3 Things You Didn't Know About Disney

Few companies, are as iconic in America as Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) . Yet, while Disney is definitely well known, it's recognized more for its theme parks that compete with Seaworld (NYSE: SEAS  ) Cedar Fair (NYSE: FUN  )  and Six Flags (NYSE: SIX  ) , than for being a growth stock.

Investors are always looking for the next big thing. It may surprise you to know that the next big thing isn't always a tech stock, or a biotech start-up. As I noted in a recent review of Disney's twenty year growth, sometimes the best growth opportunity is lying right in front of your face.

What you may not know about Disney
Believe it or not, well established businesses can grow faster than small and trendy one's. The key is finding businesses that have a unique competitive advantage, that all-important moat that Warren Buffett is always talking about.

Here are three things that give Disney a unique moat, some of which you may not be familiar with.

Disney's parks are more popular than its competitors
Disney's most recent quarter offered revenue growth of 7.3% year over year for the entire company. That's not bad, but it actually lagged the 8.5% growth that Disney logged as a whole. 

If you judged Disney's success only by its parks, it's growing faster than its much smaller competitors.

Company Park/Resort Revenue Growth* Market Capitalization
Disney Parks and Resorts  8.5% $134.3B
Cedar Fair  6% $2.8B
 Six Flags  4% $3.5B
 Seaworld Entertainment  3% $2.6B

*Most recent (third) quarter results
These results were from the most recent quarter for each company, ending in November, but they mirror a trend for the entire year. The law of large numbers would tell us that Disney's overall growth, let alone its parks revenue, shouldn't compete with the growth of smaller competitors. 

Yet, somehow Disney's Parks are leading the pack; how is that happening?

Disney's is one of the world's most iconic brands
Is the secret in the mouse ears? Whatever it is, Disney is one of the world's most iconic brands, and was recently recognized as the world's 13th most powerful by Forbes, which feeds revenues to its 43 parks.

Where Cedar Fair, Six Flags, and Seaworld only have their parks, Disney has characters that are as iconic as Coca-Cola. The symbolism involved with attaching a "character" (Mickey, Aladdin, or whomever) to a theme park experience, gives Disney a much better opportunity for growth. 

Aside from the brand habituation, these "characters" also fuel an entertainment ecosystem that brings in revenue while also funneling business to the parks. Think about it, kids may very well see a Disney movie before they ever dream of going to a park; in fact, the movie may be the reason for the dream! The parks, products, and films, all feed business to each other, and the iconic brand keeps chugging along. 

Disney's parks are not its leading source of revenues
One thing that may surprise you is that the largest percent, 34%, of Disney's revenues come from its ESPN Channels. Couple that with 9% of its business from ABC Broadcasting, and we have a business with nearly half of its revenues generated in "non-mouse" businesses. 

What I like about Disney most is that it doesn't diversify just for the sake of diversification. Some of its acquisitions, such as Marvel Studios and ESPN, have rabid and loyal fan bases, which provides a wide-moat. Further adding to the moat is that ESPN does not have any significant competitors in its industry.

These acquisitions offer tremendous growth potential, as well as safety by diversifying outside of the consumer sensitive parks. With the acquisition of the Lucas Films Star Wars franchise, and new movies on the horizon, Disney's acquisitions may be set to drive hefty growth. 

Foolish conclusion: Think like an owner
Foolish investors should challenge the conventional methods of stock picking. The financial media tells us to focus on technical analysis, and short-term moves, rather than details about underlying businesses.

By thinking like an owner, you may be more inclined to learn about Disney's industry, the strength of its brand, and the diversity of its business lines. That's what we did today, and it looks like this stock is much hotter than we imagined.

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