The Walt Disney Company has certainly had its share of troubles over the last three months. “Tomorrowland,” the big-budget flop released on May 22, could cost the company $140 million. ESPN, Disney’s hugely profitable sports juggernaut, lost 16 percent of its core demographic. Even “Frozen” fever, once expected to snowball forever, is finally starting to cool off.
Despite it all, however, Disney is expected to coast through its eighth consecutive quarter of double-digit profit growth when it reports third-quarter 2015 earnings on Tuesday, thanks to higher programming fees for its TV networks, strong attendance at its theme parks and the unrelenting hit-making capacity of its Marvel and Pixar movie units.
It’s all more proof -- not that investors needed it -- that the Mouse House may never run out of its trademark magic. The Burbank, California, media conglomerate is expected to book net income of $2.4 billion, or $1.42 per share, for the three-month period ended June 30. That’s an increase of 10.7 percent over the same period last year, when Disney reported net income of $2.25 billion, or $1.28 per share.
Disney’s revenue is expected to rise 6.1 percent to $13.22 billion, from $12.47 billion a year earlier, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.
The Sporting Life, And A Slow Death
Cable cord-cutting has slowed in recent quarters, but it’s now an established trend as more low-income households ditch their pay-TV subscriptions and younger consumers choose not to get cable to begin with. As the Wall Street Journal reported this month, ESPN lost about 3.2 million subscribers (a number disputed by some analysts) in a little over a year, according to data from Nielsen Media. This, combined with a general downward trend of television ratings, spells bad news for Disney, which derives about 25 percent of its operating profit from the sports powerhouse.
ESPN commands the highest affiliate fees on cable and has one of the largest audiences, but it is not impervious to challenges from streaming and on-demand services. At the same time, analysts say Disney, a master at producing premium, must-have content, is in a better position than most media companies to weather the storm of marketplace changes.
“If consumers churn off pay TV in favor of [subscription video on demand] services like Netflix or Amazon or Hulu, then content production would increase in importance,” Tim Nollen, an analyst with Macquarie Capital, said in a recent research note. “We would then especially prefer the deep, broad studios at the likes of Disney, Time Warner, Fox and CBS, which would have content to sell to alternative distributors.”
Cable challenges aside, the third quarter was a strong one for Disney’s flagship broadcast network. ABC was the lone outlier among its rivals, with a 10 percent increase in prime-time viewership for the key 18-49-year-old demographic. The boost came in part due to better-than-expected ratings for the NBA playoffs. Conversely, prime-time ratings for CBS, NBC and Fox saw declines of 7 percent, 14 percent and 17 percent, respectively.
Despite the disappointing performance of “Tomorrowland” -- Disney’s latest attempt to turn one of its theme-park attractions into a billion-dollar movie franchise -- the company’s Filmed Entertainment unit still enjoyed a stellar quarter at the box office. Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” has taken in a domestic haul of $456.6 million since it was released on May 1, making it the second-highest-grossing film of the year behind Universal’s “Jurassic World.” The Pixar comedy “Inside Out,” released on June 19, took in another $324 million.
In fact, Hollywood is having a strong summer overall. Revenue from Disney releases is expected to grow 48 percent compared to the same period last year, according to an analysis of box-office data from media analyst Michael Nathanson.
Letting Go Of ‘Frozen’
The animated hit “Frozen,” released in 2013, was a cultural phenomenon felt across almost all of Disney’s divisions, but profits couldn’t snowball forever. “Frozen” merchandise, along with new arrivals for the “Avengers” franchise, continued to boost Disney’s Consumer Products unit in the third quarter, but with more “normalized growth,” as Nathanson said in a July 13 media preview. In addition, comparisons to last year were tough due to strong sales of Spider-Man toys following the release of Sony’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”
Marci Ryvicker, an analyst with Wells Fargo, expects Consumer Products revenue to rise 7 percent to $965 million. “We reduced our licensing and retail estimates to 7 percent from 15 percent as we don’t think sales for Avengers were quite as strong as expected,” Ryvicker wrote in a research note last week.
Disney will report financial results on Tuesday at approximately 4:15 p.m. ET. A webcast with CEO Bob Iger is planned for 5:00 p.m. Watch the magic happen here.