No one's taking that halo off of Disney (NYSE: DIS ) CEO Bob Iger.
Once again, the family entertainment giant's chieftain delivered better-than-expected earnings in what could have been a tricky quarter.
Fiscal fourth-quarter earnings clocked in at $0.42 a share before a favorable tax credit, ahead of both the $0.36 a share it earned a year earlier, and the $0.41 per share that Wall Street forecast. Revenue inched just 3% higher to $8.9 billion, but that number is far better than it seems on the surface.
See, Disney posted double-digit top-line percentage gains in its media-network and theme-park strongholds. Only a steep 24% drop in studio entertainment kept revenue growth on a short leash, but that's OK. That segment will always be as lumpy as semolina pudding, given the timing of theatrical and DVD releases.
So let's get back to those smoking-hot networks and theme parks. ESPN is a beast, but we knew that. The healthy park performance is the real surprise here. Disney won't stumble the way the smaller regional parks did during the quarter. It's too strong a draw for overseas tourists to feel the pinch of dwindling local economies, despite a weak dollar that's pushing oil prices higher.
More smores than snores at the campfire
One of the company's anecdotes during last night's conference call hit home on many different levels. Iger mentioned that the Fort Wilderness RV campground, located within the Walt Disney World resort, is booked solid. I can vouch for that. My sister is a mouse-eared RV-holic, and she's been rebuffed several times this year because all of the available lots were spoken for.
RVs are gas guzzlers, and few Europeans are taking their motor homes across the Atlantic. Fort Wilderness is as thick a slice of Americana as you can carve in Disney World. Sure, the RV industry isn't entirely tied to bubbling crude prices or housing-market meltdowns. Fleetwood (NYSE: FLE ) and Coachmen (NYSE: COA ) are coming off quarterly dips, but sales are clocking in higher at Winnebago (NYSE: WGO ) . The point behind Iger's story is that Disney fans aren't letting pesky prices at the pump, or tenuous local economies, keep them away from scaling Expedition Everest or going to infinity and beyond with Buzz Lightyear.
Disney delivers, in more ways than one
Don't want to hit a park? Hakuna matata, my friend. Disney is positioning itself nicely for the homebodies, too. Remember how this summer's debut of High School Music 2 drew 17 million viewers to become the summer's most-watched cable show? 100 million people have seen the TV movie now. Disney's also reaching out to those at home on their PCs. Fans have created more than 3 million fairies in Disney's virtual Tinkerbell space, and the beta for its Pirates of the Caribbean multiplayer game is getting high marks. In addition, Disney's recent acquisition of Club Penguin provides another franchise just waiting for a mousy touch.
This doesn't mean that Disney is will be the next Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS ) , but then, who expected Disney to be such a major force in the music industry just a couple of years ago? Hannah Montana and High School Musical changed that. Now Disney is telling investors to expect a similar multiplatform push that will take its nascent video game endeavors to even grander heights.
Not into playing games? Well, maybe you were one of the 9 million people who bought the most recent release of The Little Mermaid on DVD. Yes, Disney can milk a classic, even if it was capitalized 18 years ago. And if you're willing to chance the outside world, a Broadway version of the film opens next month, and an Ariel ride will open in Disney's California Adventure in a couple of years as the park is revitalized.
No guidance, no problem
Disney isn't providing guidance for its near-term results, but everything seems to be coming together. Theme park bookings are coming in well ahead of last year's torrid pace. Lost will be back on ABC come January. The Writers Guild strike will sting Disney and other broadcasters like News Corp. (NYSE: NWS ) and CBS (NYSE: CBS ) if it stretches on, but Disney is already making contingency plans to load up on alternate content (like everyone else). Yes, the Pirates trilogy is gone (save for the third DVD in this current quarter) but now the second installment in the Narnia series is coming to a multiplex near you.
So who are you kidding? You can't kill Disney. Not that you'd ever want to try.
Other snappy headlines you can hum along to: