21st Century Fox Has Reportedly Been in Talks to Sell Most of Its Company to Disney

Fox, Fox News and Fox Sports would not be included in the deal

The two companies have reportedly been in on-again, off-again talks for the past few weeks. Getty Images
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The number of big media companies could be decreasing by one: 21st Century Fox has been holding talks in recent weeks to sell much of its company to Disney, and would shift to focusing more on its news and sports properties, according to a CNBC report.

The on-again, off-again talks have been taking place over the last few weeks, and might not lead ultimately to a deal, said CNBC.

21st Century Fox declined comment on the CNBC report, and the Walt Disney Company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Disney would not be able to buy all of Fox, given that it already owns one broadcast network, ABC, and could not own a second. Fox Sports programming would also be excluded from the deal, as would Fox News and Fox Business Network.

But Disney would buy FX, National Geographic and the movie studio, along with the TV studio and international assets like BSkyB and Star.

While Fox would still have several networks, the loss of its production studio would be a major blow given the importance of vertical integration, depriving it of a key TV revenue source.

The deal would be a big shakeup for Fox Networks Group, which in May had tapped Joe Marchese as its new president of advanced advertising products. If it goes through, Marchese would lose some of his biggest advertising assets in FX and National Geographic, though 21st Century Fox could end up rolling Fox News and Fox Business Network—currently run by Marianne Gambelli—into a single, company-wide portfolio.

Meanwhile, depending how Disney would choose to redistribute its ad sales organization (currently ESPN’s ad sales team is separate from its other media properties), the company would end up with an advertising portfolio that would rival NBCUniversal’s.

The deal would align almost all of Marvel’s movie properties under the same company; currently, Fox has movie rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises, which also includes Deadpool; only Sony’s Spider-Man films would be made outside of the company. And Disney, which opened an Avatar-themed land opened at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom in May, would have control over the Avatar franchise ahead of the coming four sequels that James Cameron has begun production on.

If talks resume between the two companies and a deal goes through, a timetable would be unclear. AT&T reached a deal to acquire Time Warner (which had previously been in merger talks with Fox) in October 2016, and that deal still hasn’t been finalized.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.