Disney Buys Marvel In $4B Deal

Disney has bought Marvel Entertainment at a cost of $4 billion. Dawn Chmielewski, a Los Angeles Times staff writer who covers the entertainment industry, says Disney gains access to a young, male audience. Marvel, she says, gets access to Disney's global reach.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. It is a marriage only Hollywood could dream up.

(Soundbite of song, "Part of Your World")

Ms. JODI BENSON (Singer): (Singing) Wouldn't you think I'm the girl, the girl who has everything?

BLOCK: That sugary, red-headed mermaid, Ariel, hooking up with the armor-clad tough guy, Iron Man.

(Soundbite of movie, "Iron Man")

Mr. ROBERT DOWNEY JR. (Actor): (As Tony Stark) Sometimes you've got to run before you can walk. Ready? And three, two, one.

BLOCK: That's right. Today, Disney announced it is buying Marvel Entertainment and its 5,000 characters for - gadzooks - $4 billion. Los Angeles Times reporter Dawn Chmielewski covers the entertainment business, including Disney, and she joins us now.

Dawn Chmielewski, what do you see the advantages are for each side here?

Ms. DAWN CHMIELEWSKI (Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times): Well, this is a really interesting acquisition. For the Walt Disney company, acquiring the Marvel catalog of 5,000 characters gives them entree to a young, male audience that loves film and that they've been struggling to reach or they'd like to reach more deeply. For Marvel, this gives the corporation, gives the comic book publisher access to Disney's global reach.

BLOCK: So, Disney already had a strong base with girls in "Hannah Montana" and any number of films. And now, with Marvel, they can reach more of the boys and hopefully expand their base. Marvel looking for a global base in what, advertising, product placement, what kinds of things?

Ms. CHMIELEWSKI: Well, Disney is such a varied corporation. Some think it's unique in being able to exploit all the various characters in the Marvel universe. Not only does it have television and cable outlets, including a budding cable channel called Disney XD that's trying to reach young boys with programming designed to appeal to them, but they also have deep relationships with retailers like Wal-Mart, which would be appealing to Marvel, which is trying to place, you know, place toys and other products at retail. And they have a well-established videogame development, so they could help further explore Marvel's characters in the interactive realm or indeed even create online worlds that were built around the fantasies that Marvel's creative community has already designed in the comic book pages.

BLOCK: Yeah. It does seem there's a flaw here. There are other studios that have longstanding and hugely lucrative deals for Marvel movies and characters. Paramount has "Iron Man," 20th Century Fox has "X-Men," Sony has "Spiderman." Disney, I guess at least in the short term, gets none of that, right?

Ms. CHMIELEWSKI: Well, Disney will own Marvel. So in the case of "Iron Man," for example, it will benefit from the proceeds. Paramount is distributing the film that Marvel is creating. But you're absolutely right. I mean, much of the low-hanging fruit has been already exploited by other studios in town. What Disney is hoping that through its experience in trying to create franchises out of characters in television and animation, that they can find other characters to mine within Marvel's universe.

BLOCK: You know, a lot of the Marvel characters were created by Stan Lee, a legend in the world of comic books. Do you think this is a dark day for Marvel fans, fans of Spiderman and The Fantastic Four now joining the house of Mickey Mouse?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHMIELEWSKI: It's a very good question. But I think there's some precedent here. Disney, especially under Bob Eiger, has been careful not to damage the culture of companies that Disney has acquired. Think most recently about its major acquisition of Pixar in 2006. Disney has allowed John Lasseter and Ed Catmull to not only preserve the culture at that delightful Emeryville studio, but also bring some of the sensibilities to revive the animation studio at Disney.

BLOCK: Okay. Dawn Chmielewski with the Los Angeles Times. Thanks very much.

Ms. CHMIELEWSKI: Thank you.

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