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Report: The Last Jedi was unwitting backdrop for 11th-hour talks that led to Disney-Fox merger

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Dec 17, 2018, 4:00 PM EST (Updated)

As tales of mega-corporate negotiations go, the account of how Disney came to sit in the catbird seat for ownership of most of 21st Century Fox’s assets veers toward the dramatic side. 

Cemented by a sort of gentlemen’s agreement between the two companies’ top executives against the buzzy backdrop of The Last Jedi’s London premiere, it reads partly as a dry, bean-counting affair — but also as a fascinating look at how a $54 billion deal to transform the content delivery landscape took shape.

In a deep play-by-play look into the Disney-Fox merger’s history, Variety pored over Disney’s 455-page regulatory filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to uncover a few interesting nuggets — revealing, in the process, that Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger and 21st Century Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch ironed out the final few broad strokes while Iger was in London for The Last Jedi’s red carpet release.

“The Disney and Fox camps worked furiously during the first two weeks of December to hammer out the basics of the deal,” Variety’s report notes, adding that “Iger and Rupert Murdoch met Dec. 12 in London, where Disney held a glitzy premiere for Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “discussed the status of the advanced discussions and how their respective boards were feeling about the transaction.”

Even though the two companies’ boards had not yet formally voted on the merger as The Last Jedi first flickered to life on British screens, “Iger and Murdoch were confident enough in London to take a photo shaking hands on the roof of a building overlooking St. Paul’s Cathedral,” the report states. “That picture would be distributed to media outlets when the deal was formally announced before the stock market opened on Dec. 14.”

The incidental Star Wars setting is just one of a handful of interesting tidbits in the report, which covers a lot of ground relating to the months-long corporate romancing that saw Comcast (parent company to NBCUniversal and SYFY), Verizon, and Disney all vying for ownership of Fox. 

But perhaps the most interesting nugget for genre fans is the revelation of how Disney may be poised to leverage a two-pronged approach to digital streaming as it preps the rollout of its own, still-unnamed Disney digital platform.

Disney hasn’t dropped too many hints about how Hulu — which is jointly owned by Fox, Comcast, Time Warner, and Disney — could look in the future if Fox’s share ends up going over to the mouse house.

The fact that Disney is already focused on entering the streaming wars under its own brand name might spell trouble for Hulu — but it also might give its family-friendly majority owner a convenient place to stream darker, more adult-oriented entertainment while keeping a safe distance. Then again, Disney might just sell off its whole share, setting off even more seismic streaming activity.

Much is still up in the air until the feds wave Disney through, but things still appear to be on schedule for the merger’s originally-forecast 18-month window. 21st Century Fox’s president said last week he expects the deal to be finalized sometime in the spring or summer of 2019.