I recently looked at three things that can go wrong for Disney (NYSE:DIS) in 2020, but it's hard to be a pessimist when it comes to the media giant. Momentum is on its side, as it finally broke through the all-time highs it delivered in 2015.
Disney isn't hitting on all cylinders, but it's doing more than enough to continue beating the market in 2019. Let's consider a few of the things that can push the stock even higher in the year ahead.
1. Disney+ can be bigger than you might think
There's no denying that the biggest catalyst to Disney's renaissance as a market darling in 2019 -- the shares are up 36% with a pair of trading days to go -- is the arrival of Disney+. Disney's been rolling since the springtime media event at which it announced an aggressive pricing strategy and massive catalog of classic and original content for the premium streaming service.
Disney+ has lived up the hype, having topped 10 million subscribers within the first day of its mid-November launch. It also has its first original programming hit with Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian. The lingering concern here is if Disney+ is too successful that it might persuade more cable and satellite television viewers to the cut the cord, costing Disney more in revenue from the carriage rights it gets than it's generating in Disney+ subscriptions.
The counter to the seemingly reasonable bearish argument is that Disney stands more to gain dealing directly with its fan base. Disney will get a better read on what consumers are watching, and that can help it make smarter programming decisions. If the media behemoth already seems to be in touch with what's working, just imagine what it can do with a steady pulse of roughly 20 million subscribers as it cuts out the middleman.
2. Domestic theme parks can heat up
One of the surprising hiccups at Disney this year has been sluggish attendance trends at its original theme park. Attendance gains have declined at Disneyland in back-to-back quarters, and they dipped at Disney World during the fiscal third quarter ending in June before bouncing back during the peak summer season.
Some of the slowdown in turnstile clicks was expected, as Disney has raised prices and placed more restrictions on its annual passes. Revenue is moving higher despite the lumpy attendance levels. One has to wonder what can happen if Disney's theme parks pack the one-two punch of higher traffic and average revenue per visitor in 2020.
We already know that the next ride opening in Disneyland is going to move the needle. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance has been a bar-raising smash since opening in Florida earlier this month, and it will make its Disneyland debut in three weeks. The Marvel-themed Avengers Campus is also coming to Disneyland's adjacent Disney's California Adventure park later in 2020. There's even more coming to Florida, including the first Mickey Mouse-themed ride. As long as the global economy doesn't fall into a recession, Disney's flagship theme parks should check in with accelerating growth in the year ahead.
3. Disney's 2020 theatrical slate won't be a loser
We're capping off a blowout year for Disney at the local multiplex. It will have the country's seven highest grossing movies by the time box office tallies are complete, and with blockbuster franchises including Avengers and Star Wars taking a break, it's easy to brace for disappointment in 2020. Let's flip that script.
We're getting two Pixar flicks in 2020, so expect some more jaw-dropping computer-animated features out of Disney. Mulan will also get the live-action treatment in a formula that has served Disney well with recent reboots of The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast with actual filmed actors. Jungle Cruise will be the next classic Disney ride to get its own film franchise. It's also probably important not to sleep on Marvel's The Eternals, which that can pay off nicely beyond the silver screen if it's able to capture even a sliver of the Avengers' magic. Unlike many of the iconic Avengers characters who can't contractually appear at Disney World because they're featured at rival Universal Orlando in a deal signed years before Disney's acquisition of Marvel, this will be fertile soil for expansion in Florida's theme parks if The Eternals takes off.
Another strategic move to watch here is that between Mulan and November's release of Raya and the Last Dragon, Disney is making a bigger play for the fast-growing Asian movie market, where it also has a growing theme park presence. The end result of Disney's slate of 2020 releases is that box office receipts will inevitably fall short of 2019, but there could be a new wave of hits to fuel its theme parks and Disney+ growth for years to come. Disney knows what it's doing.