Image: The Walt Disney Corporation

The Mouse’s Media Monopoly

Mickey Mouse is the ruler of our childhood. For almost a century, the Walt Disney Company has continually produced animated shorts and movies, expanding its media presence exponentially. This company was founded after Teddy “Trust Buster” Roosevelt fought to break up corrupt business monopolies that ruled during the Gilded Age. Today, with the release of its new streaming platform Disney+, the Disney Company is being compared to these Gilded Age monopolies. 

Monopolies in the modern era are hard to create and/or specifically define. The basic idea of a monopoly, though, is demonstrated when a sole company has complete control over a single industry. Typically, government regulation aims to prevent monopolies from happening, but monopolies are sometimes allowed to continue (under heavy regulation) when they bring prices down and benefit the public. This can be seen in the utility industry, which is dominated by just a few companies (such as…?). Critics of Disney’s huge amount of power in the entertainment industry argue that it is actively trying to buy out the competition and does not reflect the public’s best interest. 

Earlier this year, Disney’s $71.3 billion dollar purchase of the film and TV assets held by 21st Century Fox was criticized because it seemed to give Disney too much control over a single industry. This type of expansion is called horizontal integration and is usually heavily scrutinized by the government because of the power it can give to a single company. However, under the current administration, this merger took less time than many expected and went through smoothly. With so many subscription services, though, Disney+ would just be an extra bill to pay for many and Disney is actively removing the movies and shows it owns from other streaming platforms like Hulu and Netflix. A Disney+ subscription isn’t a necessity of life, but the launch of this new platform shows how far Disney is willing to go to profit off its enormous catalog of TV shows and movies. 

Disney may argue that Disney+ gives people access to shows and movies they have not previously been able to see, but this argument hides Disney’s actions behind the scenes. The company has actively hidden and canceled projects intended for public enjoyment. After the Disney-Fox merger, the company canceled 300 or more movies Fox was working on, and began to store Fox movies and TV shows into the “Disney Vault.” The Disney Vault is where Disney places its work when it does not want the public to be able to buy it. Disney has used its Vault to store movies for seasonal releases or to rotate out when movies can be bought to increase demands and sales for specific films, but another use of the vault is to store movies until they can be remade to maintain the copyright. Because of this, Disney canceling and hiding movies it bought from Fox does not help consumers. Disney+ does provide easy access to the people to movies and shows that they are interested in, but Disney has been actively suppressing other companies. This streaming service is an extension of the company’s past behavior, and does not change the negative influence Disney as a corporation has on the public.

It could be argued that Disney may not have a monopoly in the traditional sense of the word, but it does have a monopoly on our collective nostalgia. Disney may be where dreams come true, but in the modern era, the actions of this company seem more like a nightmare. Our fond memories of Disney shows and movies should not excuse Disney’s unfair increasing of its control over the market.  If the government does not stop Disney from becoming a monopoly, the people can with their wallets. Buying and watching Disney+ may not be the worst thing you can do, but if you choose to do so, at least be aware of what is being supported with your subscription.

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