The Owners of The Big Two: Disney and WBD

marvel vs dc

Unsurprisingly, Marvel and DC control a majority of the market in comics sales in comic shops mostly because they’ve had a decades-long history doing it pretty darn well. Their parent companies’ respective legacy status as entertainment brands lay both in Disney and Warner Brothers Discovery, two companies which both have spanned for a century. Successful media empires to say the least. 

Yet, why is it Warner Brothers has struggled to create a DC Film Universe despite having ownership of the brand for the past 60 years? How reliant has Disney become on theme parks and merchandise sales from the MCU and just how much money do these IPs based on comics make? 

According to a balance sheet back in September 2023, the entirety of Disney’s total debt, both current and non-current, is sitting at a whopping $46 billion. While that’s bad, the company had also as of December 15th, reported a net income of $2.35 billion for the year, with gross profits looking at $29.7 billion. This tells us that despite all the company is doing, it’s just barely sustainable despite juggling so many parts of its industry and will desperately need to find a way to pay off its debt. 

Keep in mind that Disney stopped operating as merely a media company long ago and it also drives most of its revenue not just from media, but also, from merchandising, theme parks, and cruise ships. Selling experiences based on ideas.

By comparison, WBD’s long-term debt back in September 30th was $48 billion. An increase of 237% compared to 2021. If that isn’t scary, net income was -$4.82 billion for 2023 and -$7.37 billion in 2022. By all means WBD needs to figure out a way to save itself because not only does it have Disney-level debt, but it’s still hemorrhaging money every year at unprecedented levels.

Warner Brother’s response? Scaling by hiring one of the biggest penny pinchers of CEOs this past decade in David Zaslav. A man who wove daytime talk shows, reality series, and travel shows into gold, helping develop so much of these spaces behind the scenes, including helping established brands such as the Oprah Winfrey Network. Under Zaslav’s tenure Discovery turned into a Fortune 500 company, a feat so stunning that when the time came to do the Discovery and Warner Bros merger, he was officially appointed CEO of the new company.

Since then, Zaslav has written off much of the HBO Max content library from its service in avoidance of paying residual payments as write-offs. It’s why he canceled the highly anticipated Batgirl movie. His popularity as a CEO has waned for numerous reasons, especially during the strike when he was still given his generous financial yearly package. Though the biggest takeaway is his interest on how to scale profitability using the company’s underused IP including from DC comics. 

As of writing this it’s also been announced that the company is intent on taking the WB library into the metaverse. Hiring the writer of ‘Ready Player One’ to tackle the daunting task of creating an AI, VR, and Metaverse-driven reality called “The Readyverse”.

It’s a cool theory in concept, yet a daunting and financially destructive one that has been the bane of existence for companies such as Meta, which has blown billions of dollars on the metaverse with little to show for it. (Apple’s Vision Pro headset is another player in the metaverse.)

Add on one of the biggest problems with it – that you need a high-speed internet infrastructure network blanketing the entire world for it to truly work – and there are already a lot of basic problems with Web3, least of which, has been everyone’s distrust in crypto and NFT’s. 

This is easily the biggest blow to the Metaverse, thanks to people like Sam Bankman-Fried who set the tone regarding the Metaverse’s potential economy of how it operates (if you don’t trust these services now, there’s going to be a lot of work needed in ever convincing it makes sense in a metaverse).

We stress that comics need to look out for the little shops, and I believe they should because the heart of intention and community is most definitely there, yet when you honestly analyze corporate interests like the moves at Disney: I see a tech company. When you look at WB and their new metaverse? I see a tech company. Companies have taken their original ideas and expanded them into various forms of revenue based on IP, all with subscription models that have sort of replaced our current standards of ownership. 

When I look at Batman, who is arguably the ethos of DC, I remember this character fondly as an animated series in my youth. A very cool leading member of the Justice League, a gritty comics savior of my teens, and a very popular Arkham videogame character who helped me vent my frustration in my twenties when I’d lost everything. 

In all these verticals you’ve had someone like myself pour money into the funnel not as a one-time purchase, but as lifelong consumers. This is where big-scale comics have sort of become a farm for these types of ideas – even if their continuity and respect for the comics medium, act differently.

If it’s not obvious, sustainability for both has become a priority, which is why most services have jacked up their prices. Still, if you want to know why Gen Z sales seem to be lacking in periodical comics, just look at where young people are spending their time, and by proxy, money on. 

Local comic book shops are struggling yet a lot of it has to do with how consumer habits have changed and the store has gone from a place for goods to a place of experience. Especially in an era where just about everyone has a form of easily accessible goods and consumable entertainment to garnish their attention at the tip of their fingers.

Times are most definitely changing. So too are the way people consume IP. Still, what’s changed in entertainment above all else – is the streaming model. It’s how smartphones and the internet made almost everything universally more accessible – particularly in the past decade.


netflix logo

With the exception of Apple TV — which is owned by the largest company on the planet — and Amazon Prime — which has been making content since 2013 and offered its services bundled with your Amazon account in 2011 —  there is a lot to be concerned about the subscription services industry. 

Streaming was originally a means to replace DVD rental services, and yet, has become the easiest way to go from product to user for consumption. YouTube began in 2006. Hulu and Netflix in 2007. Even HBO/Max as a streaming service has been around since 2010, pre-dating even Netflix’s big rise on this side of the industry. 

What most don’t want to say is the reason these services didn’t take off immediately was before their arrival, it was actually pretty straightforward to pirate and steal content by downloading them onto your hard drive or a server. Atop of this, there weren’t even websites available that hosted these properties online and Google did little to penalize it mostly because… international copyright laws are confusing and messy. 

Even today, you can still find illegal pirated downloads and even watch stuff for free streaming – though none of it is safe regarding internet security. That’s sort of the reality you’re paying for with the app. An interface that works better and a website that’s secure in terms of preventing malware and hacking, which is why people were willing to convert for the cheap cost of $7.

But when streaming took the world by storm no one knew what to make of it at first. This era was soon followed by years of data analytics of human behavior based on user profiles and their purchasing trends. The things that you own became in many ways, the things that owned you, as data compiled by free-to-use social media companies and services like Meta and Google became ways for these companies to sell you as a product to corporations for targeted ads. 

Mind you, none of this was intentional and an ethics committee at this point feels far too late. Still, having some sort of regulation in place would have been good because it could have seen the flaws with products such as streaming while trying to play as a movie host in theatres. 

You have 90-window releases that cannibalize its own market. During the pandemic, Warner Brothers opened a pandora’s box by creating a 45-day theatrical window due to COVID-19, which was then reined in and changed a year later. Yet the damage was done for movies like Dune – which in a different era, probably would’ve had a larger cultural impact than it has today.

Now, I stress this because the 90-day theatrical window was created in the 1980s meant to cater to video cassette home rentals. Yet, in a reality where everyone is already paying for a streaming service – Hollywood really has to ask itself…

Why should I go to the theatre to watch a movie when I am already getting it 3 months later for a service I’m most likely paying for? 

This problem is that this is a money-burning industry that’s lost its sense of direction. Netflix has already hit globalization issues as there are not many countries that remain for it to expand to that will grow its user base and so it has taken into password crackdowns to try and squeeze its remaining users into getting a plan. A smart temporary move but one that still doesn’t address the elephant in the room: that there’s nowhere to grow from here regarding obtaining new subscribers.

That’s not all. The market cap for Paramount has taken at 70% tumble losing 70% of it’s valuation or about $34 billion. Peacock has doubled its subscriptions volume yet has lost billions and will owe the NFL $2 billion for its exclusives last year,  a burden on NBC Universal which is strange because Comcast was stellar across all its verticals this year. Its Universal theme parks are slaying it having made $2.4 billion in revenue as of October and Universal just released the billion-dollar box office earner The Super Mario Movie to much acclaim. 

Max of course as most know is already stripping content, having removed series such as Westworld from the service while strangely selling its IP for licensing, like Merry Little Batman going to Prime and a whole plethora of produced movies going to Netflix.

The biggest players, and the ones who’ve quietly kept silent in a brilliant game of streaming game chess, are companies such as Amazon and Apple who have upped their entry into the space and have gone onto a decent degree of critical success. These companies are absolutely thinking long-term for cross-pollination between verticals, especially given Amazon’s ownership of IMDB and the fact that its video services come with your membership to Prime – your one-stop shop on the web. 

With the focus on revenue, many of these services will be seeking to take a page out of Discovery+ and David Zaslav’s strategy and look for cheap, producible content that hits in terms of streaming hours. Documentaries, international travel, and game shows, where the costs are minimal and the shows serve multiple functions as entry points, with products such as Squid Games getting its own reality TV show. Even Only Fans is moving into reality TV programming

Still, not all is doomed and original stories can triumph if situation meets opportunity. The critically acclaimed show Lost, for instance, was based on the premise of a Survivor-type reality series that turned into a mystery of its own. However, for this to happen we need people to see what it is that people are spending their time on. Let’s look at Netflix’s most-watched series for the year as an example.

What’s Getting People’s Attention?

ginny and georgia on netflix

It’s also no longer astonishing that while folks loved talking about The Witcher or shows like Yellowstone, it was ironically series like Ginny & Georgia that actually accumulated most of users on Netflix’s attention spans. 

As part of the writer’s strike deal for a fair deal in Hollywood Streamers are now legally required to release data as to what gets most people watching in theatres. This is a startling alarm that’s shocking just about everyone in the industry as to what people consume versus what things get talked about online or in the PR side of media.

Let’s take a show like HBO’s Succession, widely considered one of the greatest critically acclaimed series of last year. It was a series on everyone’s best hit lists, attaining 2.9 million viewers at the high of its finale peak. A solid number for cable and streaming. Yet, was it a success? I’m not sure in today’s age because by comparison, the average lifetime viewership of another series on the platform Discovery Plus hit these types of ratings on a weekly basis. 

That show? Was 90-Day Fiance

90 day fiance

Now it should be stressed that much of the Netflix streaming data models are still a mess because hours watched are vastly different than hours finished. Take, for instance, last year’s Sandman where Neil Gaiman himself proclaimed some startling facts on how Netflix approves a series renewal. The importance revealed was in how important it was for a viewer to not only watch a series but finish and even binge through it, as Netflix goes not just by hours watched but by whether or not a person gets to the end fast enough. It should also be noted, many streaming series drop off after the first episode in terms of viewership.

In fact, Netflix seems to be the only player who has the streaming model down and has arisen as the winner of the streaming wars. The company has had a huge lead on how to do this given their data analytics but they’ve also made a few moves that places them in a better place than most. 

Netflix has built strategically placed studios across the world to reduce global production costs and has been cashflow positive since 2020. It also can distribute its own services to itself, producing a plethora of hit international content it can then re-release on one of its other countries’ streaming services, the US included. 

Even though it still owes $14 billion in debt, it’s a smaller amount compared to WBD or Disney. However, keep in mind Netflix only does streaming. It doesn’t generate as much revenue between toy brands or theme parks. Which, if you haven’t learned by now, is how most of these companies are making money – not on the ideas, but on the various businesses that spawn out of it.

Where Do We Go Now?

guns 'n roses where do we go now

I don’t have the answer to this. I just know the reality of our situation which is that IP is stretched across numerous forms of media far too interconnected and mass-scaled that it’s become a mess that feels like a literal metaverse. I’d like to say gaming itself looked like a hopeful future, but the reality is that none of it looks pretty. 

The media industry itself has held the largest year-to-date figure of layoffs since the beginning of the pandemic at around 20,000 jobs lost. Comics are selling better yet have lost a core of their identity in the biggest companies, which continue to prioritize application and subscription-driven futures, much like the rest of big corporations. 

In the gaming sector, Steam usage has grown a whopping 25 million since 2015 and yet almost all of that is on the beginnings of being disrupted in a reality where Microsoft GamePass will become the new Netflix in gaming. Technology disrupts to the point where its entered right now in its disruption of the disruptions and we live in an unprecedented age of entertainment. 

Honestly, there has never been this much entertainment than ever before. But the things you love have more than likely stopped being singular products for joy or consumption, transforming into the franchise mascots of tomorrow. So don’t be surprised if you see a tech company scoop one of these studios that own the thing you love and integrate their IP. My guess of what happens next is what happens when a company like Apple buys out a company like Disney. 

I should also stress that none of this cross-pollination is something entirely new. Nor is it something to be frowned upon as the best entertainment of today often comes out of exhaustion from the old way of doing things.

It’s all just business. And there’s more of it than ever before. Though maybe consider that the next time someone makes an argument that “things were better in the olden days.” Because it’s more than likely one of these many new types of responsibilities and business strategies listed above that are tying it down. So when we ask where we go from here, we need to be mindful of how we got here in the first place.


  1. Just at the top of the piece…
    Those Disney debt numbers don’t quite add up. Match needs to be checked.
    Warner Bros didn’t hire Zaslov. ATT, then-owner of WB, essentially sold WB to Discovery with the merged whatever-financial-it-actually-is under the control of Discovery’s CEO, Zaslov. Obviously, neither ATT or WB “hired” him.

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