12 Biggest Media and Tech Deals of the Decade, From Facebook-Instagram to Disney-Fox

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Bob Iger and Randall Stephenson have been busy the last few years

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A lot of money has been thrown around since 2010. That’s the first thing that comes to mind when reviewing the biggest deals of the last decade. The second? These colossal transactions are poised to shape Hollywood and the media landscape for the next decade to come, from Disney’s acquisition of much of Fox’s assets to Facebook’s once-pilloried decision to buy Instagram for $1 billion. Let’s run through 12 of the biggest and most impactful from 2010 to 2019. 1. Comcast acquires NBCUniversal (2011 & 2013) TheWrap first reported Comcast was looking to buy NBCUniversal back in Sept. 2009. More than a year later, in Jan. 2011, Comcast snagged 51% of NBCU for $30 billion, ending a long corporate odyssey that gave the country’s largest cable provider control of an entertainment behemoth. Comcast later grabbed the remaining 49% of NBCU from General Electric in Feb. 2013 for $16.7 billion. 2. Disney buys Lucasfilm (2012) A move that set the table for a full slate of new “Star Wars” films, Disney+ TV shows and, of course, one Baby Yoda. Since acquiring Lucasfilm in 2012, Disney has pulled in upwards of $4.4 billion at the box office alone from its “Star Wars” releases. And that’s not including the massive haul “The Rise of Skywalker” will generate, or the billions Disney has already raked in from merchandise and theme park attractions. Factoring all of that in, it almost makes the $4.06 billion deal look quaint. 3. Facebook snaps up Instagram (2012)  Considering Facebook bought Instagram for “only” $1 billion back in 2012, it’s certainly not one of the biggest deals based strictly on the sale price. But in terms of return-on-value, it’s one of the best deals ever, with Instagram now valued at more than $100 billion. That alone makes Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg look like a good guy to follow at the Roulette table when he’s picking numbers. At the time of the deal, though, it wasn’t necessarily viewed as a slam dunk. “A billion dollars of money?!” Jon Stewart exclaimed, incredulously, on “The Daily Show” in 2012. “For a thing that kind of ruins your pictures? The only Instagram worth a billion dollars would be an app that instantly gets you a gram.” Instead, Instagram ended up offering Facebook a much-needed safe haven when Facebook became uncool for Millennials and Gen Z’ers. By 2018, when Facebook was weathering the Cambridge Analytica data leak, most Americans didn’t even know Facebook owned Instagram. “Facebook would be in serious trouble if it weren’t for Instagram,” Gerber said. “All of [Facebook’s] growth is coming from the Instagram platform. It has turned it into an ad sales machine.” 4. China invests big in U.S. cinema as Wanda buys AMC (2012) One of North America’s largest, and most well-known, cinema chains isn’t even owned by an American company anymore. In 2012, as business relationships between China and the U.S. were ramping up, and theater chains were facing a changing media and entertainment landscape, Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda bought a majority stake in AMC Entertainment for $2.6 billion. At the time, Reuters said the $2.6 billion deal was the largest overseas acquisition by a privately held Chinese company. It marked a major foray into the U.S. movie industry for China, which was on the verge of overtaking Hollywood as the No. 1 film market. Wanda subsequently bought production company Legendary Entertainment in 2016. In 2018, however, Wanda sought to scale down its majority position in AMC, as Chinese regulators incentivized companies to cut back on their foreign holdings. Private equity firm Silver Lake Partners then made a $600 million investment in AMC.
From left to right: Mark Zuckerberg, Shari Redstone, Bob Iger and Randall Stephenson. All of them have had a busy decade.
5. AT&T snags DirecTV for $48.5 billion (2015)  AT&T added to its mountain of assets with its $48.5 billion acquisition of DirecTV in 2015. At the time, DirecTV was flying high, with more than 20 million U.S. subscribers. That figure eventually crested in early 2017 at about 21 million customers, but the AT&T-DirecTV marriage hasn’t been as happy since then. Cord-cutting has hit the company hard, like it has the entire cable and satellite industry. After losing 1.2 million video customers during the third quarter of 2019, DirecTV slumped to 17 million subscribers. Soon after, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said there are “no sacred cows,” signaling the company could be already looking to offload its struggling satellite business. “AT&T’s strategic decisions on how to optimally use the DirecTV acquisition varied for the first few years, but more recently the company focused on retaining and acquiring profitable subscribers, and related cost-controls.  These decisions not only had a major impact on AT&T’s pay-TV business, but as the number one pay-TV provider, it also had a major impact on the pay-TV industry overall,” said analyst Bruce Leichtman, president of Leichtman Research Group. Leicthman pointed out that over the past year, AT&T had a net loss of about 3.6 million pay-TV subscribers, with AT&T accounting for 62% of pay-TV net losses over the past year. 6. Microsoft buys LinkedIn for $26.2 billion (2016) It’s not the sexiest deal of the decade, that’s for sure. But it’s definitely fitting for Microsoft, which quietly expanded its already-massive footprint in the last 10 years to include career networking and a thriving cloud business. As the job market has continued to rebound in recent years, LinkedIn’s reach appears to have only expanded — although Microsoft stopped reporting its quarterly users once it bought the company. Now, six decades after it’s rivalry with Apple started, Microsoft finds itself fighting its longtime competitor for the title of the world’s most valuable company, with both worth about $1.2 trillion heading into the ’20s. 7. Disney gains control of BAMTech (2017) A big move for Disney under CEO Bob Iger: Disney initially became a minority owner in BAMTech, the company behind the streaming efforts of MLB, HBO and WWE, in 2016. A year later, it acquired an additional 42% for $1.58 billion, bringing it up to a 75% stake overall. By this point, Disney was already miles behind Netflix when it came to streaming. The content was there, but the technology was lacking. That’s where BAMTech — now renamed as Disney Streaming Services — came in, and it’s now the backbone to Disney+. 8. AT&T buys Time Warner despite several objections (2018)  This one was like pulling teeth. The AT&T-Time Warner deal finally went through in 2018 for $85.4 billion, after facing strong opposition. Not only was President Trump vocally against the deal, but the Justice Department also brought an antitrust lawsuit against AT&T after it refused to divest from CNN. AT&T ultimately won the case and the deal went through in June 2018. The mega-merger not only armed AT&T with a treasure trove of assets, but it may have jumpstarted an era of blockbuster deals as Hollywood giants continue to fight for content. WarnerMedia — as Time Warner was renamed soon after the deal closed — now plans to launch its lynchpin streaming service in 2020. 9. TikTok races to 1 billion users after ByteDance grabs Musical.ly (2018) Considering this deal was relatively small — with Beijing-based ByteDance buying lip-syncing app Musical.ly  for about $1 billion — this entry is more about looking ahead to the 2020s. ByteDance, soon after the deal was completed, merged Musical.ly with its TikTok, its homegrown short-video app, and the rest has been history. TikTok has rushed to 1 billion active users, with hoards of Gen Z’ers around the world jumping on the app to share their music-infused clips. It’s now the hottest app entering the ’20s, and regulators are belatedly starting to worry about the merger, which closed in late 2017. In November, the U.S. government opened a national security review into ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.ly. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is currently investigating the deal on “potential national security risks,” Reuters reported. The companies did not seek regulatory clearance from the committee in 2017, allowing the committee to now go back and review the deal. The probe comes amid increasing scrutiny of China’s business deals in the U.S. 10. Discovery beefs up slate with Scripps acquisition (2018)  The biggest merger you never heard of: This 2017 deal flew under the radar for most. Well, as much as a $15 billion sale can fly under the radar. But in buying Scripps, Discovery created a lifestyle-programming behemoth, which it hopes will insulate it enough against the changing media landscape. The combination joins some of cable television’s most popular channels, including Discovery’s namesake network, Science, OWN and TLC with Scripps’ HGTV, Travel Channel and Food Network. 11. Disney buys much of Fox’s TV and film businesses (2019)  Simply put: a mammoth deal that will impact Hollywood for decades to come. For $71.3 billion, Disney closed its acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox’s film and TV businesses earlier this year, two years after first kicking off negotiations. It can be difficult to wrap your head around how much Disney grabbed with the buyout, including: 20th Century Fox film and TV studio, first-class intellectual property, a number of cable networks including FX and National Geographic, and an additional 30% stake in Hulu. But at first blush for many watching from the outside, the deal didn’t compute. Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin joining the same family as Mickey Mouse and Snow White? How’s that going to even work? It may still be an odd fit, but the streaming landscape — and in particular, Netflix’s first-mover advantage  in this sector — may have made this deal a necessity for Disney. The deal allowed Disney to not only add additional content to Disney+, its new, lynchpin streaming service, but solidify its other streaming efforts as well. “The Disney-Fox merger created the best streaming app since Netflix,” GerberKawasaki CEO Ross Gerber said. “Not to mention, it allowed Disney to solidify its hold on Hulu and [it already had Indian streaming service] Hotter.” The move not only made Disney competitive, it made it dominant, Gerber said. “With Hulu, ESPN+, Disney+ and Hotstar, Disney has four streaming apps that dominate their markets,” he said. “Disney has always been on the forefront on content but also distribution. By creating new global streaming distribution channels and monopolizing content creation and a huge library, Disney makes Netflix look like a pumped up underclassman. This merger will pay off for the next decade.” 12. ViacomCBS, at long last (2019) It took many stops and starts — and a legal brouhaha or two. But Shari Redstone finally got wish to reunite the Viacom and CBS, some 13 years after they split apart, for roughly $12 billion. Though a re-coupling of the two had been talked about for years, it looked as if this would never come to be. That is, until longtime CBS chief Leslie Moonves — who waged a legal war against Redstone in an attempt to strip her off her power — was ousted amid multiple sexual misconduct accusations. Viacom and CBS recombine at a time when the media landscape is vastly different than the one from the early 2000s. Disney and Fox got together, AT&T bought Time Warner and Netflix’s arrival upended the whole business model in a pivot towards streaming. Just don’t count ViacomCBS among those diving in both feet.