Is Disney Quietly Setting up to Knock Down Netflix?

A Disney attraction features that famous earworm “It’s a Small World” and now the world has become smaller than ever, with most of it ruled by Disney. The Walt Disney Company dominated the entertainment landscape like never before in 2019.

They completed their purchase of 20th Century Fox, eliminating one of their competitors. They released six of the eight highest-grossing movies of 2019, including the biggest of them all, Avengers: Endgame, and they started their own streaming channel  that got 10 million subscribers within a day of launching. 

Bob Iger sits down for an interview
Bob Iger | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Disney CEO named businessperson of the year 

Say what you will about the Disney company, but it is extremely business-savvy. Under Bob Iger, who has led Disney since 2005, the company has embarked on a series of mega-mergers that has ballooned the company’s size – and its stock price. Disney bought Pixar in 2006, Marvel in 2009, Lucasfilm in 2012, and finally 20th Century Fox. All this prompted Time to name Iger the businessperson of the year for 2019.

“Iger’s tenure as the leader of the world’s most lucrative dream factory has been one long CEO highlight reel,” Belinda Luscombe wrote in Time. “But 2019 was an apex year, when many of his carefully incubated eggs hatched.”

In other words, this has been Disney’s goal all along – to acquire other companies so that they could be all things to all people and not just have the market cornered on families and children. That’s why, as of Christmas Eve, Disney stock was trading at $145 a share. By comparison, Time Warner stock was at $98 a share.

Disney+ dominates fast

It all culminated in the launch of Disney+ in November. Sure, there were technical bugs and complaints on opening day, but Disneyland had lots of those when it opened in 1955, and now Disney dominates theme parks. While Disney+ won’t “kill” Netflix, it’s quite possible they could become the new streaming leader within the next decade. 

Disney’s acquisitions over the last 15 years or so are what made Disney+ possible. It’s why you can watch The Lion King, Toy Story and Star Wars all in the same place. It’s why you could watch Miracle on 34th Street or The Sound of Music for your holiday viewing, as those former Fox titles are part of the Disney library. 

And as if that weren’t enough, Disney controls another big streamer, Hulu too. This is part of their business model – take things they didn’t already own and make them integral parts of the company. All that said, some fear that there is a dark side to one company owning such a majority of the entertainment landscape. 

Can Disney get any bigger? 

A viral joke circulated on social media this week that had Disney buying Sony, Microsoft, Apple and Warner Bros., but only after Warner Bros. put up a fight. It all leads up to the US becoming the Disney States of America, with Disney building its own Death Star in 2091. As Governor Tarkin said in the original Star Wars, “Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances!” 

Nevertheless, many people feel Disney is getting too big for anybody’s good. Just look at The Rise of Skywalker. It had a B+ Cinemascore, the lowest of any Skywalker saga movie in the  franchise, and more than a few people have complained that Star Wars is no longer unique, but just another piece of the intergalactic Disney pie.

Many Marvel fans rolled their eyes when Martin Scorsese complained that Marvel movies were “not cinema,” although he clarified later that he wasn’t worried about Marvel itself as much as he was about all big spectacle movies choking out more intimate and thoughtful movies.

When most of your entertainment starts to come from the same pipe, that’s not good for consumers, and it ultimately may not be good for Disney if consumers ever push back.