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5 Key Takeaways From Disney's Q2 Earnings Call

By Beth McKenna – Updated May 23, 2017 at 4:12PM

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Investors who follow the entertainment giant will want to know what management had to say about Shanghai Disney, its movies studios, its vision for ESPN streaming services, and more.

Walt Disney Co. (DIS -0.01%) reported solid fiscal second-quarter 2017 results recently, powered by strength in its parks and movie businesses. The entertainment giant's revenue grew 2.9%, while adjusted earnings per share jumped 10.3%.

There's often a wealth of color about a company's performance and future prospects shared during the analyst conference calls following earnings releases. Here are five key things you'll want to know from Disney's second-quarter call.

Disney's World's Cinderella Castle.

Image source: Disney.

1. Disney's vision for direct-to-consumer ESPN-branded subscription streaming products 

From CEO Bob Iger's remarks:

[T]here seems to be people jumping to conclusion that there would be sort of a one-size-fits-all [direct-to-consumer ESPN-branded subscription streaming] product that went to the marketplace, and that's not what we're thinking at all. We actually believe that one of the benefits of direct-to-consumer business is to give consumers the opportunity to buy either subscriptions that are shorter in nature, or limited in nature, or specifically targeted to things that they're interested in, like a given sport or a given team or a given region in a given period of time.

Iger said the company is still targeting this year to launch an ESPN-branded direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service using its stake in streaming company BAMTech, acquired last fall. (The service's content will be different from the content on ESPN's cable channel.) 

Iger's statement above is, to my knowledge, the first time he's addressed -- at least on an earnings call -- Disney's vision for the new product -- or, more aptly, "products," plural. Investors should expect that whatever ESPN-branded streaming offering Disney rolls out this year will likely be followed by additional services relatively shortly thereafter. Tailoring these offerings is the right way to go, as one big reason that folks have been pulling the plug on cable is that, until relatively recently, they had little choice but to pay for an expanded bundle that included many channels they don't watch.

2. ESPN is enjoying mobile success

From Iger's remarks: 

ESPN continues to lead the industry when it comes to creating innovative digital products, and as we expand and enhance our mobile presence, we're seeing tremendous increases in mobile viewing. Almost 80% of the people who connect with ESPN each month access the content on mobile devices. In Q2, ESPN['s] suite of mobile apps reached a monthly audience of almost 23 million unique users who collectively spent more than 5.2 billion minutes engaging with ESPN on those platforms during the quarter. [This equates to an average of about 1.26 hours per user per month.] 

ESPN has received much attention over the last nearly two years due to subscriber counts declining. Iger, though, has often rattled off statistics on the earnings calls highlighting ESPN's strengths. He's also reviewed how the company is positioning itself to succeed in the evolving TV-viewing market, including getting ESPN included in a variety of distributors' "skinny bundles," launching streaming services, and investing in BAMTech. However, I don't recall hearing him cover ESPN's success in mobile, at least not lately, which is why this nugget is included.

Success in mobile will be critical -- a factor that will separate the media winners from the losers, as consumers are increasingly choosing to view content of all types on their mobile devices. 

3. Shanghai Disney's guest tally hits 10 million

From Iger's remarks:

In the next few days, Shanghai Disney Resort will welcome its 10 millionth guest. As the resort has become a true national destination in China, attendance is outpacing our most optimistic projections and the park's performance is exceeding our expectations. 

This event has almost surely already happened in the days since Iger said this on May 9. This massive $5.5 billion park opened in mid-June of last year, and clocking 10 million guests in about 11 months is an impressive accomplishment. For some context, Disney's well-established Magic Kingdom at Disney World and its Disneyland Park in California were the two most-visited theme parks worldwide in 2015, hosting about 20.5 million and 18.3 million guests, respectively. 

CFO Christine McCarthy added that the company still expects the Shanghai park to break even this fiscal year, which ends in October.

4. Why Disney's studio business is unstoppable

From Iger's remarks:

We've been thrilled with the creative momentum at Disney's Live-Action Studio. In addition to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, which opens this month, the Studio is having tremendous success reimagining some of our most beloved characters and stories for new generation.

Beauty and the Beast [whose $1.21 billion box-office take as of May 17 makes it 2017's top-grossing movie worldwide] is the latest in an impressive list of wildly successful films, including Maleficent, Cinderella, and Jungle Book, and we've got more on the way, including The Lion King, Dumbo, Aladdin, and Mulan.

Iger's comment gets at the heart of why Disney's movie-making business in general is unstoppable: The company already has a ton of classic movies that it can remake, and it continues to make wonderful new movies across all its studios (Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, which makes the Star Wars' films) that will be ripe for "reimagining," to use Iger's word, in the years to come. 

5. It has increased its fiscal 2017 share repurchase target

From McCarthy's remarks:

Given the lower-than-expected capex [capital expenditures] and improved operating cash flow, coupled with our continued confidence in our business, we are increasing our share repurchase target by $2 billion to $9 billion to $10 billion for the year.

Disney's strong balance sheet provides it with opportunities for growth, and enables it to return value to its shareholders in the form of share buybacks and dividends. Upping its share buyback target by $2 billion signals that management views Disney stock as attractively priced.

In Q2, Disney repurchased about 18.6 million shares at a cost of about $2 billion, which brings its fiscal-year-to-date buyback total to 41.5 million shares for approximately $4.4 billion. 

As a wrap-up, investors should keep in mind Iger's last words in his opening remarks: "[A]s we've previously noted, we expect to deliver modest growth for fiscal 2017 with a return to more robust growth in fiscal 2018 and beyond."

Beth McKenna has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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