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Disney Earnings Miss the Mark, Stock Slides

The biggest force in entertainment surprised Wall Street Tuesday with weaker than expected earnings during the most recent financial quarter.

The Walt Disney Company’s lackluster third quarter results come even as the company’s sales increased substantially thanks to its recent purchase of much of the film and television assets held by 21st Century Fox.

Earnings per share for the quarter decreased 28% to $1.35, while revenues topped out at $20.25 billion, a 33% year-over-year jump. Shares of the media conglomerate fell sharply in after-hours trading on the disappointing results. Wall Street was projecting the company would post earnings of $1.75 per share on revenue of $21.5 billion.

“Our results reflect efforts to integrate the assets, business and talent we acquired … implementation of our integration is well underway,” Disney chairman Bob Iger told analysts on a call following the unveiling of the results. “We remain confident in our ability to successfully execute our strategy.”

The report comes at a time of tremendous change for the family friendly entertainment giant. In March, Disney closed its $71.3 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox, giving it ownership of FX, Nat Geo, and 20th Century Fox among other major brands. At the same time, the company is readying the launch of Disney Plus, a subscription streaming service that it hopes can challenge Netflix. It plans to debut the new platform on Nov. 12, 2019. As it works to integrate Fox, the company has undergone several rounds of layoffs.

Revenue across all of the company’s segments — ranging from its parks to its film studio — were up substantially. That’s unsurprising given how much larger Disney has become in a few short months. The company did incur losses of $553 million at its direct-to-consumer arm. Disney attributed the deeper losses to increased investment in ESPN Plus, its sports-centric streaming service, as well as costs associated with the upcoming launch of Disney Plus. Not only does Disney need to invest in the technology behind the new streaming service, it will also forgo licensing revenue as it begins to claw back the rights to its films to save them for its subscribers.

On the film side, Disney continues to dominate multiplexes, with recent hits such as “Avengers: Endgame,” “Aladdin,” and “Toy Story 4” making it a box office dreadnought without equal. That’s quite a lineup of crowd-pleasers, but not everything worked. The company said it had recorded an impairment on the failure of “Dark Phoenix,” an X-Men movie that flopped when it opened in June. Fox’s film slate was a drag on Disney’s earnings, posting an operating loss of $170 million.

“We’re all confident that we can turn around the fortunes of Fox live action,” Iger told analysts on the call. However, he implied that Fox’s film team had failed to produce compelling movies while it waited for Disney to formally take over the studio — a process that took more than a year.

Iger said Fox’s film performance was “well below where it had been and well below where we hoped it would be when we made the acquisition.” He added that during the time it takes for a merger to get approvals “decision making can grind to a halt or certainly slow down.” The Disney chief said that the studio was bullish on some of Fox’s upcoming movies, such as the Matt Damon and Christian Bale racing movie “Ford v Ferrari.”

Overall, however, the confluence of blockbusters boosted revenues for the film business by 33% to $3.8 billion with operating income increasing 13% to $792 million. And though Fox’s films were mostly duds, the studio’s library could become important as Disney launches its streaming service. Some of the studio’s franchises, such as “Night at the Museum,” “Home Alone,” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” are being re-imagined as Disney Plus series.

The company’s parks arm saw revenues climb 7% to $6.6 billion with the increased popularity of Disneyland Paris offsetting decreases in the company’s domestic resorts. Operating income in the segment rose 4% to $1.7 billion.

Broadcasting revenues for the quarter increased 16% to $2.2 billion, while operating income dipped 17% to $307 million on decreases in the sales of shows such as “How to Get Away With Murder” and “Designated Survivor.” Network advertising revenue also dropped due to ratings declines of ABC programming.

Cable Networks revenues for the quarter jumped 24% to $4.5 billion, but operating income increased 15% to $1.6 billion. Disney ascribed the hit to profits to the cost of consolidating Fox’s cable brands and higher programming costs at ESPN.

Shares of Disney were down nearly 3% to $138.10 in after-hours trading.

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