Chances are that Walt Disney needs little introduction. It's a business model that spans theme parks, iconic movies, television stations, and even a planned streaming service. This multi-generational, memory-making company has catapulted higher by more than 100,000% since it was first listed for trade in 1957.
But the big question is: Are there are other Disneys out there?
We asked three of our Foolish investors to come up with a stock that they believe is reminiscent of the way Disney was more than 60 years ago when it started trading publicly. Rising to the top were streaming giant Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), video and ad kingpin Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL), and satellite radio operator Sirius XM Holdings (NASDAQ:SIRI).
A Disney in the making
Danny Vena (Netflix): When Disney was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in November of 1957, it wasn't the global media powerhouse it is today, but it had all the makings of the company it would become. Walt Disney imagined a company that was grounded in its intellectual property and reinforced through movies, television programs, comic strips, merchandising, music, and of course, theme parks -- with each segment reinforcing all the others.
It would be difficult to find a company that meets all those criteria, but one comes very close: Netflix.
After initially producing shows that others owned, Netflix decided that the best economics resulted from owning its content outright. The company has only recently started that journey, but it's had a surprising number of original programs that have resonated with fans -- like The Crown, Sense 8, Narcos, The OA, Bojack Horseman, and Stranger Things.
Netflix has been exploring other ways to bolster its ever-growing library of intellectual property. Last year, the company made the first acquisition in its 20-year history with the purchase of comic-book house Millarworld, gaining the services of founder Mark Millar. While not a household name, Millar is the creative mind behind such blockbusters as Captain America: Civil War, The Avengers, and Logan. He also authored the tales that led to Kick-Ass, Wanted, and Kingsman: The Secret Service.
The extraordinary popularity of pop culture phenomenon Stranger Things has convinced Netflix to take the plunge into licensed content. Company executives showed off Christmas sweaters based on the hit show during an investor presentation late last year, announcing to the world that its foray into merchandising had begun. With the cultural zeitgeist of some of its shows, this could quickly evolve into a multi-billion-dollar opportunity.
With 117 million subscribers and a growing library of original content, the company is hitting many of the high points that led to Disney's 60-year run: movies, television shows, comics, and merchandise. The company hasn't yet announced a theme park, but can you imagine an attraction based on Stranger Things? I can -- and it would be awesome.
The internet's video leader
Travis Hoium (Alphabet): Disney's strength since 1957 has centered around being one of the best content producers in the world and being a step ahead of the competition in content distribution. Buying ABC/ESPN, Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel are just a few of the deals that have built an incredibly profitable empire, and the steady expansion of theme parks has led to a waterfall of profits pouring out of the company. On their own, these assets don't make a dominant business, but combined they have given Disney market leadership over the course of many decades.
I see a lot of the same characteristics in Alphabet and its growing media empire. YouTube is the dominant platform for streaming video on the internet, making its way to websites, televisions, and set-top boxes. The YouTube TV service is a new content service that brings traditional channels to consumers with an innovative cloud DVR to go with it, arguably providing better service than any other over-the-top cable offering.
YouTube and YouTube TV combined are the kind of platforms that can cause disruption in the media business. On the YouTube side, users can upload their own content and make money through advertising, all with Alphabet taking a large cut of the revenue. YouTube TV is one of the streaming services upending cable television and could be just the start for Alphabet.
We already know that YouTube has partnerships with the NFL, the NBA, and MLB to distribute content, and it wouldn't be surprising if it expands further into original content that would augment existing services. Alphabet's data from its other services could then be used to match users with content more effectively than Netflix, Disney, or any other streaming service.
Advertisers also could be matched with users on a very personalized basis. After all, Alphabet and Google know more about most people's personal preferences than their own families, which is something the company exploits to make the most of its money in search.
Alphabet is now a power player in the media business and may have the best streaming technology in the world. It can leverage that to be a power player for decades to come, just like Disney did 60 years ago.
Space Mountain, meet space radio Goliath
Sean Williams (Sirius XM Holdings): Trying to duplicate Disney's success is extremely difficult, given how well the House of Mouse has used branding and emotional engagement to its advantage. But if there's another company out there that offers similar long-term advantages and branding potential, it's satellite radio operator Sirius XM Holdings.
Unlike Disney, which has a few major competitors today, Sirius XM is the sole satellite radio operator. Though the company faces local terrestrial radio competition, as well as challenges from online operators, there's really nothing that can stand in the way of Sirius succeeding, aside from its own two proverbial feet.
You see, one of the biggest differences between the Sirius XM model and that of terrestrial and online radio is where the money comes from. Sirius XM makes nearly all of its revenue from the subscription model. A consumer buys a new car and renews their service, and Sirius XM continues to reap the rewards. Only a negligible amount of revenue is derived from advertising.
Comparatively, terrestrial and online radio lean very heavily on ads to pay the bills. The ad market is very lumpy at times, which can wreak havoc on a business. Just as Disney's theme parks and media library allow it to be mostly recession resistant, Sirius XM's subscription model provides a similar benefit.
Sirius XM also is working on a business model where margins should increase over time. That's because its customer-acquisition costs are relatively fixed. Sure, it has to spend money on talent to put on the airways, as well as on deals with major sporting associations. However, its satellites in space require no extra costs, regardless of how many subscribers it tallies. This fixed cost allows predictability to be Sirius XM's ally.
Finally, the two companies are incredible at emotionally engaging their audiences. Disney needs no introduction. Simply walk into any of their theme parks worldwide and you'll see the fruits of their ability to connect with families. By a similar token, Sirius XM's average self-pay monthly churn was only 1.8% for 2017, down from 1.9% in 2016.
Snagging personalities like Howard Stern and working out a deal to broadcast all National Football League games through the 2022 Super Bowl are examples of the lengths Sirius XM has gone to in order to connect with its users. Based on this churn rate, it's working.
There will be only one Disney, but Sirius XM offers similarities that can't be overlooked.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Danny Vena owns shares of Alphabet (A shares), Netflix, and Walt Disney and has the following options: long January 2019 $85 calls on Walt Disney. Sean Williams has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Travis Hoium owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.