WALT Disney said yesterday that it plans to net Spiderman&rsquo;s parent, Marvel Entertainment, for $4bn (&pound;2.5bn), as the entertainment empire attempts to broaden its appeal to a young male audience.<br /><br />The biggest media deal of the year so far will unite the Incredible Hulk and Mickey Mouse, and see some of Marvel&rsquo;s 5,000 hugely popular characters appearing across Disney&rsquo;s television channels, movies, video games and theme parks.<br /><br />Disney agreed to pay $50 per share in cash and stock for the superhero superstore, a premium of 29 per cent to its closing stock price of $38.65 on Friday.<br /><br />Marvel shareholders would receive a total of $30 per share in cash plus approximately 0.745 Disney shares for each Marvel share they own.<br /><br />The deal &ndash; Disney&rsquo;s largest acquisition since the $7.6bn purchase of Pixar in 2006 &ndash; has been signed off by the boards of both companies, but is subject to shareholder and regulatory approvals.<br /><br />While expensive for Disney, the tie-up has been viewed positively by Wall Street. The addition of characters such as Iron Man and the Fantastic Four to Disney&rsquo;s empire will address concern over a lack of &ldquo;boy-friendly&rdquo; characters.<br /><br />&ldquo;This helps give Disney more important exposure to the young male demographic that they have sort of lost some ground with in recent years,&rdquo; said Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce.<br /><br />Disney has long been a blockbuster brand with girls thanks to characters like Hannah Montana, Cinderella and Snow White, but has struggled to achieve the same kind of success with boys.<br /><br />&nbsp;&ldquo;Marvel&rsquo;s audience is surprisingly broad. It transcends gender and age and has real potential worldwide. They skew a little more toward boys than many of our properties,&rdquo; said Disney chief financial Officer Tom Staggs.<br /><br />The deal signals a turnaround for Marvel, which began as a comic book publisher and filed for bankruptcy in 1996.<br /><br />&ldquo;This is an unparalleled opportunity for Marvel to build upon its vibrant brand and character properties by accessing Disney&rsquo;s tremendous global organisation and infrastructure around the world,&rdquo; said Marvel chief executive Ike Perlmutter, who is the firm&rsquo;s largest shareholder.<br /><br />Staggs said that Disney approached Marvel a few months ago &ldquo;to get to know them&rdquo; and this evolved into merger discussions over a series of meetings.<br /><br />&ldquo;We at Disney had admired them because of their position and asset base,&rdquo; Staggs said. &ldquo;With conversations over time we came to believe in the value of a combination.&rdquo;<br /><br />Last year, Disney had a turnover of $37.8bn and employed 150,000 people, compared to Marvel&rsquo;s $676m turnover and 300 staff.<br /><br />Disney has already massively increased its profile amongst UK men through its 80 per cent owned subsidiary ESPN. It recently acquired rights to live Premier League football, advertising its new product widely.