Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mickey's Not Goofing Around!

Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) shareholders were surely feeling the magic when the media giant posted a 32% increase in earnings.

Net income for the quarter ending Mar. 30 was $1.51 billion, or $0.83 a share, compared with $1.14 billion, or $0.63 per share in the same quarter a year earlier. Revenue jumped 10% to $10.55 billion.

Driving the strong numbers were significant growth at its theme parks, continued strength from its ESPN cable network and solid gains from its film studios.

Crediting a steadily improving economy in which individuals felt better enough to take vacations, CEO Bob Iger told CNBC, “Obviously, our parks and resorts had a great quarter that was helped a lot by some of our new investments, notably at Disney Land and in Florida, but also our new cruise ship and investments in Hong Kong.”

Strong performance

The park and resort division did indeed look like the happiest place on earth. Total revenue for the segment rose 14% to $3.3 billion, and operating income swelled 73% to $383 million.

Film studio revenue also provided action,  jumping 13% to $1.34 billion. Operating income swung from an $83 million loss a year ago to a $118 thanks to films such as “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” and "Wreck-It Ralph.”

Underscoring Disney’s newly-recovered prowess as a film studio, the recently-released "Iron Man 3" from the Disney-owned Marvel Studios raked in over $680 million in global box office receipts over a mere 12 days. This has drawn comparisons to Marvel Studios' previous offering, "The Avengers," which went on to become the third top-grossing movie of all time.

“Not only does it validate a strategy of big franchise films that we leverage across our businesses, but it bodes very well for Marvel,” Iger added. The Disney chief says he hopes to bring “Iron Man” back again.

Once again a bright spot, Disney’s cable network businesses continue to be a resolute pillar. Cable revenue rose 9% to $3.46 billion, while operating income was up 15% to $1.72 billion. Credit goes in large part to the company's hugely successful sport network ESPN.

Industry revival

Rival Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) also recently reported robust first quarter results and provided rosy guidance. The company's earnings-per-share rose 22% and operating income grew 7% to $1.4 billion. In a nod of confidence, the company repurchased 16 million shares, worth some $868 million, year-to-date through Apr. 26.

Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes said, ‘We’re off to a strong start in 2013, making us even more confident in our full year outlook.”

Bewkes cited its cable network for solid growth. The NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball tournament was the most watched March Madness in almost two decades. In addition, its TBS channel was the No. 1 ad-supported cable network in prime-time.

New shows such as "Revolution" and "The Following" were hits. Meanwhile, HBO’s "Game of Thrones" is on track to become the most watched series on HBO since "The Sopranos."

Time Warner will spin off its publishing arm, Time, by the end of the year. The move is aimed at unlocking value in both companies.

Colleague CBS (NYSE: BCS) also posted strong first quarter earnings of $0.73 per share, better than the $0.68 per share Wall Street economists were looking for, and up 23.7% from the same quarter a year ago.

Driving the results were higher revenue and a rise in affiliate and subscription fees. CBS remains optimistic and expects growth momentum to continue through 2013. Streaming deals with Netflix and will also serve CBS well.

Where dreams come true

As good as Disney's performance in the quarter was, there was a snag.

The company’s ABC network, TV production studio and local channels were a bit of a turn off. Operating income for the television business dropped 40% to $138 million. Revenue dipped 2% to $1.5 billion.

Despite the segment's lackluster showing, Iger remains upbeat. The chief anticipates that new series such as Marvel's upcoming "Agents of SHIELD" will propel the network forward.

“We are pleased with our overall performance, confident in our strategy and thrilled with the stock price that keeps reaching new record highs," Iger said during the conference call.

In an effort to keep reaching for the stars, Disney bought Lucasfilm late last year for $4 billion (the franchise was valued at around $30 billion at the time.) Big plans have been mapped out for the newly acquired Star Wars franchise. The Star Wars universe is comprised of 17,000 characters, living on thousands of planets in a timeframe of over 20,000 years. The franchise gave birth to six blockbuster movies that still retain a cult-like following as well as a number of classic video games.

Disney is scheduled to release a new Star Wars film in 2015, with a new sequel to be released every two to three years. Additional one-off films, related merchandise and theme parks are also planned. The possibilities for the property are out of this world.

Additional Marvel films to follow "Iron Man 3" are also planned to continue the global phenomenon. The film scored the second best opening of all time with $174.1 million, and it's on the way to surpass the $1 billion mark soon. Two more films in the same universe are currently filming, and at least three more are in pre-production.


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