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A high-profile union of titans, with massive implications for the entertainment world, dominated headlines as 2017 drew to a close. And we are not referring to the wedding of our very own Anushka Sharma with the Indian cricket team captain, Virat Kohli!

A few weeks back, The Walt Disney Company formally announced that it had agreed to terms with News Corporation to acquire the latter’s global entertainment assets, including its film studio, 21st Century Fox. With Disney ending both 2017 and 2016 as the number one film studio in the world, and Fox weighing in at number four in both years, this is no routine gobbling up of a tiny rival by a corporate behemoth.

While it will take an estimated 18-24 months for the deal to fulfill all regulatory compliances and actually become fully operational on-ground, this coming together of two giants has already set the cat among the pigeons, forcing the competition to scramble for options on taking on this massive, combined threat.

Though the impact of this mega-merger will be more keenly felt in the backyard of the two studios i.e. the North America market, the Indian media landscape will feel its repercussions too. After all, both Disney and News Corp have a substantial presence here in India, across multiple entertainment verticals like television broadcasting, digital platforms and film production/distribution.

Of specific interest to our readership, quite obviously, is what the deal means for the film trade in India, especially since both the merging parties are already important players in our marker through their desi avatars, Disney India and Fox Star Studios.

Disney India may be in the midst of a self-imposed hiatus from local film production but, from all possible indications, this is a temporary suspension of activity rather than a permanent downing of shutters. It is home to one of India’s most significant film libraries thanks to its buy-out of the erstwhile UTV Communications, including 4 out of India’s Top 10 highest grossers – Dangal (Ranked 2), PK (3), Chennai Express (8) and Kick (9). 

On its part, Fox Star Studios – a joint venture between Fox and Star India (also a News Corp company) – has steadily amped up its presence in local production and distribution. Indeed, it was the only studio in 2017 to be involved with as many as 3 films to gross over Rs 100 crore at the domestic box office – Jolly LLB 2Badrinath Ki Dulhania and Judwaa 2.  

Just how formidable the merged entity could potentially be in the future can be gleaned from the data relating to the recent past.  Check out the table below that looks back at the Hindi film collections of the last few years while recasting Disney (including the erstwhile UTV Communications) and Fox Star Studios as one bloc:

Year Domestic Collections UTV + Disney India + Fox Star Studios(UDF) Collections UDF Collections as Per Cent of Domestic Collections Disney + Fox market share as Per Cent of North America BO
2009  Rs 1210 crore Rs 77 crore 6.4 27.6
2010 Rs 1537 crore Rs 378 crore 24.6 29.2
2011 Rs 1769 crore Rs 277 crore 15.7 23.3
2012 Rs 2392 crore Rs 600 crore 28.1 24.1
2013 Rs 2818 crore Rs 895 crore 31.8 25.1
2014 Rs 2738 crore Rs 1117 crore 40.8 32.8
2015 Rs 2775 crore Rs 611 crore 22 32.2
2016 Rs 2791 crore Rs 846 crore 30.3 39.6
2017 Rs 3000 crore Rs 491 crore 16.4 34.7

Domestic collections figures and percentages – Hindi films only, including regional films dubbed in Hindi

As is evident, the combined contribution of Disney India and Fox Star Studios to the Hindi box office over the last decade has been very substantial. Despite their joint market share being less than 7 per cent at the start of this study (2009) and tapering off again last year (2017) – primarily due to Disney’s local production sabbatical – both studios together accounted for almost 25 per cent of the entire takings from 2009 to 2017.

Check out the last two columns of the table that look at the combined market share of Disney and Fox in India and North America, respectively. Surprisingly, the top-ranked and fourth-ranked Hollywood studios were even more dominant in India than they were in their home market during each of the years 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Some more statistics to underline the formidable strength of the two studios – together, they account for 17 out of the 56 Hindi films so far to collect over Rs 100 crore domestically, 4 out of 11 films in the Rs 200-crore club and 2 out of the 6 films that went beyond Rs 300 crore.

And let us not forget that the biggest strength of the two studios is after all their Hollywood content.  Together, the merged entity will be home to some of the biggest titles of all time and the most remunerative franchise properties – Star Wars, Avengers, X-Men, Titanic, Avatar, Toy Story, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Ice Age and Guardians Of The Galaxy, to name a few.

Not surprisingly, 4 out of the Top 5 all-time grossers in the world – and 7 out of the Top 10 – are from these two studios. Likewise, the biggest Hollywood film ever in India, The Jungle Book (2016), is again a Disney product.

The marquee Hollywood properties in the joint kitty would not only give stiff competition to Hindi films at the Indian box office, their combined muscle could also conceivably be leveraged for ensuring better exhibition showcasing/terms for the merged entity’s Indian productions too in the future.

In short, the regulatory go-ahead aside, everything is potentially in place for a period of global as well as local domination by The Walt Disney Company. Unless, as they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry… even if the mouse in question happens to be Mickey!

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