There have been rumors for years that the two companies could combine, but it hasn’t happened yet. A new wave of speculation says that a deal really could happen
Apple and Disney have been intertwined, in various ways, for many years. Steve Jobs, the co-founder and former CEO of Apple, was also chairman of Pixar, which was acquired by Disney, and at the time of his death, Jobs served on the company’s board and was Disney’s largest shareholder.
The two companies have also partnered on various things, most recently when Disney CEO Bob Iger appeared at the keynote in June when Apple announced the new Apple Vision Pro headset, which will offer a Disney+ interface.
For many years, there have been occasional rumors that Apple might someday buy Disney. It’s never happened, nor have there been credible reports about talks even taking place. Robert Iger even wrote in his memoir that he believes that if Jobs hadn’t died in 2011, Apple and Disney would have eventually merged.
But as pressures on the streaming economy make further media consolidation more likely, there is renewed speculation that Apple and Disney could combine.
The Hollywood Reporter, earlier this week, was the latest to address the speculation, with a piece titled “An A Disney Sale to Apple? Don’t Count It Out This Time.”
Iger appeared on CNBC last month and stated that such networks as ABC and FX “may not be core” to the company’s business. This indicated that Disney might be willing to unload some of its divisions- or possibly even more than that.
“It’s an idea that keeps being discussed, even though many top executives have scoffed at it and many still do. Apple doesn’t want to buy a studio, they say, and there’s no way the feds would allow a huge deal like that to go through,” the Reporter story said.
“I don’t think [Apple] would buy the company as it presently exists,” one veteran executive told the Reporter. “But if you see Bob start to divest things … that feels like he’s prepping for a sale. And there’s clearly no buyer like Apple.”
Apple, the Reporter said, has a $62 million cash pile and $2.8 trillion market cap. However, there isn’t much reason to think that Apple would want to get into several businesses of Disney, such as theme parks, a physical movie studio, a broadcast television network, or local TV stations. Also, Disney has emerged in the last couple of years as a culture war battleground that Apple might want to avoid.
It doesn’t appear that such a deal, were it to happen, would be imminent, and it might require Disney to unload some of its assets first, possibly in a sale to a private equity firm; there are also rumors that Disney could sell off all or part of ESPN.
But any deal would likely face major regulatory scrutiny, especially from a Biden-era FTC that has taken a hard line about antitrust issues, especially when it comes to Big Tech. Disney also has an extremely vocal fan base that might object to a takeover of the company.
Iger addressed the rumors on Disney’s earnings call this week.
“I’m not going to speculate about the potential for Disney to be acquired by any company, whether it’s a technology company or not,” Iger said, per a transcript published by the Disney site Blog Mickey. “Obviously, anyone who wants to speculate about such things would have to immediately consider the global regulatory environment. I’ll say no more than that. It’s not something that we obsess about.”
Iger also didn’t speak as if he was expecting Disney to be bought anytime soon.
“Moving forward, I believe three businesses will drive the greatest growth and value creation over the next five years. They are our film Studios, our Parks business, and Streaming – all of which are inextricably linked to our brands and franchises,” Iger said in the earnings release.
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Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.