Walt Disney Co. (DIS)
Bottom Line: Star Wars brand drove a quarter with record income for DIS, but contraction in Media Networks is a concern for analysts and investors going forward. It should be an interesting year for DIS as pipeline includes Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War, more Disney Infinity but the main areas to watch are Star Wars merchandise and the future of ESPN.
Questions: What other areas or products can drive growth for DIS this year? Are you positive overall on ESPN? Can Star Wars alone, between licensing and merchandise, abate concern with Media Networks at least this year?
Dissecting a huge media conglomerate’s financials is a monumental task, so I won’t necessarily be posting every single stat or figure but want to address the above question while overviewing the company’s current business.
DIS reported 2016Q1 earnings this week, with record net income however the market sentiment is still negative as indicated by the firm’s stock movements after earnings release. So what’s behind this divergence? The firm’s main profit drivers are Media Networks (cable channels, ABC & ESPN etc) and Studio Entertainment (movies, including Star Wars and Marvel titles) with the latter almost doubling income since last year due to Star Wars: The Force Awakens release.
The key here is that Media Networks income contracted since last year despite sales being up, as costs are also increasing on a relative basis. Driving this is partly timing, as the College Football Playoffs occurred during this quarter, but also rate increases for sports programming and production costs going up. A general concern is the sentiment around ESPN in particular, where programming costs are up and cable subscribers are “cutting the cord” adversely impacting advertising potential. To combat this, DIS is trying to expand ESPN mobile offerings, as WatchESPN now displays all live shows and events in order to have more eyeballs on advertising. I’ve even heard rumblings that DIS should consider an approach similar to HBO Now, offering ESPN content separate from a cable contract for a subscription fee. I’d say this is a last resort, at present.
As for gaming, the Consumer Products & Interactive Media is actually quite healthy but this of course seasonal and this quarter included holiday 2015. Revenue and income were boosted by licensing from Star Wars i.e. Star Wars: Battlefront while Disney Infinity results were lower (sales volume down, inventory up). Even compared to last year, when Frozen merch was all the rave especially with kids accumulating annual sales of $3 billion, Star Wars gear has just begun to reap benefits and Nielsen expects it to account for $5 billion in revenue across this year.
Last note is that DIS results are being propped up by the steady Parks and Resorts segment, up more than 20% since last year driven by Americas region. I see this as continuing to be a key component of the firm’s diversified approach, especially as the cable landscape changes and products/interactive media remains seasonal and dependent on the strength of content and titles.
Sources: Walt Disney Co. Form 1oQ February 9, 2016; Walt Disney Co. Q1 FY2016 Earnings; Nielsen