There's no denying that Disney (DIS -0.12%) is at its best when the global economy is humming along. Snapping up tickets to catch the next Marvel flick at your local premium-priced multiplex, hitting up one of its industry leading theme parks during a holiday weekend, and even an advertiser's ability to pay top dollar to reach an ESPN viewer is easier when disposable income is as disposable as possible.
No one needs a Mickey Mouse plush doll or a Disney Vacation Club timeshare. However, Disney is surprisingly well positioned for an economic downturn than it was the last time the global markets collapsed. Let's go over a few reasons why the media giant is ready to make it through the next great or even non-so-great recession.
1. Disney+ will catch the cord-cutters
Disney has one of the best collections of media networks. Most people know about the media giant's ownership of ABC, Disney Channel, and an 80% stake in ESPN. It also has a significant equity stakes in A&E, Lifetime, and History Channel. In short, Disney is a major beneficiary of your basic cable and satellite television package -- and this isn't necessarily a great place to be when the economy tanks. The pay TV industry has been hemorrhaging subscribers in recent years, and that will only intensify as money gets tight.
Here's where the Disney+ service that launches in two weeks will help pick up the slack. Disney+ will offer the lion's share of Disney's prized vault of iconic movies and TV shows along with some pretty compelling original content for just $6.99 a month. Disney+ will be one of the top premium streaming offerings out of the gate, and that's going to make it a popular subscription service for folks cutting the cord as a way to save money. Disney has also been cleverly offering multiyear subscriptions at a discount to prepaying members of its D23 fan club as well as holders of its credit card products and theme-park annual passes.
One can argue that Disney is making more off of these same subscribers now through the their cut of chunky cable and satellite television bills, but Disney+ will be better for the House of Mouse in the long run. It will have a direct relationship with Disney+ subscribers and valuable insight into usage trends that will make it an even better platform as time goes by.
2. Movies can be all-weather entertainment
It may surprise you to learn that domestic movie ticket sales rose in 2007 and even 2008 as the global financial crisis did its worst. The 10% increase pop at the box office in 2009 remains the industry's biggest increase since 2002. Filmed entertainment is comfort food during an economic downturn, and even if it means opting for cheaper matinees, folks keep craving theatrical releases during recessions.
No one has its pulse on the movies that entertainment-hungry consumers are craving than Disney. It has put out the highest-grossing film in seven of the past eight years, including the four top slots in 2019. With the leading movie theater chains moving to recession-friendly subscription models lately, the multiplex won't be empty during the next economic lull.
3. Theme parks roll with the changes
Disney has seen its total revenue dip in just three fiscal years over the past two decades, and it was a less-than-1% slide for two of those years. The outlier for Disney was a 4.5% decline in fiscal 2009, but it still managed to grow attendance to its domestic theme parks by 2% that year. Per capita guest spending did fall 6% in fiscal 2009. Resort occupancy rates also took a step back. Cost-conscious visitors chose to stay at cheaper off-site hotels despite Disney lowering its nightly rates. All of these factors weighed on the margins for its theme parks and resorts segment, but at the end of the day, Disney still found a way to increase turnstile clicks.
Disney can respond quickly to economic downturns, and it sees booking trends rise and fall long before economists chime in on the situation. Disney is also better positioned to keep guests close, particularly at Disney World -- the segment's largest contributor. A lot has happened at Disney's theme parks since the last recession, but the real game changer is the rollout of FastPass+, which lets guests reserve access to expedited queues for three attractions a day. Disney opens up the reservation window for FastPass claims a month earlier for its on-site guests, giving them dibs on the hottest rides and experiences. Disney also gives overnight guests access to select parks before and after it officially closes, a perk that was in place a decade ago but now even more critical with so many new attractions that have opened and will open in the next two years.
Disney is smarter on all fronts now than it was the last time we were in an economic funk. It will find a way to stay relevant and even growth the next time things get rough.