It’s been a very busy 2019 for Disney, obviously. Between completing its purchase of Fox entertainment properties, the record-setting box office haul of Avengers: Endgame and the impending launch of both Disney+ and the (ESPN-owned) ACC Network, nothing has really been able to stand in the way of the House of Mouse. Until Tuesday’s news that could potentially throw a real wrench into the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s grand future plans.
For the uninitiated, Spider-Man was created by Marvel, but the movie rights to the character and supporting heroes, villains and others from the Spider-Man universe were sold to Sony in 1998 for a mere $7 million (read more about that here). Sony’s gone on to create two different Spider-Man franchises with Tobey McGuire and Andrew Garfield, respectively, before a recent agreement that allowed Spidey to appear in the MCU — still owned by Sony, but under the creative direction of Disney-owned Marvel.
Played by Tom Holland, this latest Spider-Man has appeared in five different MCU films already, including two of this year’s three blockbuster hits, Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home. In the latter film, it seemed as if Spider-Man/Peter Parker was being groomed to replace Tony Stark/Iron Man as the new face of the franchise. If Spider-Man were to be pulled from the MCU (as the piece implies could happen), that would presumedly scuttle a lot of plans.
There are plenty of ways this is all avoided, however. The simplest is that they just go back to the negotiating table and hash it out. Holland could also attempt to walk out without MCU affiliation, which while effective, wouldn’t necessarily solve the issue as the character could still be recast. Still, if Spider-Man was just torn away from the MCU, it’s unlikely that Marvel opts to support the merchandise around the film, as they still own those rights in full (thus, hurting Sony).
Option three is the biggest one, and the one that also potentially boosts some of Disney’s greater goals when it comes to content delivery, however: What if they just buy Sony outright?
Not just Sony Pictures, mind you. But Sony Corporation itself, including… PlayStation. Disney has gone all-in on building out its streaming content capabilities, and is poised to make billions off of that with Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+. However, they’ve never really owned the hardware that delivered that content. PlayStation is not only a popular gaming system but a popular streaming option as well (PlayStation Vue’s service has less than a million users but there’s potential). The forthcoming PS5 console could easily include discounts for Disney streaming content and/or just supply the hardware for additional and more granular ad targeting against digital content.
If it seems farfetched, Disney’s current market cap is at $243.42 billion, while Sony’s is $70.78 billion. At three times the size and with a lot of new revenue poised to boost Disney even further, the only potential thing stopping them from just buying up Sony should they choose to do so is the Department of Justice — and maybe the question of whether or not Disney wants to jump into the ad tech game.
Various devices already deliver smart TV content for a fraction of the cost that a PS5 console will cost, and many users just opt for what’s pre-installed on the TVs themselves, without grabbing a Fire TV Stick, Roku, etc. Even if they do grab an option like Fire TV or Roku, those still aren’t full gaming consoles. That said, Sony also makes Smart TVs…
Also, does Disney want to shift its focus toward competing with MVPDs, which it currently works with as a content provider instead? A move toward hardware wouldn’t necessarily put it on an even playing field with the likes of AT&T, Comcast or Verizon either, since those entities all have ownership stakes in the pipes that deliver the content too. Buying the PlayStation hardware alone probably pits Disney more against Roku and Amazon instead (though Amazon obviously has its own distinct advantage in that department as well). Add in the TVs and its still about the same, unless they opt for exclusive programming through those sets (unlikely since TVs aren’t purchases made on content right now).
Perhaps all speculation for now, and maybe it’s all just an added bonus of any potential desire to just buy Spider-Man back for good. It’s not lost on Sony how valuable Spider-Man is on his own at this point, just like it wasn’t back when they bought him alone (instead of various other Marvel characters along with him) back in 1998. Marvel gets that too given how successful his two standalone MCU films have been so far. And those financial windfalls are likely a motivator to do this sort of thing, if push comes to shove.