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Disney reassures investors that streaming will not break bank

Bloomberg Los Angeles | Updated on May 09, 2019

Avengers: Endgame, which hit theatres last month and is now the second-highest-grossing film of all time, will stream on Disney+ on December 11. File photo   -  Twitte/Disney

The company is launching Disney+ on November 12, marking its biggest strategy shift in decades

Walt Disney Co’s quest to become a digital-streaming giant will be an expensive endeavor, but the company can handle it.

That was the message of its latest earnings report, which exceeded Wall Street estimates and sent the shares up as much as 2.4 per cent in late trading.

Though profit fell 13 per cent in the fiscal second quarter, that was better than what analysts predicted. Sales also topped estimates in the period, which ended in March.

The company is launching Disney+ on November 12, marking its biggest strategy shift in decades.

The $6.99-a-month streaming platform will compete with Netflix Inc as a direct-to-consumer product, aiming to lure families with its Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars content.

Avengers: Endgame, which hit theatres last month and is now the second-highest-grossing film of all time, will stream on Disney+ on December 11.

The positive response to our direct-to-consumer strategy has been gratifying, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Bob Iger, 68, said in a statement. Disney’s $71 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox Inc’s entertainment assets also is helping the effort, he said.

Black Panther

Disney battled some tough comparisons in the quarter. Its movie studio released Black Panther -- the biggest domestic hit of 2018 -- in theatres during the year-earlier period.

Income at Disney’s most-profitable business, cable TV, rose 1.6 per cent to $1.76 billion in the quarter, buoyed by rising fees charged to cable distributors, particularly for ESPN. But profit at the ABC network fell, hurt by lower sales of advertising and TV programs.

Disney also took a $353 million charge related to its stake in Vice Media, which targets millennial viewers through its cable TV network, HBO show and other media. It is the latest write-off for Disneys holding in the media company. Disney acquired a 21 per cent stake in the business, while 21st Century Fox had an additional six per cent a piece.

Theme-park earnings continued to rise, climbing 15 per cent to $1.51 billion, while the company’s nascent direct-to-consumer streaming division lost $393 million.

Disney shares rose as high as $138.19 in after-hours trading. They were already up 23 per cent this year, bolstered by optimism about the Burbank, California-based company’s new streaming services. It outlined plans for Disney+ and its other subscription services during an April investor conference.

Film Slate

Disney unveiled its slate of new films going out until 2027 this week. It delayed Avatar 2 by one year to 2021, hurting next years line-up. But the company also announced plans for three new Star Wars films starting in 2022.

Including all one-time items, Disney reported quarterly net income of $5.45 billion, or $3.55 a share. That includes a $4.9 billion gain on its interest in Hulu, a streaming platform it co-owned with other media giants. With the purchase of the Fox assets, Disney’s interest in Hulu grew to 60 per cent and triggered a remeasuring of its original stake in the service, leading to the gain.

On a conference call with investors, Iger confirmed that his company is in talks to buy Comcast Corp’s stake in Hulu, potentially making Disney sole owner, and that the service would likely continue to use programming from the cable giants NBC division in such a deal.

In a regulatory filing, Disney also said Comcast will have 90 days to decide if it wants to participate in Hulus purchase of a 10 per cent stake from AT&T Inc. If not, Disneys share of Hulu will jump to 70 per cent.

Published on May 09, 2019

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