Disney CEO Bob Iger reported Thursday that the company’s stock had outperformed the stock market by more than four-fold over the last decade and promised the best is yet to come, with a string of attractive new offerings looming on the near horizon — from the April 1 release via digital streaming of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” to the June 16 opening of Disney’s new Shanghai theme park to the recent commissioning of two new Disney cruise ships.
Iger said the company’s strategy of focusing on unique intellectual properties and first-rate storytelling was powering it to record results across all its divisions. Another winning set of numbers: For the 10th consecutive quarter, the Walt Disney Company delivered double-digit growth in Earnings Per Share (EPS), which increased in February to $1.73 from $1.27 in the prior-year quarter. Overall shareholder returns for the last 10 years were 393%, Iger said, compared to 96% for the S&P 500.
In most categories and operating units, Disney jumped double digits on both the top and bottom line in its most recent quarter — including revenue, operating income, net income and free cash flow. The company’s studio entertainment unit saw revenue spike 46% to more than $2.7 billion, with cash flow up a whopping 86%, to more than $1 billion.
Iger has credited much of the recent boost to the “phenomenal” success of “Star Wars,” coming off the December release of “The Force Awakens,” the first episode in the Lucasfilm space opera to be produced since the company became a Disney subsidiary in 2012.
“Ten years ago, we set out to differentiate our company and to build a strong foundation of growth so that Disney will continue to be the preeminent entertainment company in the world for generations to come,” Iger said. “So, we continually strive to create long terms opportunities … to strive in a world where change is a constant.”
The company had few laggards, but one area of concern continued to be broadcast and cable television, where income declined in the single digits due to a dip in the number of subscribers, higher sports programming costs and unfavorable foreign currency translation impacts. Investors continued to voice concern about the future of ESPN, the sports cable juggernaut that recently has seen some slippage in subscriptions.
As he has in many of his public appearances over the last year, Iger on Thursday said the ESPN brand continues to be a power. He said that 200 million consumers connect to the sports network via one or more platforms each month, with 90 million per month receiving the sports network via their cable packages. “Those people consistently say it’s the most valuable channel in the lineup, and so do the cable companies,” Iger said.
Iger gave the audience in Chicago a look at several upcoming films in the Disney slate, including this week’s “Zootopia” and April’s “The Jungle Book.” Iger at first said “Zootopia” would become an “instant classic,” then reined himself in, saying he thought the animated tale would be a “classic” but didn’t want to put too much pressure on its performance.
Showing a clip of “Captain America: Civil War,” Iger said the Marvel film features “some of the best Marvel storytelling to date.” He also took a bow for the company’s Pixar and animation units, noting that the company’s animated films had won eight Academy Awards over the last decade, the most recent to “Inside Out” on Sunday, which won best animated feature.
Iger said the new cruise ships commission by Disney will be launched in 2021 and 2023. The CEO added that the company’s Imagineers are already “dreaming up way to make them our most spectacular yet.”
More to come.