This Is Disney's 'Highest Priority' As Fox Deal Transforms Media Sector

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Disney ( DIS ) CEO Bob Iger stressed Thursday that in addition to beefing up an already-vast library of TV and movies, the $66 billion deal to buy 21st Century Fox 's ( FOXA ) entertainment assets provides the opportunity to expand globally and ramp up its direct-to-consumer streaming.

[ibd-display-video id=3023531 width=50 float=left autostart=true] The deal includes 20th Century Fox's movie and TV studios, FX Networks, National Geographic, Fox's regional sports networks, Fox Networks Group International and Star India, as well as Fox's stakes in Hulu, Sky, Tata Sky and Endemol Shine Group.

It comes as Disney plans to launch an ESPN streaming service in 2018, a Disney-branded family-friendly streaming service in 2019, and use Hulu as a more adult-oriented streaming service.

"One of the most exciting aspects of our Fox acquisition is that it will allow us to greatly accelerate our direct-to-consumer strategy, enabling us to better serve consumers around the world," said Iger, who will be extending his contract from 2019 through 2021 as part of the agreement, on a Thursday conference call. "As I've said before, we believe creating a direct-to-consumer relationship is vital to the future of our media businesses, and it's our highest priority."

The cord-cutting trend, i.e. people shedding their cable subscriptions, has broadly pushed media companies to offset cable subscriber losses with more streaming options. The Disney-branded streaming service will already have original content in the form of the powerful "Star Wars" brand, as well as Pixar and Disney Animation movies, positioning the platform as a formidable competitor to Netflix ( NFLX ) and Amazon ( AMZN ).

Now, Fox movies like "Fantastic Four," "Deadpool," and the "X-Men" series will round out Disney's Marvel properties, with major franchises such as "Aliens" and "Planet of the Apes" further padding out a rich trove of content.

Disney will pay $52.4 billion in stock and assume $13.7 billion in debt under the deal, which works out to 0.2745 share for each Fox share, equal to $29.54 as of Disney's Wednesday close. The transaction is expected to close by June 30, 2018, and is seen providing at least $2 billion in cost synergies.

If the transaction doesn't go through, Disney is on the hook for a $2.5 billion breakup fee.

Shares of Disney were up 2.75% at 110.57 on the stock market today , after weeks of speculation that a deal was imminent. Fox surged 6.5% to 34.88. Comcast ( CMCSA ), which abandoned its own bid for Fox earlier this week, rose 1.4%, Viacom (VIAB) gained 0.6%, CBS (CBS) rallied 1.7%. Time Warner (TWX), which has a deal to be bought by AT&T (T), was off 0.4%. Netflix rose 0.9% and Amazon picked up 0.9%.

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Iger told ABC's "Good Morning America" Thursday that he doesn't expect to reach the "scale of Netflix quickly," but sees being a top competitor.

Some analysts are already bullish on the prospects, though.

"We view this as a 'home run deal' for Disney and while it's an aggressive acquisition with a high price tag, in our opinion this is the right move at the right time as the marriage of these assets creates a much more formidable Disney on both the content and streaming front for the coming years with its primary goal to invade Netflix's 'golden streaming sandbox' when it launches its competitive service in 2019," wrote GBH Insights analyst Daniel Ives on Thursday.

The deal also brings Disney's stake in Hulu to 60%, up from 30%. Comcast's NBCUniversal owns another 30% and Time Warner has a 10% stake in the streaming platform.

Having a controlling interest in Hulu will help make management of the company more clear and efficient, said Iger on the call.

By supersizing its library of intellectual property and annexing more of Hulu, Disney may be able to more easily brush off concerns surrounding subscriber losses at its media networks unit, in particular at premium sports cable network ESPN, which relies on being part of the traditional cable bundle.

Iger is a firm believer in ESPN's power as a sports media brand. Now he is pointing to plans to take it international.

"The addition of Fox's global sports platforms, which include 22 regional sports networks here in the United States, as well as a rich portfolio of sports rights and properties in Europe, India and Latin America, nicely complements ESPN's existing business and creates exciting new avenues to grow this brand far beyond the United States," said Iger on the call.

Fox will spin off Fox Broadcasting network and stations, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, FS1, FS2 and Big Ten Network into a separately traded firm before the Disney takeover.

Disney will lease the Fox studio lot in the Century City neighborhood of Los Angeles for seven years, as part of the deal, reported Variety, citing an insider who attended the Fox town hall meeting Thursday.

It's unclear how regulators may judge the Disney-Fox deal. Even if antitrust officials approve the merger, they could still impose significant concessions. The Justice Department recently moved to fight the AT&T-Time Warner deal in court.

Another key question that remains is who might be next in line to fill the shoes of Iger after he is done seeing through the integration of Fox's assets.

On "Good Morning America," Iger said Fox CEO James Murdoch will assist in the transition, with the two chiefs also discussing over the coming months "whether there is a role for him or not at our company," according to CNBC .


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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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