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‘Black Panther’ Helps Disney Top Earnings Forecasts

The Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday announced earnings of $1.84 per share for its second fiscal quarter ending March 31, outperforming estimates in part on the strength of its theme parks and “Black Panther,” the box office and cultural juggernaut.

Disney reported revenues of $14.548 billion — $1.2 billion more than the same period last year. Every segment of Disney saw increased revenues, with the biggest gains in its studio, and parks and resorts. Revenues for studio entertainment rose 21% this quarter compared with the same period a year ago. Parks and resorts saw revenues rise 13%.

“Driven by strong results in our parks and resorts, and studio businesses, our Q2 performance reflects our continued ability to drive significant shareholder value,” Disney CEO and chairman Bob Iger, said in a statement following the earnings report. “Our ability to create extraordinary content like ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and leverage it across all business units, the unique value proposition we’re creating for consumers with our DTC platforms, and our recent reorganization strengthen our confidence that we are very well positioned for future growth.”

Higher programming and marketing costs and lower ratings took a toll on operating income for the media networks group. ESPN’s results were affecting by a shift in the timing of college bowl games, with only one landing in the quarter this year compared to three last year. Nonetheless, ESPN’s earnings were hit by a decline in subscribers, Disney said. ABC had higher marketing and programming costs while the year-ago quarter included a contribution from off-network licensing of “How to Get Away With Murder.”

During an earnings call with analysts, Iger sounded jubilant over the record second quarter, which once again saw strong growth in its parks and resorts business. But it was “Black Panther” that dominated the conversation around the film studio’s performance, which has cemented Disney as the top Hollywood studio with fewer than a dozen releases per year.

The Ryan Coogler-directed feature starring Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther “makes a very loud statement about the virtues of risk taking and the value of inclusion,” Iger said.

Disney’s box office dominance is expected to continue for the rest of 2018. “Avengers: Infinity War” has become the fastest title to cross $1 billion at the global box office, although those results were not reflected in Disney’s second fiscal quarter. Later in May, Lucasfilm will release “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which early tracking estimates predict will open to $170 million in its first weekend.

“It’s hard to come up with enough superlatives,” Iger said. “Our studio has and will continue to raise the bar.”

Parks and resorts also saw revenues grow by double-digit percentages year over year, thanks increased guest attendance at Disneyland Paris. Iger said Tuesday that Disney sees opportunity to expand in China. “There may also be opportunity in other parts of the world,” Iger added. “We are constantly engaging in conversations from people in different markets.”

Future growth at theme parks, Iger said, will depend in part on the popularity of its brands. “The more popular our IP, the more in demand it is at our parks,” he said.

Thomson Reuters consensus estimates called for $1.69 in earnings per share on $14.08 billion in revenue. It’s the first earnings report since the Disney-Marvel title has become one of the highest grossing films of all time. It comes as Disney faces a number of headwinds, including the continued shedding of cable subscribers afflicting its cable and networks division.

The company is also awaiting regulatory approval of its proposed $52 billion all-stock bid for Fox television and film assets. Disney has also just launched its ESPN+ streaming platform, a $4.99 subscription service. Also looming is the reported interest by Comcast to spark a bidding war for Fox, which could throw a massive wrench into Disney’s plans to compete with Netflix.

The bid for Fox was a way to acquire a massive library that would augment Disney film and television offerings that already include Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel.

Disney shares jumped .50% in after-hours trading to $102.30 after closing at $101.79.

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