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Disney Logs a Sleepy Start to What Will Be a Very Busy 2019

By Nicholas Rossolillo – Updated Apr 10, 2019 at 5:05PM

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It’s still not too late to scoop up shares ahead of Mickey Mania.

The House of Mouse and home of seemingly everything else buzzworthy in the entertainment world reported a better-than-expected start to its 2019 fiscal year. The comparable period 12 months ago was going to be tough to top, as will the entire 2018 calendar year in general. Consumer spending was on a tear (up over 5% according to the U.S. Census Bureau), and Disney (DIS -3.20%) had a number of record-breaking hits.

Revenue was unchanged year over year for the three months ending Dec. 29, 2018 at $15.3 billion, and earnings per share fell 36% to $1.86 -- although adjusted earnings (which negate one-time items) only fell 3% to $1.84. Wall Street analysts were looking for $15.1 billion in revenue and $1.54 in earnings per share.

Results aren't impressive because they beat analyst views, but because the company didn't have a tentpole film like it did in the comparable period the year prior -- that being Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which had a $1.3 billion box office haul in spite of falling short of some fans' hopes for the story. Without a smash hit like that over the holidays, it was always assumed Disney's numbers would be flat at best year over year. Nevertheless, this could be the last calm before the storm that Disney is unleashing on the world in 2019.

Not if, but how many box office hits

2018 was the type of year theater operators had been praying for. Domestic gross ticket sales were $11.9 billion, a new record easily topping the now second-place $11.4 billion in 2016. Number of tickets sold got a boost from new subscription services like AMC Entertainment's (NYSE: AMC) Stubs A-List, but Disney was also a factor. The company's subsidiary Marvel Studios had two blockbuster hits in Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War -- the former unexpectedly exceeding $1 billion in global ticket sales, and the latter surpassing $2 billion.

Check out the latest Disney earnings call transcript.

The next year could be even better. Though 2019 to date has gotten off to a sleepy start, Disney is handling the international distribution for the year's best-seller so far: Universal Studios' Glass, which has grossed over $100 million overseas as of this writing. Come March, though, things will get interesting. It's possible that Disney's only real competition at the box office will be itself with a slew of superhero, sci-fi, and animated hit sequels, not to mention a bevy of classic Disney live-action remakes.

Movie Title

Release Date

Captain Marvel

March 8, 2019


March 29, 2019

Disneynature's Penguins

April 17, 2019

Avengers: Endgame

April 26, 2019


May 24, 2019

Toy Story 4

June 21, 2019

The Lion King

July 19, 2019

Artemis Fowl (the only nonsequel or remake here, based on the popular novels of the same name)

August 9, 2019

Star Wars: Episode 9

December 20, 2019

Data source: Box Office Mojo.

The other irons in the fire

If the absurd movie release schedule weren't enough (the list above also doesn't include two yet-to-be-released titles for the autumn months), Disney is cramming other projects onto its plate. The company is putting the final touches on its takeover of Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA) (FOX). Disney Resorts -- which shared the heavy lifting with the movie studio division in 2018 -- will be opening Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge extensions to its parks in California and Florida over the summer and fall. Since the extensions are paired with another park pass fee hike that consumers complain about but continue to pay for anyway, expect another big showing for the newly reorganized "parks, experiences, and consumer products" division. Segment revenue and operating profits grew 5% and 10%, respectively, in 2019's fiscal first quarter.

A group of people sitting in a theater, eating popcorn and drinking soda.

Image source: Getty Images.

While media networks grew revenue and operating profits by 7% each in the first quarter, the real focus in 2019 will be on the new "direct-to-consumer" segment. That includes the ESPN+ streaming service, which is off to a fast start with 2 million subscribers after less than a year of existence. With momentum at its back, streaming services will be Disney's main focus this year. After acquiring Fox, the company will be the majority owner of Hulu, and a stand-alone Disney+ streaming service will launch late in the year. Management promised a preview of the new platform during its investor day in April. Netflix will probably be fine, but Disney will become the streaming leader's first real threat by the end of the year.

What does the ludicrous schedule mean for investors? Probably a lot of top-line growth, but several new expenses as well. Expansion costs money, so profit growth could remain muted this year. On the other hand, though, Disney is laying the groundwork for a new type of entertainment conglomerate, one that promises a lot of bottom-line upside later on. However, with so many potential big hits in the works, there could be some pleasant surprises along the way. In short, it's time to add Disney to your wish list if it isn't there already.

Nicholas Rossolillo and his clients own shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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