Disney (NYSE:DIS) delivered the magic investors were hoping for in its fiscal fourth quarter (which ended Sept. 29). The company reported revenue of $19.1 billion, up 34% year over year, beating its own forecast and analysts' estimates. The better-than-expected performance carried down to the bottom line, with non-GAAP (adjusted) earnings per share of $1.07. This helped drive the consumer discretionary stock up nearly 4% on the day following its earnings release.
For investors looking for greater insight into the results and Disney's future plans, the conference call provided a wealth of information. Disney executives covered a wide range of topics including the performance of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, the growing subscriber base of ESPN+, and the future of Hulu in a Disney+ world.
The death of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is greatly exaggerated
One of the themes in headlines in recent months has been declining visitor counts at Disney's theme parks, and in particular the apparent lack of interest in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. The company spent more than $1 billion each on the two 14-acre expansions at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but uninspiring park attendance seemed to point to apathy on the part of consumers toward the pricey attraction.
Apparently, nothing could be further from the truth. Iger admitted that some fans may be waiting for the opening of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance -- the second phase of the attraction -- which debuts on Dec. 5 at Walt Disney World in Florida and Jan. 17 at Disneyland in California. He did, however, share one tidbit to help dispel any notion that visitors weren't interested in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge -- between the two parks, more than 5 million people had boarded the Millennium Falcon since the ride debuted. So much for lack of interest.
ESPN+ reaches another milestone
Disney's first streaming service, ESPN+, debuted in April 2018. The combination of declining subscriber rates and cord-cutting was eating into the media giant's extremely profitable media networks business, and Disney's response was to develop ESPN+, a companion service to its cable sports network. Some worried the move was too little, too late, but it served as a proving ground for the company's future streaming aspirations.
On the conference call, Iger provided an update for Disney's streaming sports offering. Just 18 months after its debut, Iger said: "I'm pleased to announce that as of today, ESPN+ has over 3.5 million paid subscribers." Not bad for under two years.
FX will feed Hulu
Disney's motivation for acquiring Twenty-First Century Fox was, in part, to help fuel its streaming ambitions. Iger said the acquisition brought with it a "large library of quality film and television content along with additional filmmaking capabilities and the industry's best TV production studios, great talent, [and] great brands and franchises, like Nat Geo [National Geographic] and FX along with The Simpsons and Avatar." Iger announced that beginning in March, "Hulu will become the official streaming home for FX Networks."
It isn't surprising that Disney would use FX to seed Hulu with programming. FX has been the proud recipient of 277 Emmy nominations and 157 Emmy awards since 2014, making its quality programming an immediate draw for fans. Iger said Hulu would feature every season of more than 40 FX series, and new episodes of the programs will appear on Hulu immediately after they appear on broadcast television.
In addition, FX is creating new original programming that will appear exclusively on Hulu beginning in 2020. Devs helmed by Alex Garland, Mrs. America starring Cate Blanchett, A Teacher starring Kate Mara, and The Old Man starring Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow are just the first of what is sure to be many more headliners on Hulu. The streaming platform will also feature TV programs from Disney's ABC and Fox Television Studios and movies from the Fox and Searchlight studios.
If you were thinking Hulu would wither in the corner while Disney+ got all the attention -- think again.