| Sophie Estienne |
NEW YORK (AFP) – For millions of impatient fans around the world, the December 2015 release date for the first film in a new “Star Wars” trilogy is a distant date in a galaxy far, far away.
But while there is a more than a year to go before the return of one of the most iconic franchises in movie history, Disney is already reaping rewards from its acquisition of George Lucas’s beloved science-fiction saga.
Disney shelled out $4 billion to buy Lucas’s Lucasfilm in October 2012, and with it the rights to add the likes of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Darth Vader to the company’s cast of iconic characters.
While the headline-grabbing centerpiece of the deal was a commitment to make a new trilogy of “Star Wars” blockbusters, Disney is already generating returns from an avalanche of associated products ranging from spin-off television shows to toy light sabers.
The animated series “Star Wars Rebels” premiered on Disney television on Friday while a videogame for smartphones and tablets “Star Wars Commander” was rolled out in August.
Disney has also announced plans for a “far greater ‘Star Wars’ presence” in its global chain of theme parks.
Disney’s willingness to exploit its properties for maximum financial gain is hardly a new strategy. Yet it has been perfected under the stewardship of company chief Robert Iger, in charge of Disney since 2005.
Disney earned $9 billion in net profits in the nine months leading to late June, returns which helped earn Iger a lucrative contract extension announced last week which runs until mid-2018.
“It’s definitely one of his legacies to the company,” said Neil Macker, a media analyst with the Morningstar investment research group.
“Keeping brands alive within the Disney universe, parks and resorts, merchandizing, the stores, everything like that – that’s something he and his team have done, basically,” Macker told AFP.
“I think now they have got the process down on how they can monetise these properties, as a process, relatively well.
“You’ve seen the benefits in what they’ve done with Marvel and Pixar,” Macker added, referring to the Iger-led acquisitions which added money-spinning properties such as Iron Man, Captain America and “Toy Story” to the Disney stable.
With “Star Wars,”, just as it has done with Marvel’s superheroes, Disney is able to appeal to a broader, older audience as well as children, expanding beyond the realm of Mickey Mouse and fairytales.
At the same time, Disney remains adept at catering to its traditional audience – last year’s Oscar-winning movie “Frozen” has become the highest-earning animated film in history, with more than $1 billion at the box office.
“One of the thing that Bob Iger’s done is moving (Disney) from being dependent to all of these older characters, that had a very deep history with them, for new characters, new content, and use all of them to create more and more content, that can be turned into rights, or merchandising, or probably musicals,” Macker added.
By designing and distributing its own products, Disney avoids having to pay a portion of its profits to intermediaries.
But not everything in the Disney garden is rosy, according to some.
While its share price has soared to record highs, trebling its market capitalisation worth since 2005, a few analysts believe Disney is over-valued. “Disney is near the top of a cycle,” Indigo Equity Research stated in September.
Disneyland Paris remains mired in financial difficulties, with losses of 64.4 million euros last year and a huge drop in visitors.
On television, Disney’s ABC network needs new flagship series to rebound while sports channel ESPN faces increasingly tough competition to secure broadcasting rights to top events.