Maybe the most important thing to consider when looking at this proposed deal is a deal that Iger, Disney’s current CEO, put together in the past. Coincidentally, it also had to do with lingering character rights and was also done with NBCUniversal. Specifically, we should look at Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and the deal that was done in 2006 that led to Disney regaining the rights to that character after nearly 80 years.
In short, Walt Disney created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 1927 before Mickey Mouse, with the character going on to star in a series of very successful shorts. That contract was with Universal and, when the deal expired, a deal for the rights could not be agreed upon, leaving Oswald in the hands of producer Christopher Mintz and Universal. And there they stayed until an odd situation arose in 2006 involving sportscaster Al Michaels.
Once Disney acquired the rights for “Monday Night Football,” which would move to ESPN, Michaels wanted out of the contract he had recently signed. So, Iger cooked up a deal wherein Michaels could be “traded” to NBC in exchange, in part, for the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Universal offloaded some rights they were doing nothing with, and Disney got back a very important legacy character created by Walt Disney himself.
This is to say, a bizarre yet mutually beneficial deal between these two massive media companies happened before. Will it happen again? We’ll see what 2024 brings when the time comes for the Hulu deal to be sorted out. But this could be Disney’s best shot at bringing some of those lingering Marvel character rights home.