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DreamWorks Animation Outdraws Analysts

When will analysts stop underestimating DreamWorks Animation (NYSE: DWA  ) ? For the 16th time in the past 17 quarters, Wall Street has once again come up short in projecting the computer-animation studio's earnings power.

Investors won't mind, of course. Performance drives a stock's price, and DreamWorks Animation is making a habit out of landing on the right side of Mr. Market's top- and bottom-line targets.

Revenue slipped 3% to $194.2 million, a startling achievement when one considers that the studio hasn't had a theatrical release since last March's Monsters vs. Aliens. After Hollywood's record 2009, we've come to expect films to do well on the big screen before dying on DVD. In this respect, DreamWorks Animation has the added benefit of releasing its films on IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX  ) and in 3-D, jacking up average ticket prices.

However, DVD, pay-per-view, and television licensing drove DreamWorks Animation's $194.2 million in fourth-quarter revenue, well ahead of the $176.95 million that analysts were banking on.

The same held true for the studio's bottom line. Earnings of $0.50 a share fell short of the $0.58 a share it delivered a year earlier, but blew past the $0.37 a share that Wall Street was targeting.

Ever since Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) acquisition of Pixar, DreamWorks Animation has become the only pure play in computer animation. By carving out franchises, the studio's made it easier to expect big things from sequels of proven properties.

It will be hard to underestimate May's Shrek Forever After, since the first three installments have been colossal blockbusters. In fact, Shrek the Third -- even though it came out in May of 2007 -- was the largest individual revenue contributor during the company's most recent quarter.

The timing of the Shrek sequel will also come in handy if next month's How to Train Your Dragon falls flat. Given the glut of 3-D content hitting the corner multiplex this year, it never hurts to have fallback ammo.

A potentially promising wild card here is the onslaught of 3-D television sets coming out in the coming months. Disney, Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) , IMAX, and Discovery Communications (Nasdaq: DISCA  ) (Nasdaq: DISCK  ) have committed to 3-D cable programming this year, which should help drive sales of new 3-D capable sets. If they do catch on, DreamWorks Animation should be ahead of the curve with its content and easily updated DVDs and Blu-rays. 

In the end, 3-D could be just one more way for DreamWorks Animation to land far beyond where analysts have parked.

Will 3-D take off outside the multiplex? Share your thoughts in the 2-D comments box below.

Walt Disney is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. IMAX is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. DreamWorks Animation SKG and Disney are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a sucker for quality animation. Yes, he owns shares of Disney. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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