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Theme Parks Continue to Save the Day at Disney

By Rick Munarriz – Updated Apr 10, 2019 at 4:36PM

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Its destinations segment once again bailed out an otherwise challenging quarter at the media giant.

It shouldn't come as a big surprise, but once again Walt Disney's (DIS 2.03%) parks and resorts segment is doing the heavy lifting. The media giant's fiscal first quarter wasn't exactly one for the ages. Revenue of $15.3 billion for the holiday-containing period was flat with last year's showing. Segment operating income slipped 8%, and adjusted earnings per share fell 3% to $1.85. 

There are far worse things than flat and boring, and Wall Street was actually holding out for a crummier report. Analysts were targeting a 1% downtick in revenue with an 18% plunge on the bottom line. Disney's victory is relative -- and not absolute -- but it also couldn't have achieved this level of staleness without theme parks once again bailing out the rest of the company.

Disney guest with a MagicBand taps into a Disney World entrance point.

Using a MagicBand at a Disney World entry point. Image source: Disney.

Ready to ride

Disney is now lumping its fledgling consumer products division with its effervescent parks and resorts segment, rebranded as parks, experiences, and consumer products. The new segment saw its revenue grow 5% -- eclipsed only by a 7% uptick for Disney's now relatively smaller media networks division -- but it's fair to say that Disney's domestic theme parks fared better than that.

The media giant revealed during Tuesday afternoon's earnings call that revenue per capita -- based on admissions and in-park food and merchandise spending -- rose 7% on flat attendance at its stateside theme parks. Things are going slightly better at its Florida and California resort hotels, as a 5% per-room spending increase is stacked on top of a 3% improvement in occupancy. 

Bucking the trend of Disney's 8% slide in segment operating income, its parks, experiences, and consumer products business led the way with a 10% year-over-year increase during the seasonally potent fiscal first quarter. If Disney is doing well now, one can only imagine how things will play out through the rest of fiscal 2019. 

Disneyland increased its ticket and pass prices by at least 7% last month, and Disney World should follow as soon as this weekend. There's also Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, the highly anticipated 14-acre expansion taking place on both coasts. CEO Bob Iger has said that Disneyland's version could open as early as June. Disney mentioned during the call that Disney World's debut should come no later than September, the end of Disney's fiscal year.

Check out the latest Disney earnings call transcript.

The volatility at Disney's other segments continues to be smoothed out by its resilient theme parks. This time out, Disney's tourist destinations weren't enough to lift overall revenue, operating profit, or earnings higher. But they helped ease the sting of its studio business being off sharply, given the rough comparisons with its more successful theatrical slate a year earlier. Once again, investors should be grateful for the steady beat of turnstile clicks and the higher prices that fans are still willing to pay.

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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