How Disney's Fox Takeover Will Affect Your TV Viewing

Dan Clarendon
Deborah Feingold/Getty Images; Fox; FX

There’s a mouse in the Fox house: The Walt Disney Company is set to acquire 21st Century Fox for $71.3 billion of cash and stock, with shareholders approving the deal last summer following an intense bidding war between Disney and Comcast, the parent company of NBCUniversal.

Disney has been on a roll lately, having previously acquired Lucasfilm and Marvel and thus assuming control of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the far, far away galaxies of Star Wars. The company’s Fox deal is exciting news for moviegoers — the X-Men and the Fantastic Four can finally join the Marvelverse — but what does it mean for TV fans? How will Fox’s TV properties be affected?

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For starters, it’s important to note the Disney-Fox deal isn’t a total takeover. Mickey Mouse is not acquiring Fox Broadcasting Company (a.k.a the broadcast channel), Fox News, Fox Sports, or the Fox Television Stations Group, all of which will be spun off into a new company called Fox Corporation. Therefore, FOX and ABC won’t merge into one channel — the FCC prohibits mergers between any of the four major broadcast networks anyway — so shows like Empire and Family Guy are staying put. (Side note: the 20th Century Fox studio lot will also be spun off to Fox Corporation but will then be leased to Disney for seven years.)

But Disney will acquire other big assets: 20th Century Fox Film Corporation (including 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, and Fox 2000 Pictures), Fox Television Group (including 20th Century Fox Television, FX Networks, and FX Productions), and Fox’s 30% share of Hulu.

Empire and Family Guy

Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox Television and FX might be the biggest headlines on the TV side of the deal. It means Disney will have a massive catalog of current shows — including This Is Us, Empire, Fresh Off the Boat, American Horror Story, American Crime Story and Pose — and favorites of yesteryear — including The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Glee. You’re not likely to see any big changes on the TV dial, but now Disney will get to dictate where and when those shows stream online.

Speaking of streaming, Disney’s acquisition of Fox’s 30 percent stake in Hulu means Disney will have a total share of 60 percent, with Comcast owning 30 percent and Time Warner hanging onto the remaining 10 percent. Even with Disney’s own streaming service in the works, it’s unlikely Hulu will go anywhere — Disney CEO Bob Iger once made the distinction that Hulu will be home to more adult fare — but Recode warns consumers that Hulu “will look very different going forward” because “whenever one media player owns/starts/controls its own streaming service, it turns into a walled garden.” It’s possible, the site notes, that Disney will eventually shut down Hulu once all the media rights expire.

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Interestingly, one TV show’s fate hangs in the balance (sheets): The Simpsons. The hit animated series, currently in its 30th season, is now the longest-running scripted program in TV history, but now its economics are complicating its future. The Simpsons will be produced by Disney’s 20th Century Fox but aired by Fox Corporation’s Fox Broadcasting Company, meaning Fox Corp. will have to bear the full expenses of the show, per Variety. The good news: FOX just renewed the show through Season 32.

This whole deal is a lot to unpack, but the TL;DR version is that traditional TV will probably look the same to viewers amid all the upheaval. The streaming game, on the other hand, is still up in the air.