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Disney’s interest in Fox was less about X-Men, and more about Futurama (update)

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The word “streaming” is key

Bender and Fry in Futurama Fox

Update (Dec. 14): It’s time to put this theory to the test. Disney has announced that it will acquire a majority of 21st Century Fox assets, including the rights to X-Men, Avatar, FX Networks, The Simpsons, and yes... Fox’s investment in Hulu.

Reported conversations that took place between Disney and 21st Century Fox were never about Disney acquiring the X-Men; they were always about Disney clutching Futurama.

An article from CNBC alleges that Disney executives held talks with 21st Century Fox higher ups to discuss the possibility of an acquisition. The deal would give Disney the rights to big film properties, like the X-Men, and television series, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Futurama. It’s the former that seems more exciting, finally giving comic book fans the X-Men/Avengers team-up they’ve been waiting for, it’s the smaller screen series that Disney is justifiably more interested in.

Why? One word: streaming.

Disney announced this year that it was removing its content from Netflix in 2019. This included major franchise films, like Star Wars and Marvel Studios projects. Instead of bringing the films to Hulu, a company that Disney has a 30 percent stake in, Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, confirmed the company was gearing up to launch its own streaming service.

The news wasn’t too big of a surprise; Disney announced in August 2016 that it had acquired a minor stake in BAMTech, purchasing even more of the company a year later to earn a majority stake. The technology used in BAMTech, an offshoot of the MLB’s Advanced Media, which made waves in 2002 after livestreaming a baseball game to the web, and would become the foundation for Disney’s stand-alone streaming service.

With the technological base already built and a plethora of original films to offer potential subscribers, Disney was only missing one aspect: a foundation of series that people would want to return to time and time again.

It’s not that Disney didn’t have some of this content already, but to get people to pay an additional $8 a month — on top of their subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, YouTube Red and HBO Now among others — 30 or 40 series wouldn’t do.

“You have to think of the Disney app as a traditional SVOD [streaming video-on-demand] service,” Bob Iger said, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter. And what people want from their traditional SVOD service is to watch their favorite series again and again.

Disney has already accomplished this on the film side. Iger confirmed in the same Hollywood Reporter story that offerings from all of Disney’s arms — past, present and future — would be made available to subscribers, adding that “it will have the entire output of the studio, animation, live action at Disney, including Pixar, Star Wars and all the Marvel films.”

Add in three or four direct-to-streaming original movies, four or five original series and Disney’s already in pretty good shape. Iger reportedly said the streaming service would launch with “500 films from the Disney library ... in addition to around 7,000 episodes of Disney TV.”

All in all, not bad; but what if it could be better?

What if The Simpsons, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Futuama, Family Guy, American Dad, New Girl, How I Met Your Mother, Bob’s Burgers and a sea of other shows could also be on the streaming service? ABC’s publicity team refer to this type of nostalgia-induced watching “Timeless TV.” There’s something comforting about putting on an episode of Friends or Gilmore Girls and being able to just sit back and enjoy. That doesn’t take away from groundbreaking original series like The Handmaid’s Tale or Transparent, but there’s something about watching the same episode of How I Met Your Mother over and over again that feels refreshing.

“Most people also want TV to be entertaining and not feel like work,” Lisa Holme, Hulu’s vice president of content acquisition, told the LA Times. “Nostalgia programming is [like] comfort food.”

That’s what Fox’s catalogue of TV offers to Disney subscribers: an assortment of comfort television to choose from. Disney doesn’t need Fox’s catalogue of titles to survive, but having them doesn’t hinder the company. It might even make the sale of yet another streaming service more appealing to a college student who just wants to watch Futurama without struggling to find a service that carries it.

CNBC noted in its original report that talks are no longer ongoing between the companies, but they could pick it up at any time. Although the idea of Disney having a monopoly on the entertainment industry terrifies me, the realization that I could have almost all my shows on one streaming service — finally — is kind of exciting.