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Apple-Disney rumors resurface amid Magic Kingdom's murky future

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Aug 21, 2023
Illustration of two hands grabbing for a Mickey Mouse ears hat surrounded by abstract shapes.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Disney's uncertain fate is renewing speculation from analysts and industry onlookers that the Magic Kingdom should be sold to Apple.

Why it matters: A deal between the two has always been more rooted in fantasy than reality. That the idea keeps coming up is a worrying sign of Disney's current vulnerability.

The latest: The most recent version of an Apple-Disney deal posited by the analyst community would involve Apple buying ESPN to bolster its sports push.

  • "The massive appetite for live sports content remains the laser focus for Cupertino now to boost its streaming future and further tap into its massive installed base of 2 billion iOS devices worldwide," Wedbush analyst Dan Ives wrote in a research note last week, putting a $50 billion price tag on the sports network.
  • Following Ives' note, a barrage of Apple-Disney merger analyses hit the media waves, from columnists to analysts, unpacking both the possibility of Apple-ESPN and the full marriage of the two companies, with pundits positing why such a pairing may or may not be possible in the future.

Of note: Disney CEO Bob Iger has signaled openness to selling the company's linear TV networks like ABC and FX. But he's been adamant about maintaining control of ESPN, even as Disney looks for a strategic partner.

Be smart: The attention and speculation around Apple-Disney is as old as the Hollywood Hills.

  • Needham and Co. analyst Laura Martin has suggested multiple times this year that Apple should buy Disney.
  • In his 2019 memoir, Iger wrote that if Apple co-founder Steve Jobs were still alive, "we would have combined our companies, or at least discussed the possibility very seriously."

Yes, but: Apple has shunned making big acquisitions, preferring to build out new products itself.

  • "Anyone who wants to speculate about these things would have to immediately consider the global regulatory environment," Iger said during Disney's earnings call earlier this month. "It's not something that we obsess about."

The big picture: Media giants are between a rock and a hard place: Their legacy TV businesses are still turning big profits but are in decline. Streaming has become a money pit.

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