Both of these top media stocks have properties they own that essentially equal guaranteed hits. In addition, both Comcast and Disney control all sorts of ways to deliver and exploit those franchises. Whether it's through their television networks, in their theme parks, or through licensing, these are the top media stocks because they control multiple aspects of the media.
Neither Disney nor Comcast needs partners for many aspects of its business. Yes, these two top media stocks need theater owners to show their movies, but both control properties that give them incredible leverage. Whether it's Star Wars in Disney's case of Jurassic Park for Comcast, these media giants can use their guaranteed hits to force partners to treat their lesser properties better.
Disney and Comcast are top media stocks because their size has taken away a lot of the risk of producing content. That doesn't mean neither company will ever suffer a misstep -- Comcast's NBC primetime lineup and Disney's BFG show that even the mighty stumble -- but it allows for a higher hit ratio and a better ability to make more money off each success.
Why is Disney a top media stock?
While Disney doesn't own a cable pipeline like Comcast, it has a vast empire of top-tier content, along with ABC, a variety of cable channels, and its theme parks. Arguably, the Mouse House has the most impressive lineup of content of any media company, which makes up for its lack of its own distribution network.
The lineup includes everything from Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel, and Disney animation to ESPN's programming and the Disney Channel tween block. This is a company that can dictate its own terms with cable operators, because going without ESPN and the Disney family of channels is simply not an option for most people. The same is true with movies, because a Pixar release or a new Star Wars film is as close to a guaranteed hit as possible.
In addition, once Disney has a successful property, it has the apparatus in place to successfully exploit it. Once Frozen became a hit, for example, the company used the characters to draw theme-park goers, then added live shows, and finally has created a new ride at Epcot. That, of course, joins a truly stunning array of products ranging from clothes to games, backpacks, costumes, and pretty much anything else you can imagine.
While there are some negative headwinds facing ESPN, the company has such a diverse array of products that it can easily absorb problems with one property.
Why is Comcast a top media stock?
Comcast, which owns NBC, Universal Pictures, Universal Studios theme parks, and various cable networks, doesn't have quite the content lineup Disney has, but it's pretty close. The company owns the aforementioned Jurassic Park franchise, as well as the Fast and Furious movies, Despicable Me/Minions, 50 Shades of Grey, and Pitch Perfect, and it recently bought DreamWorks Animation, which gives it Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon, and a wealth of other titles.
In addition to being able to leverage all of those titles in its theme parks, Comcast has the rights to Disney's Marvel characters, Nintendo's never-before-exploited properties, and the incredibly lucrative Harry Potter.
Like Disney, Comcast has the ability to take a hit film or television show and push it out to a variety of other platforms. It also has the advantage of being the largest cable provider in the country, which gives it access to 22 million or so homes directly. That's about 23.5% of the total pay-television universe the company controls.
What could hurt Comcast and Disney?
Both companies have some exposure to cord-cutting, but they also have hedges against it. Disney has ESPN and its kids' programming, which could easily be marketed as a standalone service. Comcast, on the other hand, controls a big chunk of the broadband internet market (a similar percentage to its pay-TV audience), and even cord-cutters need an internet connection. That gives the company a way to make money on customers who may abandon its core cable product.
Disney and Comcast are ultimately top media stocks because they can create hits at a better rate than any of their rivals, and then make more money by pushing those properties through their systems. It's a powerful machine that's nearly impossible to duplicate, which guarantees long-term success even if short-term problems sometimes hurt both companies' share prices.