It seems everyone is asking, can Fox’s “The Simpsons” survive under the umbrella of the Walt Disney Company? As popular as Bart, Homer and the rest of the Springfield celebrities may be, their on-screen poor profit margin, and not Disney’s family-friendly brand, may mean curtains for the animated series.
The issue of survival for “The Simpsons” on the small screen seems to be more about merchandise and less about the actual show. Under Fox, episodes airing on television actually lost the network money and only the post-show licenses and merchandise allowed for any kind of financial success. Unfortunately, those same deals (with the show’s original broadcast stations) require that FOX continue to produce new episodes (at this time at least two new seasons are in discussion). All that could change in February/March of this year . . .
What began as a short, crudely drawn cartoon segment during “The Tracy Ulman show” in 1987 has evolved into a thirty-year (1989- present) animated series airing on the FOX network. The show’s popularity earned fans an animated motion picture (2007) and a horde of t-shirts, toys, games, collectibles and even a theme park area (Universal Studios Florida).
However, the show itself, despite its popularity, actually airs at a loss for 20th Century Fox Television. Merchandise and broadcast deals are the bread and butter which keeps the series in the green. Additionally, it’s important to note Disney is not buying everything currently under the “Fox brand.” Once the sale of Fox to Disney is complete there will be a “New Fox” (not the company’s official name) that will consist of: Fox News, Fox Business, the national sports channels/assets, and the Fox broadcast channel and the regional Fox stations that currently air The Simpsons.
Disney will acquire all other assets with include the movie and television studios that among other things produces The Simpsons & owns the rights to The Simpsons. As a result, the deals that currently require Fox to air new episodes of The Simpsons is an obligation on “New Fox,” but not an obligation to Disney which will own licensing and merchandise rights.
As Disney comes into possession of 21st Century Fox, including 20th Century Fox Television, which produces “The Simpsons,” they may be less inclined to produce a television show that costs more to air than it brings in. In most cases when one business acquires another, it absorbs the assets (but not the business) of the former. Thus, Disney may be under no obligation to produce more episodes of a show that costs more to make than it brings it. Add in the dark cloud of “does it fit the Disney standard” fears and Springfield could be even less likely to enjoy new adventures.
At the same time will “New Fox” or the Fox Network which Disney is not purchasing wish to license the rights for new shows that were already a money loser and only made financial sense under the combined balance sheet of the existing 21st Century Fox company?
Free from obligations to create new Simpsons content, Disney would be able to solely focus on the more profitable part of the franchise: merchandise and new licensing agreements (which would not bind them to draw up new episodes).
All hope is not lost, though. Disney could, though unlikely given the broadcasting profitability concerns, take a hands-off approach as it did with its acquisition of Marvel. There’s also the ever so slight chance that “The Simpsons” along with the hundreds of other Fox-produced television content, could find its way to Disney’s new streaming service – either as re-runs of already broadcast episodes or (hopefully) with new stories. Finally, Fox Network could make an agreement to continue airing new episodes. This final option is not uncommon as many shows that air on television are produced by another company. The question is why would the “New Fox” or the Fox Network wish to air a show at a loss?
What are your thoughts on the future of “The Simpsons” once its part of the Walt Disney Company? Do you think that Disney should continue the adventures of Bart and company in new episodes?