Walt Disney Co. has set the date: It expects to wrap up its $71.3-billion acquisition of much of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox by March 20.
Disney’s purchase of the Fox assets — first unveiled in December 2017 — will likely transform the Burbank company into an entertainment Goliath, towering over its traditional competitors. Disney’s goal is to expand its programming pipeline to better compete against Netflix, Amazon.com and Apple Inc., technology companies that have sparked major shifts in consumers’ viewing behavior.
Disney and Fox on Tuesday announced a timetable for staging various components of the complicated deal. The move came after Mexico’s telecommunications regulator, IFT, approved the Disney-Fox deal late Monday, according to Bloomberg News. Winning Mexico’s consent was the final hurdle for Disney to conclude its nine-month quest to secure all necessary government approvals. Last summer, U.S. antitrust regulators approved the deal but stipulated that Disney must sell Fox’s 22 regional sports networks, including Prime Ticket and Fox Sports West in Los Angeles.
The companies set a Thursday deadline for Fox investors to elect to have their shares converted to Disney stock or accept cash. The companies are setting aside $35.7 billion for cash payments. On Tuesday, Murdoch’s company will irst spin off assets that it plans to keep, including the Fox broadcast network, Fox News Channel and the two national Fox Sports channels. Those properties will fold into a new company known simply as Fox.
The Murdochs also will retain the legendary Fox Studios lot on Pico Boulevard near Century City.
Disney will then acquire the remaining 21st Century Fox assets, including the prolific television and movie studios, FX channels, National Geographic channels and Fox’s 30% stake in Hulu. The deal is rich in international television assets, including in Latin America and India.
“The acquisition is expected to become effective at 12:02 a.m. Eastern Time on March 20, 2019,” Disney said in a regulatory filing.
In recent weeks, Disney has been securing final regulatory approvals from Latin American countries, including Brazil and Mexico. Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger earlier this year flew to Brazil to help hammer out an agreement to satisfy regulators. The compromise requires that Disney sell the Fox Sports channels in Brazil and Mexico.
The combination of the two companies is likely to bring substantial job losses. Company insiders have said there could be more than 3,000 layoffs in the coming months as the companies figure out staffing for their new organizations.
Disney has already said it would bring over several key Fox executives to run important operations, including Walt Disney Television. Peter Rice, one of Murdoch’s longtime lieutenants, will become chairman of the Burbank-based television group, reporting to Iger. Dana Walden, who has led Fox’s television studio for two decades, will become head of Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment. John Landgraf, chief executive of FX Networks, will continue to lead those channels.
Former Warner Bros. executive Craig Hunegs will be president of Disney Television Studios.
On the film side, Fox’s Emma Watts will run the 20th Century Fox studio and Fox Searchlight, the specialty division, will continue to be helmed by Stephen Gilula and Nancy Utley. Elizabeth Gabler will continue in her role running production at Fox 2000. The Fox executives will report to Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn.