Distribution channels change. Cable has given way to streaming, and DVDs have largely died in favor of streaming as well. As a content provider, however, if you have intellectual property (IP) that people want, then these changes don't matter as much.
Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) has demonstrated this with its ability to leverage franchises like The Avengers and Star Wars to help launch the Disney+ streaming service. People would probably watch a well-made new show in either of those universes on any sort of technology.
That gives Disney a killer advantage over many of its rivals. It's not immune to change, but it should be able to find an audience no matter how the delivery market changes. And the House of Mouse is not alone in this (though it's almost certainly the strongest example of it). Here's a bit more about Disney and two other content companies with killer advantages.
1. Walt Disney
The Bob Iger-led company has an embarrassment of IP riches that ensure its success. Marvel, Pixar, and Star Wars are only a few pieces of the puzzle. The company also owns Indiana Jones, its classic lineup of characters, The Simpsons, and a treasure trove of animated films under its own brand.
These brands power the company's box office slate, giving it a shot at more billion-dollar box office hits on a predictable basis each year than any other company. And, since Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar offer such broad universes, the opportunities are limitless.
That's obviously good for the company's movie and TV slates, but it's also important for everything else -- including theme parks, toys and merchandise -- that Disney does. There's a reason its theme parks have become IP-heavy -- consumers want more of these brands.
Call Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) a sort of Disney-light. It uses the same model, but its IP lineup is not quite as strong. It has franchises including Fast & The Furious, Transformers, Minions/Despicable Me, and the DreamWorks library of animation. It also owns Pitch Perfect, has a horror film partnership with Blumhouse, and owns NBC, which has a number of television franchises.
The Tonight Show and Today may not be Star Wars, but Comcast owns a lot of IP it has leveraged across its film, television, and theme park divisions. Disney has a big lead here, but the difference between Comcast and the next tier of content players is pretty deep.
3. Discovery Communications
Discovery Communications (NASDAQ:DISCA) (NASDAQ:DISCB) (NASDAQ:DISCK) owns a different type of franchise. It does not have characters (unless you count chefs like Guy Fieri or Bobby Flay). It does, however, have brands and franchises that people will follow to other platforms. You may not even know the parent brand, but this is just some of what it owns, according to its investor relations website:
[Discovery owns] Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, TLC, Investigation Discovery, Travel Channel, Motor Trend, Animal Planet, and Science Channel, as well as OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network in the U.S., Discovery Kids in Latin America, and Eurosport, the leading provider of locally relevant, premium sports and Home of the Olympic Games across Europe.
These are channels and content that people feel passionately about. The numbers may be much smaller than those at Disney or Comcast, but Discovery covers a variety of niches and owns those areas.
Content breeds loyalty
As cable shrinks and consumers have more choice over what they pay for (and don't pay for), brands without passionate followings will fail. These three entertainment leaders have content that consumers will seek out, no matter how distribution changes.
It's possible, but very hard, for new players to amass IP. Netflix has done it, but has spent tens of billions to sort of get there (and the company still lacks clear hit franchises). Disney, Comcast, and Discovery have major IP moats that keep competitors at a disadvantage, giving them time to adapt to market changes.