Disney's recent acquisition of 21st Century Fox might sound like a business happening way above your pay grade. After all, what effect could it have on your life (besides being able to see the X-Men alongside the Avengers)? The reality, however, is that as Disney takes control of the entertainment industry, consumer choice falls into an endangered position, and the corporate machine that transforms childlike wonder into monetary gain reigns supreme.
It's true: many of us have Disney to thank for countless childhood memories of nights at the cinema or family trips to the most magical place on earth—magical experiences that fostered the joy and wonder any child longs for. Hell, that Disney-branded sense of joy is what we all still long for in our entertainment. But there's the problem: Disney as a corporation is forming a monopoly on the entertainment industry, gaining more control with each and every business decision it makes.
In reality, even though its target audience is often young, Disney Corporate is made up of high-level businessmen in business suits conducting important business, and that's just business. As of June of this year, this boardroom of executives has offered $71.3 billion to purchase Fox, a deal that stands to please everyone except the consumers (also the 5,000 workers being laid off in the merger).
Evidently, this isn't the first time Disney acquired properties to add to its own value (here's a diagram of all of Disney's companies). Disney's current assets include a long list of entertainment juggernauts, namely Marvel, Star Wars, ABC, Pixar and ESPN, a large portion of which were acquired in a manner similar to the Disney-Fox deal albeit never to such an absurd monetary scale.
The most troubling aspect, then, is not Disney's actions (a business does as a business does), but Disney's future.
Disney merging with 21st Century Fox means that, coupling the shares of Walt Disney Studios and 20th Century Fox, the company will obtain control of roughly 28% of the domestic box office. That figure is even more staggering when compared to the film industry's runner-up Warner Bros., which only owns around 15%. To make matters crazier, Disney and Fox together produced six of the ten highest grossing films in the U.S. this year.
The acquisition will also grant Disney Fox's 30% share of Hulu, a major streaming service in competition with Netflix. With Disney's existing 30% stake, the company will be taking over majority control of the service (60%). Given that Disney has announced its own streaming service Disney+ to release in late 2019, the company will likely rise into heavy competition with the likes of Netflix, which currently owns all of your free time and mine. Since Disney+ will feature family-friendly content and Hulu bears more "adult" programming, Disney now has the capacity to bundle the two and effectively rival Netflix's affordability.
So, the Disney-Fox deal hasn't gone through— at least not officially. The acquisition is under "regulatory review", meaning regulators nationwide must okay the agreement before it comes to fruition. Simply put, they're deciding whether or not the merger makes Disney a monopoly.
No, Disney is technically not a monopoly, at least not in the legally punishable definition of the word. While Disney-Fox shares will make up a substantial chunk of the entertainment industry (significantly larger than any individual competitor), the fact that competition exists means it can't actually be called a monopoly, which would theoretically have sole ownership of the market.
Disney's influence might seem harmless enough. What harm can a friendly mouse and a little magic do to you? In reality, Disney might not be a legitimate monopoly, but its power is dangerous in the same way.
Having complete control over the market means a business can raise prices unreasonably and therefore abuse their consumers. In Disney's case, consumers theoretically should be able to avoid such a scheme by turning to non-Disney alternatives, but the fact that the Walt Disney Company owns so many dominant franchises means that a Disney boycott would leave consumers with little else. Instead, consumers pay the price for their Disney-branded content. The name "Disney+" even suggests as much: the Disney brand is worth that little bit extra.
We accept the higher prices because we feel we have to, because our craving for that childlike wonder, that so-called "magic" of storytelling, bleeds us dry.