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Where Will Disney Be in 10 Years?

By Rick Munarriz - Sep 28, 2019 at 5:00PM

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The media giant is doing a lot of things right now, but 2029 could be even better.

Everywhere you look, there's change happening at Disney ( DIS -1.90% ) these days. It will go all in on streaming with the mid-November launch of Disney+. Its theme parks are going through major transformations, recently opening their most ambitious domestic expansion in years. Disney continues to dominate the box office, but it's going to need new franchises to carry the load after wrapping up the iconic Avengers and Star Wars storylines this year.

I whipped out a crystal ball this summer, attempting to forecast where Disney will be in a year. Let's push ourselves to look out even longer. Let me turn to Madame Leota's crystal ball to take a crack at where the family-entertainment giant will be come 2029. In the words of Aladdin and Jasmine, it's going to be a whole new world. 

A regally outfitted Mickey Mouse in front of Disney World's Cinderella Castle.

Image source: Disney.

I can show you the world

The easiest asset to figure out is Disney's theme-parks empire. Its collection of attractions worldwide drew 157.3 million guests last year, nearly a third of the visitors to all of the world's amusement parks. Disney's popularity isn't going to go away, and it's in the process of adding several new attractions to its largest resort, Disney World in Florida, ahead of that resort's 50th birthday in 2021. 

It will be a shock if Disney World doesn't have a fifth park open in 10 years. Its rival is already developing a massive new park to make Universal Orlando more compelling. With the inevitable success of the Star Wars-themed hotel it plans to open in Florida in a couple of years, it will probably continue to build out next-gen lodging at its theme parks. The tech behind its in-park platform for access to expedited queues, mobile ordering of food, and queue diversion apps will only get more useful over time. In short, Disney's theme parks should continue to be a steady grower. 

Moving pictures

On the studio front, Disney is unlikely to match its current dominating performance. Disney is responsible for the four highest-grossing films of 2019, and it's had the country's top draw for five consecutive years. Buying Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar has helped it become the undisputed top dog, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Disney makes at least one more deal in the coming decade.

The dynamics of its studio business may change between now and 2029. Theaters are starting to hop on the multiplex subscription trend, lifting attendance at the expense of lower revenue per ticket. The booming popularity of streaming services -- the next major point we'll be covering -- is also changing the dynamics of post-theatrical distribution. With retail sales of physical discs continuing to slide in the future and November's launch of Disney+ locking up many releases as exclusive to that platform, there will be fewer outlets to monetize a film. But Disney will be fine. It can cash in through its theme parks and its consumer-products segment in a way that its rivals can't match. However, the business model itself will be very different in 10 years.

Network effect

Disney's media networks division has historically been its biggest contributor, delivering the largest operating profit, but it's also the most vulnerable. The cord-cutting revolution is real, and the retransmission and carriage fees it receives from cable and satellite television providers are fading. The money that marketers are willing to pay for prime-time commercials on shows is also changing for the worse. 

On Nov. 12, Disney will take its biggest step in disrupting its own cash cow with the launch of Disney+. Just as it's hard to find someone who still receives a print newspaper these days, it's going to be hard to find folks in 2029 still paying for linear television. Streaming on-demand TV will be the residential standard in a decade, armed with faster and cheaper connectivity than they are right now. There will be opportunities as content creators squeeze out the middleman, but there will also be a shakeout among the services given the glut of offerings available now or set to launch in the coming months. Disney+ will be a survivor, and not just because of its surprisingly low pricing or its brilliant move to approach Disney fan club members, theme-park passholders, and credit card holders with discounted deals if they prepay for the next two to three years.

Disney is one of just a couple of streaming services that will reach the critical mass necessary for platform to succeed, and with that victory lap you'll find the lesser services trying to piggyback on victors. It wouldn't be a surprise if by 2029 Disney+ is bundled with other services that couldn't cut it on their own, making Disney and a couple of other leaders the new version of today's MVPD (multichannel video programming distributor) or cable television provider. 

Adding it all up

Disney is a dominant force across all of its businesses today. There are near-term threats. Attendance has slowed at Disney's domestic theme parks. The multiplex model is evolving. The MVPD market is blowing up, and with that Disney's access to juicy third-party fees for rights to broadcast its content.

It won't be a smooth transition to 2029, but Disney should be much better positioned in all of its businesses a decade from now. Disney's theme parks will continue to be profitable, with new ways to cash in on its captive audience as it gets to know them better. Content will continue to be king, and that means new models for filmed and animated entertainment to explore. The death of pay TV as we know it will find Disney going from passenger to grabbing the wheel, and it will be better off financially as it decides who can hop on for the ride. It will continue to be one of the top consumer discretionary stocks worth owning.

The future is bright for Disney, but you knew it would be a fairytale ending.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis – even one of our own – helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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