Should Disney buy Activision Blizzard?
Okay, first up, let me be clear — nobody at Disney and nobody at Activision has said that this is in the cards. This is based entirely on a single article commenting on what a single investor said. Nick Licouris, Investment Advisor Representative for the investment firm Gerber Kawasaki, thinks that Disney should buy Activision because the share price is down, which would make the company relatively vulnerable to a takeover bid. Since his firm owns 90,000 shares of Activision and over 152,000 shares of Disney, it’s not surprising he’s interested in both companies.
Surprise! Investors like making money
The Bloomberg article covering this is not really focusing on the fact that this is just one person at one investment company that isn’t really involved in either Activision or Disney’s actual business aside from working for a company that owns shares in both. I feel like that’s pretty important to mention. This isn’t Disney is eyeing Activision, this is someone who works for a firm that owns stock in both companies would like it if they were one company. And his reasons are primarily from an investor standpoint — you want your shares to go up in value, and if Disney made a move on Activision, the share price would likely go up.
However, the article does also make a good point about Disney’s inability to get into video game publishing. They’ve bought companies and studios in the past only to end up with their current situation, which is that they generally license properties to companies like EA. If Disney wanted to cut out the middleman, Activision-Blizzard is EA’s chief rival — buying them could let Disney publish its own games. And since the global gaming market is estimated to generate over $152 billion this year — a lot of that in mobile — there are companies like Apple also being mentioned as potential future buyers. Granted, again, none of this is coming from anyone actually at Acti-Blizz or Apple: it’s just the way investors get when they try and predict these things. It’s the investor equivalent of speculating about what the next patch will entail.
Could Activision-Blizzard be Disney’s key to gaming?
But now that we’ve qualified this, let’s join in — should Disney, or Apple, or some other enormous corporation buy Activision-Blizzard to try and gobble up a hunk of that sweet, sweet gaming money? It should be noted that mobile gaming is the sweetest plum here — it’s where the majority of the money is. But another attraction is how Overwatch League and other esports ventures have positioned Activision and forged a link between them and Disney, since Disney is currently showing OWL matches on its TV networks. I don’t think that’s really going to lead Disney to buy Activision, but it’s a connection, and business has done stranger things with connections like that. The real question is, what would the impact of Disney buying Activision be?
We’re already in a position where Disney is so vast and owns so much intellectual property that they just dethroned themselves for the #1 highest grossing movie of all time. Looking at this list of the top 10 highest grossing films, the top five are all at least partially owned by Disney now. Yes, even Titanic. In fact, of those top 10 films, only two of them aren’t owned by Disney. Now, if they bought Activision-Blizzard, they would own the Warcraft, StarCraft, Overwatch, and Diablo franchises as well as the entirety of the Activision brand — the Call of Duty games and even more important to a mobile-focused future, King.com and the various games like Candy Crush. I’m willing to admit that I’m extremely nervous at the idea of Disney owning any more of my childhood obsessions. Especially since one assumes that Disney would then move properties it currently owns like Star Wars over to its new acquisition.
The Overwatch League broadcast deal also highlights another potential benefit to Disney. They’re very good at messaging and branding, and grabbing a rising phenomenon like OWL could pay off for them.
Like a Borg cube with mouse ears
On the one hand I’m sure a lot of people are sitting here imagining a Disney-owned Acti-Blizz making Avengers games, but the notoriously mobile-hostile Blizzard diehards would have to realize, it’s the mobile landscape these investors see as the most attractive aspect of all this. And if you think Activision is an evil corporate empire that abuses its power — and I’m not saying it doesn’t or isn’t — then just imagine what it would be like if it were owned by an even more massive corporation, one that is known for draconian enforcement of its copyright laws. Disney is one of the most massive media corporations on Earth, owning Activision-Blizzard would allow them to extend their reach into one of the fastest growing entertainment industries and one that they’ve failed at before.
Maybe it’s just me, but I look at this idea and I get nervous. It’s not hard to imagine in 20 years someone writing an article about how Disney owns 8 of the top 10 video game franchises and wondering how much we’d have lost for this corporation’s hegemony over all media. Game studios are chafing under the weight of big publishers as it is — remember how everyone cheered when Bungie got back the rights to the Destiny series? Now, imagine there’s just one big corporate entity, the one that was willing to extend copyright indefinitely so it could keep owning a cartoon mouse, and it owns every major gaming publisher. The fact that companies like Ubisoft, EA, Activision-Blizzard and Bethesda aren’t all under one corporate umbrella means that we have options and competition.
Of course, this is all just speculation. Activision hasn’t said it’s selling, Disney hasn’t said it’s buying. For all I know, in ten years Disney may well have decided to buy EA instead — they currently license Star Wars to them.
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