Who does Disney own? 9 companies you didn't know it owns as it cancels $1bn Florida plan amid Ron DeSantis war

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Not every film, TV show or song produced by Disney is child-friendly

When you think of Disney, you tend to think of Mickey Mouse and various other animated characters, including Disney princesses. But, since it was formed almost 100 years ago, in October 1923, the Walt Disney company has been creating and acquiring a number of different brands and companies - and it may surprise you to know that not all of them are child-friendly.

Not all of Disney’s plans for growth have gone well, however. The company has just withdrawn plans to build a nearly $1billion (around £800 million), corporate campus in Florida. The campus would have housed 2,000 employees, but it has been scrapped amid the company’s ongoing legal battle with Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis.

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As the Disney and DeSantis war continues, NationalWorld takes a look at some of Walt Disney company's more successful brand takeovers or creations. You can also find out all the latest information about Disney’s war with DeSantis at the end of the article.

21st Century Fox

The acquisition of 21st Century Fox by The Walt Disney Company was announced in December 2017 and then completed in March 2019. The takeover included the 20th Century Fox film and television studios and US cable channels such as FX and Fox Networks Group. In January 2020, Disney began to rebrand Fox's studios to remove references to "Fox" from their names. For example, 20th Century Fox being renamed 20th Century Studios. This rebrand continued until October 2022.

Searchlight Pictures

Searchlight Pictures was one of the 21st Century Fox film production companies that was acquired by Disney in 2019. Previously known as Fox Searchlight Pictures, it is an American film production company. Searchlight Pictures films which have been made since then include Tolkien, Nomadland and Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.

National Geographic

National Geographic produces magazines, television shows, books, and documentaries about nature, wildlife, and travel. Disney acquired National Geographic when it bought 21st Century Fox in 2019, which is why you’ll find lots of National Geographic programs on its streaming service, Disney+.

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You'll be surprised to know that Disney owns these 9 companies including ABC and ESPN.You'll be surprised to know that Disney owns these 9 companies including ABC and ESPN.
You'll be surprised to know that Disney owns these 9 companies including ABC and ESPN. | Adobe Photos/NationalWorld/Kim Mogg

Hulu

Hulu is an American subscription streaming service which was launched in 2007. Disney owned 30% of Hulu before the 21st Century Fox merger and now owns almost 70%. Comcast owns just over 30%, but is supposedly in the process of selling their share to Disney also. That sale is expected to be completed in 2024. Earlier this month,  Disney announced that they would introduce an app in the US which combines Disney+ and Hulu content by the end of 2023.

ABC

The American Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcast television network. In 1996, the Walt Disney Company bought Capital Cities/ABC for $19 billion, according to the New York Times, and renamed it ABC, Inc. This means that shows like Grey's Anatomy, The Bachelor, The Good Doctor, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars are owned by Disney.

ESPN

ESPN, which stands for the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, is an American international basic cable sports channel. ABC, Inc owns 80% of ESPN, which means that Disney owns the majority of ESPN. Hearst Corporation owns the remaining 20% stake.

Marvel

Disney bought Marvel for $4 billion in 2009, which is around £3.2 billion, and secured rights to many Marvel superheroes like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk. Disney CEO Bob Iger said that some executives were worried that Marvel was “too edgy” and “would tarnish the Disney brand”, but the New York Times reported that the acquisition went ahead as Disney sought to appeal more to young boys.

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Touchstone Pictures

Established in February 1984 by then-Disney CEO Ron W. Miller as Touchstone Films, Touchstone Pictures feature films include more mature themes and are targeted at adults. This is a difference from Disney's usual films, and the brand was created to make a distinction between the family films Disney is commonly known for and the more grown-up films the company also wanted to make.

Hollywood Records

Hollywood Records was founded in 1989 by Michael Eisner, who was CEO of Disney at the time. The label focuses in pop, rock, alternative, hip hop, and country genres, and specialises in mature recordings not suitable for the company’s flagship Walt Disney Records label. Artists such as Demi Lovato, Queen, Selena Gomez and Zendaya are currently signed with the label.

What has happened between Disney and Ron DeSantis?

Disney and DeSantis have been engaged in an increasingly bitter battle since March 2022, when Disney’s then CEO, Bob Chapek, criticised legislation in Florida that would limit discussion of gender identity and sexuality in elementary schools, which are the US equivalent of primary schools.

In February this year DeSantis then removed Disney’s longstanding self-governing power over Walt Disney World theme park in Orlando in central Florida. The governor branded Disney as “woke” and said that it should not receive special treatment in the state. 

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Ever since Disney founded its Florida theme park in 1967, it was allowed to pick most board members for its district because it owned a majority of the land. This gave Disney exceptional control over zoning and infrastructure, but under the new law, board members had to be approved by the state senate.

Disney labelled DeSantis’ actions as political retaliation over what should be protected free speech and sued the state last month to have the moves reversed. Then, earlier in May, the current Disney CEO, Bob Iger, publicly questioned Florida’s interest in the company’s continued investment in the state, according to The Guardian.

In a call with investors to discuss quarterly results, he told them that Disney employed more than 75,000 people in Florida, attracts millions of visitors each year to Walt Disney World and had plans to invest $17 billion (around £13 billion) to expand the resort over the next decade He asked: “Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes, or not?”

The Guardian reported that Josh D’Amaro, the Disney parks chief, sent in an email to Disney employees on Thursday 18 May which informed them that “changing business conditions” had prompted the company to reconsider its 2021 plan to relocate employees, including its imagineers who design theme park rides, to a new campus in Lake Nona. He added: “This was not an easy decision to make, but I believe it is the right one."

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