Disney (NYSE:DIS) has changed immensely over the past year, making two monumental changes that will alter the company's path for the foreseeable future.
First, it acquired the entertainment assets of 21st Century Fox, closing a $71 billion deal that gives Disney control of television franchises like The Simpsons, cable channels like FX and National Geographic, and a slew of high-powered movie studios -- and a formidable library of content to go along with it. Along the way, the entertainment giant also captured full control of Hulu following a deal with Comcast.
Second, Disney launched its long-awaited Disney+ streaming service earlier this month. The service signed up 10 million users on opening day, including pre-sales, easily beating expectations.
Those two moves, especially Disney+, should pave the way forward for the company over the next year.
Where Disney+ goes from here
There's no question that the Disney+ launch was impressive, and a sign more than anything of the pent-up demand for Disney entertainment, which includes Marvel, Pixar, and Star Wars. Those subscribers all came from North America and The Netherlands. By comparison, Netflix, which has grown its streaming service methodically over the last decade, has never added more than 7 million domestic subscribers in a single year.
Following its successful domestic debut, all eyes will be on Disney+'s international expansion. The service arrived in Australia, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico on November 19, and is set to hit Western Europe next March. By 2021, the company says it will have launched in most major markets.
Considering the popularity of Disney programming around the world, it wouldn't be surprising to see the service find an audience abroad as well, and its low price point should only help its case. Disney has set a goal of reaching 60 million to 90 million subscribers for the service by 2024, and after the impressive launch in North America, it could have at least 20 million subscribers in another year.
Other areas to watch
While streaming is the area that analysts will be most closely paying attention to, Disney's core businesses, which are made up of media networks, theme parks and resorts, and studio entertainment, will continue to drive the bottom line.
Disney's media networks business has long been the company's most profitable segment, but has struggled to grow due to cord-cutting and other challenges in the network and cable television business. Last year, operating income increased just 2%, even with the Fox acquisition, and Disney's media networks business, which includes ABC, ESPN, and a number of other cable networks, is likely to struggle over the coming year, especially as the Disney+ launch could encourage increased cord-cutting, further weighing on profits in its media business.
The theme park segment is Disney's most reliable business, and has been a source of steady growth over the past decade as the company expanded existing parks and opened a new one in Shanghai. Last year, revenue from parks and resorts rose 8% to $6.7 billion and operating income increased 17% to $1.4 billion. With the stock market at an all-time high and U.S. economic growth and consumer confidence also elevated, Disney should be able to pass another round of price increases, and 2020 looks poised to be another strong year for its parks business. Additionally, the company has a number of multi-year expansions at its parks that should pay off over the coming years.
Disney's studio entertainment is always a mixed bag, as box office releases are generally risky. The company's intellectual property makes the movie business more predictable, and in 2019 revenue rose 11% -- but operating income fell 11%. Last year's releases included Avengers: Endgame, Toy Story 4, and The Lion King. Over the coming year, investors can look forward to Frozen 2, The Rise of Skywalker to close out 2019, and 19 other box office releases.
What 2020 looks like
Disney's stock performance over the next year will largely be determined by Disney+. The market has already made its enthusiasm for the new service clear by sending shares soaring twice this year, when Disney+ was first unveiled and when the company reported 10 million sign-ups.
Considering that Netflix fetches a triple-digit price-to-earnings valuation, impressive growth at Disney+ could do a lot for the stock price, as the market could start to see the company as a streaming service with Netflix-like potential combined with a blockbuster studio entertainment and theme park business and a highly profitable media business.
With the early momentum in Disney+ and its international expansion soon to come, 2020 could be a rewarding year for Disney investors, as the tailwinds from the streaming service should keep blowing.