Your Dragon franchise has made over 1 billion worldwide. Even comparing these numbers to Disney’s powerhouses—the MCU (8.9 billion), and Frozen (1.8 billion)—makes Dreamworks a worthy competitor to Disney.
Is the Mouse-opoly Really a Bad Thing
So Disney isn’t really a monopoly, at least, not yet, but what if it were? Would it actually be a bad thing. Monopolies might be a bad thing for most industries, but would Disney actually be a bad company to be the dominate owner of the entertainment industry? So far Disney has done nothing but great things for all of its properties. Just looking at the numbers shows how well critics and fans alike respond to Disney-run franchises. Critically, their properties are at an all-time high, and fans can’t seem to get enough. Disney doesn’t need to monopolize the industry, fans are handing it to them on a silver platter.
Where is the artistic freedom in an entertainment industry run by one company though? Honestly, the art of film making may even prosper if there was only one big company left. However, it is always dangerous to make these kind of conclusions without some real-world examples. The video game industry is a prime example of what a Disney-dominated film industry would look like.
David and Goliath
While there certainly isn’t a monopoly within the game industry, there are certainly Giants. Giants who have done their best to beat out or bought out the competition. Game development is a bit too complicated to detail in this article, but there used to be a large range of publisher and developers. Now, however, there is really only room from the AAA companies, which is the classification given to the biggest and richest companies, mostly because the AAA companies have made it nearly impossible for lesser companies to stay in business. Oh, and, the indie companies, which are dominating the gaming industry. The amazing indie culture may not be a direct product of the AAAs taking over, but the stark contrast between AAA and Indie games has made being an indie developer a great business. So, at least for gaming, a monopolization was only a real threat to the other slightly-less big dogs.
Independent movies have always been a vital part of the film industry, and are thriving especially-well in the Internet age. Even if Disney were to truly take over the film industry, independent movies would still flourish, if for no other reason then that they aren’t Disney movies. Creativity and artistic freedom would not be extinguished, in fact, it may even blossom.
Dr. Walt: Or I How I Came to Love the Mouse
There are certainly some major concerns that come with a monopoly, but so far Disney has yet to be the bad guy. Disney using its massive purchasing power should not be seen as a devious plot to take over the film industry, but instead as a company that knows what its audiences want, and has proven that they can take care of their own. With the imminent release of the next, strongly promising, Star Wars film, Disney may prove once again that they are more than capable of doing great things with their properties. Disney doesn’t do risk; Disney knows how to make a great product, and a product that stands the test of time. So, even if Disney ever became a true monopoly, which it really doesn’t show signs of, there really doesn’t seem to be anything to worry about.
Removing the Rose-Colored Glasses
It looks like there’s nothing to worry about if Disney takes over the entertainment industry, but realistically there is plenty to worry about. It’s still true that independent film makers could flourish, and that Disney would most certainly do some great things with whatever properties it owns, so does Disney really need active, big-company, competition? Absolutely, and, in this case, not for the reason one might suspect. Without competition Disney has no reason to be the best anymore. One of the greatest aspects of an anti-monopoly business climate is the need to compete. Competition drives businesses to constantly do better, to push harder, to imagine bigger and better ideas. The reason Disney has done so well for itself, and its audience, is because they have competition that requires them to be the best, or the Disney image would fall.
If Disney was allowed to become a monopoly, then they’d no longer have a reason to try as hard, and audiences would only receive content that was as good as Frozen and Star Wars. That might not sound like a bad thing, but with competition Disney may prove to continue to produce content that is constantly better, and will consistently drive audiences to the box office. Speaking of the box office, what would happen to it when there’s only one company making all of the movies. Eventually, all of the movie theaters would be bought and owned by Disney. That might seem like an absurd idea, but that’s exactly how Hollywood started. Every major studio owned their own chain of theaters, and only let their movies be shown in those theaters. Eventually they realized that this business model didn’t work as more and more movies were being produced, leading to the studio-movie theater relationship that exists today.
It’s ultimately hard to tell what exactly would happen if Disney took over the entire industry. It might prove to be a great thing, but it could also lead to the entertainment industry becoming dull. Directors like Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson would most likely still be making movies, but either their budgets would be incredibly small, or their movies would be monitored by Disney to the point that they’d be unrecognizable. Audiences really shouldn’t worry though. Disney is certainly buying up a lot of major properties, but so far they haven’t bought anything that doesn’t logically match Disney’s usual content. Disney might be one of the richest corporations in the world, but they still don’t have the level of finances needed to buy out all of their competitors, and so far they don’t have a reason to.
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