A strong performance at its cable division and cost-cuts at its film studio propelled Walt Disney Co to better-than-expected earnings, but clouds remained over its theme parks.
Disney shares rose as much as 2 percent after the first quarter earnings report on Tuesday, which followed what is becoming a familiar pattern for media companies.
News Corp and Time Warner Inc also reported better-than-expected results this month. For all three, the strength of cable TV can be credited.
There was strength across the board, said James Marsh, an analyst with Piper Jaffray. I would point to the resiliency of their media networks business. You get consistent revenue growth out of there, consistent operating income growth, and I think that's something people forget about.
Disney benefited from the calendar shift of the New Year's holiday into the first quarter this year from the second quarter a year earlier, which analysts said added an estimated 2 cents to results. But even with the calendar shift, the quarter was much better than most had expected.
Still, some Disney divisions remain under pressure.
For example, room reservations at its parks for the second quarter are currently down 10 percent from last year.
Consumers remain tentative, said Jay Rasulo, chief financial officer for Disney, which more than most media companies remains tethered to consumer psychology as it reaches across so many sectors in entertainment and leisure.
But while Rasulo said reservations were down, guests continue to book their rooms closer to their travel date, so the 10 percent was not fully indicative of where it could end up. But the number speaks for itself, he added.
Overall, Disney's fiscal first quarter net income fell to $844 million, or 44 cents per share, from $845 million, or 45 cents a share, in the year-ago first quarter.
Excluding items, the company earned 47 cents a share. That beat the 38 cents expected on average, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Revenue rose 1 percent to $9.74 billion.
The strongest performance came from Disney's media network division, the largest in terms of revenue and profit and home to lucrative cable networks. The division's sales rose 7 percent to $4.2 billion, driven by increases at Disney Channels and ESPN.
But analysts said the biggest surprise came from its studio, which is currently being overhauled. Sales were essentially flat at $1.9 billion and segment operating income rose 30 percent to $243 million.
One key factor was cost-cutting. That helped take the sting out of quarter that failed to produce a blockbuster from titles like Old Dogs, Princess and the Frog and A Christmas Carol.
It was a stronger than expected quarter, primarily driven by cost initiatives at the studio, Jason Helfstein, an analyst with Oppenheimer & Co.
On the conference call, Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger told analysts they will not see the real results of the studio's restructuring until 2011.
Iger also called Apple Inc's new iPad tablet a really compelling device that could be a game changer in terms of enabling us to create essentially new forms of content.
When asked about a potential sale of Disney's Miramax unit, he said it was prudent to explore all options regarding the art-house studio, which sources have said has already attracted several interested buyers like Lions Gate Entertainment Corp and Weinstein Co.
Analysts expect Disney to start this year reaping benefits from its acquisition of Marvel Entertainment and a distribution deal with Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks studio.
In the parks division, which encompasses Disney's theme parks, resorts, cruise lines and vacation and time share operations, operating income fell 2 percent in the first quarter.
Attendance was higher at its domestic parks, but guest spending was down alongside lower average ticket prices and a drop in spending on food and drink.
Prior to Disney's earnings release, its shares closed up 36 cents, or 1.22 percent, at $29.84 on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Additional reporting by Paul Thomasch in New York, Gabriel Madway and Ian Sherr in San Francisco; editing by Carol Bishopric and Andre Grenon)