'Pirates' booty fills Disney chest
NEW YORK — “Pirates of the Caribbean” helped Disney find its own treasure chest this summer as the Mouse House more than doubled its profit and posted a double-digit revenue increase thanks to pics.Net income in the fiscal fourth quarter shot up to $782 million from $379 million, and revenue gained a tidy 14% to $8.78 billion in the July-September frame. The studio was behind many of those gains: Revenue at the film unit spiked 33% — the largest increase at any company divisions — to just over $2 billion. Johnny Depp starrer “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” drove the studio increases. Movie earned a total of $421 million in the U.S., nearly all in the July-September period. Pic also grossed $640 million internationally. Numbers helped studio turn a year-earlier loss of $313 million — which the company attributed to pics it was required to release as part of its previous deal with Miramax — into operating income of $214 million for the fourth quarter this year. For the year Disney posted revenue up 7% to $34.29 billion, with net income up 33% to $3.37 billion — the fourth straight year of double-digit profit growth. Quarter was also studded with other successful tentpoles: Studio opened “Cars” three weeks before the quarter began and earned more than $70 million of its $244 million domestic B.O. in the September quarter. Mouse House also benefited from the homevid release of “Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which came out in April, several months before the quarter began. Results will likely be read by Wall Street as a validation of the studio’s new focus on fewer, but more brand-heavy, films. While Disney topper Robert Iger didn’t single out studio’s new vision in a call with analysts, he did note company’s “continued commitment to fiscal discipline.” News on the studio division was nearly all rosy, though company did reveal that Pixar has received inquiries from SEC about stock options granted before Disney acquired the company. Earlier reporting had indicated that a number of execs, including John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, had been given suspiciously timed options. Execs singled out Tim Allen comedy “Wild Hogs,” Tony Scott’s actioner “Deja Vu” and the animated “Meet the Robinsons” as its big pic hopes for the coming months. Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto,” which Buena Vista will open in December, was not mentioned. Company also benefited from cost-cutting this summer, letting go of more than 600 studio employees. Meanwhile, Disney drew strong ratings and ad revenue at ESPN, which began running “Monday Night Football” at the end of the quarter. Cable revenue was up 16% to $2.2 billion, and operating income rose 22% to $854 million. Execs said they expect to sign a carriage renewal agreement with Comcast within a week. ABC did not fare as well. Broadcast revenue at Disney inched up 1% to $1.47 billion, and the division’s operating income plunged by 40% to $29 million. Overall, cable and broadcast revenue was up 10% to $3.7 billion, and operating income jumped 18% to $883 million. Mouse House also talked up its expansion plans in music, where hits like “High School Musical” and current chart-topper “Hannah Montana” fueled revs, as well as vidgames, for which Disney said it make an outlay of about $350 million over the next five to seven years. Mouse is also planning a revamp of its Web site and will sell its ABC radio business to Citadel Broadcasting early next year.