A rumored deal between the Walt Disney Company and Comcast could result in Disney assuming full control over Marvel characters with ties to Universal Studios.
Do you know why there’s an Avengers Campus land at Disneyland Paris and the Disneyland Resort’s Disney California Adventure Park but not Walt Disney World? Due to a legal agreement enacted before Disney owned Marvel, Universal has the sole rights to any Marvel character depictions already in place at Super Hero Island in Orlando, which is why EPCOT can have the Guardians of the Galaxy, but not the Avengers.
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Moreover, while Disney retains complete ownership of all Marvel Studios and Marvel Comics IP, complications with existing distribution rights arise, leading to discrepancies over who can release new content involving characters like Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, and Namor on things like streaming platforms. Of course, Sony holds the rights to Spider-Man, while Comcast’s Universal controls the other two heroes, both growing in popularity due to cameos in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) and the Disney+ original She-Hulk.
However, change could be coming for some of these comicbook heroes in future Marvel Cinematic Universe features. In fact, Citi analyst Jason Bazinet predicts that Disney, who currently owns 67% of Hulu, might sell its stake to Comcast in exchange for Hulk and Namor’s distribution rights.
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As a result, Disney could distribute any new spin-off series or solo films on its streaming service rather than defaulting to NBCU’s Peacock, keeping them neatly organized alongside other new projects like Hawkeye, Loki, and Ms. Marvel. Of course, Disney CEO Bob Iger previously brought up the topic of selling the Company’s stake in Hulu during an interview with CNBC’s David Faber.
Before, the decision to relinquish its two-thirds stake would have merely benefited Disney, whose direct-to-consumer division reported a $1.1 billion loss in its fiscal first quarter, partly the result of lower ad revenue for Hulu. Now, Disney’s put/call agreement with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts has the added benefit of supporting Iger’s proclaimed goal to “aggressively curate our general entertainment content” by focusing on core franchises.
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Moreover, Bazinet estimates the Marvel characters’ distribution rights at a value of just $0.3 billion compared to Hulu’s guaranteed $27.5 billion total equity value. Plus, Hulu currently gained 2% more subscribers last quarter, totally around 48 million viewers paying to watch hits such as The Handmaid’s Tale, The Dropout, and Only Murders in the Building, which stars former Disney icon Selena Gomez.
Therefore, not only would the agreement allow Comcast to avoid selling its one-third stake in Hulu to Disney, but gain full control of its entire value at a significantly smaller loss.