There's a lot happening at Walt Disney (DIS -0.33%) these days, even if some of its businesses aren't in top form. Its ascending Disney+ service scored another crowd-attracting hit last week with the big-ticket debut of Hamilton. Pro basketball and soccer players arrived at Disney World in Florida earlier this week to resume their athletic endeavors. This weekend we have Disney World opening half of its parks to day guests for the first time in four months. 

Some media companies have thrived in this pandemic, flexing their entertainment muscles to deliver at-home escapism. Disney is as powerful as they come when it comes to its intellectual properties, but that hasn't been enough. The stock has declined 17% in 2020, down 22% since hitting all-time highs just before the Thanksgiving holiday last year. The shutdown of its theme parks worldwide and the shutdown of projectors at multiplex operators have eaten into what were two of Disney's three major business segments in fiscal 2019. Disney is still a millionaire-maker with an enviable collection of assets, but it has a long road back to where it was in peak form. 

Mickey and Minnie Mouse -- nose to nose -- on Main Street at Disneyland in California.

Image source: Disney.

Building a better Mickey Mouse trap 

Disney is a huge media mogul, with $78.2 billion in trailing annual revenue. It was seemingly a well-diversified player with industry-leading media networks, theme parks, and studio entertainment segments, but the pandemic made it mortal on most fronts. Its minority-owned resorts in Hong Kong and Shanghai closed in late January, and by the second weekend in March all of its resorts worldwide were shuttered. Movie theaters also closed down, eliminating the lucrative initial theatrical release window of its big-budget films. 

Disney's collection of media networks that includes ABC, Disney Channel, and a majority stake in ESPN is holding up better than the other two segments, but there are pressure points. Advertisers aren't going to be spending as much money during a recession, and the pandemic itself has slowed the production of new filmed content. 

It's not all bad news. Disney's fourth largest segment in fiscal 2019 -- direct-to-consumer and international -- has seen its revenue nearly quadruple through the first half of fiscal 2020, overtaking studio entertainment as the new bronze medalist. Disney+ is a big reason for the segment's surge. 

Direct-to-consumer and international is also the only segment to have produced an operating deficit through the first six months of fiscal 2020, but that will change with the expected losses for its theme parks and studio entertainment businesses for the balance of this fiscal year. Disney as a whole is going to post losses in its next two quarterly reports, but Wall Street unanimously sees a return to healthy profitability in fiscal 2021. 

Disney's ability to be a millionaire-maker relies largely on the pandemic's trajectory. It's weighing on Disney's financial performance and stock right now, but Disney should emerge at the other end of this even stronger than it was when COVID-19 thawed out its once hot prospects. 

Disney+ will only keep growing its global audience. Disney's the company behind all six of last year's highest-grossing films, and the studio entertainment segment will stay on top in the future. Theatrical releases may lose some of their shine, but digital distribution of fresh releases offers big potential with the benefit of direct delivery. Disney's theme parks will return to form once COVID-19 fades, and in the lull the company continue to build out bar-raising attractions. 

There's no denying the near-term pain, but Disney could be a year if not two away from being a much stronger company than it was when its stock was peaking late last year. Content is king. Intellectual property is a kingdom. Disney will return to form as an iconic media stock bellwether -- and a millionaire-maker.