UPDATED: The Walt Disney Co. notched a double-digit percentage increase in earnings per share in the third quarter of 2016, close to what analysts had projected on slightly higher revenues than expected.
The entertainment conglomerate’s Q3 profit came in at $2.6 billion, or $1.62 per share, when excluding some items affecting a comparison with the prior year. Analysts had projected the Mouse House would finish at $1.61 per share. Revenue reached $14.27 billion, $1 billion more than the same quarter last year and ahead of the predicted $14.16 billion.
Leading the way was the conglomerate’s studio, which saw a 60%-plus increase in operating income from the same quarter last year — from $472 million to $766 million. Disney’s big quarter was powered by five films: “Captain America: Civil War,” “The Jungle Book,” “Finding Dory” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” and “Zootopia,” the latter opening in the second quarter but continuing to draw an audience in the more recent frame. Those films brought in more than the 2015 films that included only one pronounced laggard: “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Cinderella,” “Inside Out” and the sci-fi flop “Tomorrowland.”
The studio has four of the top five box office hits in 2016.
Income at the company’s media networks was flat, while its consumer products and interactive unit dipped 7% — from $348 million to $324 million.
Disney CEO Bob Iger trumpeted the results. “Disney delivered another quarter of double-digit EPS growth, and we are thrilled with our continued performance,” he said in a statement. “Our results are evidence that our asset mix is strong, as is our ability to execute in ways that enhance the Disney brand and create value for our shareholders while we invest for future growth.”
The results came as the conglomerate announced that it is paying $1 billion for a 33% stake in Major League Baseball’s BAMTech, and that ESPN is planning to launch a new “multi-sport” subscription streaming service. The new unit will feature content from both BAMTech and ESPN, and will include live regional, national, and international sporting events.
Iger told analysts the services offerings could vary from pro baseball and hockey to college football and basketball, rugby, cricket and other sports. He said he expects the offerings to be complimentary, rather than competitive with, programming already available on ESPN’s linear channels. He said consumers will be able to pick various packages at varying price points — the latter to be determined later.
Iger said that ESPN and BAMTech already have acquired a substantial amount of content and will not need to spend on new sports rights, at least in the short term, to fill up the new service. In response to a question, Iger said he was not concerned that the new offering would lead to subscribers dropping ESPN’s traditional TV package. ““We think where ultimately will end up is a bigger piece of a bigger pie,” he said.
Iger called the BAMTech investment was a “major leap into the direct to consumer video space,” noting that Disney had the option of acquiring a majority stake in BAMTech in the future. He said the acquisition was designed to assure that earnings champ ESPN remained “strong, vital and relevant in a totally changed media landscape.”
Disney’s financial reports have taken on a pattern over the last several quarters — with the company headlining the blockbuster results in its film studio and strong showings in its parks and resorts, but with analysts asking about trouble on the horizon with a falloff in subscribers for its cable television operations, most notably the all-sports network ESPN. The BAMTech investment was the conglomerate’s most dramatic move, to date, to show it would move into alternative platforms to the basic cable television “bundle.”
The company reported an increase in operating income at its media network that it said was due to an increase in affiliate fees and advertising growth at ESPN – though those gains were partly offset by higher programming costs. The higher ad revenues were due to an increase in sales, partly linked to the fact that the NBA finals last seven games, instead of the six games played the prior year. The higher costs for the sports network came as the all-sports station paid to renew its rights to the Masters golf tournament and to international soccer and rate increases for the NBA and Major League Baseball.
In a call with analysts that was due to follow the report, Iger was not asked about layoffs that hit the conglomerate’s Imagineering unit earlier this week. The group is based in Glendale and helps to design and build the company’s theme parks and other attractions.
The company did not specify how many employees were cut from Imagineering, but said the number was in the “low single digits,” as a percentage of the total workforce, which numbers between 1,700 and 2,000. The Imagineers were the creative force behind the Shanghai Disney Resort, the $5.5 billion attraction that opened on June 16.
The Q3 report continues to reflect high run-up costs to the opening of the Chinese resort. But Iger said all indications are that the Shanghai destination will be a big hit with the Chinese. He said that 98% of Shanghai’s residents are aware of Disney’s new outpost and 70% say they plan to visit. Hotel occupancy at the resort has held at 95%, or above. And visitors are spending two hours longer than projected, Iger said.
One analyst wondered if Iger was concerned about the lagging results at the consumer products unit. Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy explained that the conglomerate is still trying to live up to the killer sales of merchandise associated with the animated hit film, “Frozen.” It so far has not been able to reproduce those kinds of sales, but Iger said there is reason to expect big merchandising results out of several upcoming films — including a new “Cars” film, the Star Wars spinoff “Rogue One” and the live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast.” And if all those can’t quite live up to their predecessor, there is another “Frozen” installment on the way, though Disney has not yet dated the movie.
Disney shares dipped nearly 2% in after-hours trading, from $96.82 to a little over $95 per share.