Now with Star Wars, the (market) force is with Disney

By Sophie Estienne, AFP

NEW YORK — For millions of impatient fans around the world, the December 2015 release date for the first film in a new “Star Wars” trilogy is a distant date in a galaxy far, far away. But while there is a more than a year to go before the return of one of the most iconic franchises in movie history, Disney is already reaping rewards from its acquisition of George Lucas’s beloved science-fiction saga. Disney shelled out US$4 billion to buy Lucas’s Lucasfilm in October 2012, and with it the rights to add the likes of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Darth Vader to the company’s cast of iconic characters. While the headline-grabbing centerpiece of the deal was a commitment to make a new trilogy of “Star Wars” blockbusters, Disney is already generating returns from an avalanche of associated products ranging from spin-off television shows to toy light sabers. The animated series “Star Wars Rebels” premiered on Disney television on Friday while a videogame for smartphones and tablets “Star Wars Commander” was rolled out in August. Disney has also announced plans for a “far greater ‘Star Wars’ presence” in its global chain of theme parks. Disney’s willingness to exploit its properties for maximum financial gain is hardly a new strategy. Yet it has been perfected under the stewardship of company chief Robert Iger, in charge of Disney since 2005.

Disney earned US$9 billion in net profits in the nine months leading to late June, returns which helped earn Iger a lucrative contract extension announced last week which runs until mid-2018. Keeping Brands Alive

“It’s definitely one of his legacies to the company,” said Neil Macker, a media analyst with the Morningstar investment research group. “Keeping brands alive within the Disney universe, parks and resorts, merchandizing, the stores, everything like that — that’s something he and his team have done, basically,” Macker told AFP.