There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to sizing up Walt Disney (DIS 0.74%) as a potential investment. The media giant isn't perfect but has lots of things working in its favor, even when it's not hitting on all cylinders.
Do you need more than a single reason to buy into Disney? Great. Hop on for the ride. Let's go over several reasons to buy shares of the House of Mouse and never sell.
We may never see another rookie season in the premium streaming space like what Disney+ has accomplished. It launched in November of last year, and nine months later, it had topped 60 million paying subscribers. The runaway hit of The Mandalorian and the magnetic appeal of Hamilton have generated all of the headlines, but it's Disney's deep bench of content and the brand's strong fan base that catapulted Disney+ into stardom.
It took Netflix more than seven years before it hit 60 million streaming accounts in early 2015. Netflix is now closing in on 200 million members worldwide. Where will Disney+ be in five years?
2. Box-office mastery
Some studios have a hit franchise or two in its arsenal. For Disney, it's a "Murderers' Row" of blockbusters. Disney put out the six highest-grossing films in this country last year. When you consider the seventh top draw in 2019 -- Spider-man: Far From Home -- kicked some coin into Disney's coffers as a Marvel-licensed property, Disney cashed in on the eight highest-grossing films of last year.
The multiplex may be a scary place these days, but quality content will ultimately reach its audience through the appropriate platform. There's no bigger movie star than Disney.
3. Theme parks rule
Disney-branded theme parks attracted roughly 156 million visitors last year, more than double the world's second-largest player. A trip to Disney isn't cheap, but that's what makes this metric even more impressive. You don't often have an industry's volume leader also being its priciest. Shareholders are the ones laughing all the way to the bank -- with helium-filled mouse-shaped balloons in tow.
This year has obviously been challenging for the industry, as Disney had to temporarily shutter its parks for months, only to limit guest counts in the new normal. This will pass, and when it does, Disney attractions will return as the theme-park king with the crown-worthy margins and earnings to match.
4. Sports are back
If you're a fan of team sports you probably had a busy weekend keeping up with all of the games. There was college and pro football, Major League Baseball concluded its regular season, and the NBA and NHL are in the homestretch of their playoffs. There's a good chance you caught some of the action on Disney's ABC or ESPN, and even if you didn't, every NBA game since the league's restart in July has taken place at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Florida.
None of this seemed possible three months ago, and after a few initial hiccups -- I'm looking at you, Miami Marlins -- the COVID-19 outbreaks have been limited in scope. We're back to cheering on our teams, even if it's largely from the comfort of our own homes. Disney actually benefited on the bottom line with a lack of sports, given a sharp reduction in its ESPN and ABC programming costs for the quarter that ended in June, but having games return safely is a big deal for the sports-programming leader.
5. Media networks are a steadying force
Disney's media networks don't get a lot of love. Folks may be cutting the cord of pricey cable and satellite television plans, but Disney Channel, ESPN, and other Disney cable properties are still drawing large audiences and generating gobs of cash flow.
The success of Disney+, as well as Disney's Hulu, shows that the media giant can play both ends of the cord-cutting debate. Disney will keep finding ways to entertain viewers, and even the currently moribund ad market will recover once the economy shows signs of life.
6. The Mandalorian -- Season Two
Disney+ hit the ground running last year with the debut of The Mandalorian. The highly anticipated second season launches at the end of October. With so many productions halted during the COVID-19 crisis, it's impressive that Disney+ was able to get the second season of the runaway smash ready to go less than a year before the original premiered. We'll see the impact that the new season has on Disney+ subscriptions soon.
7. Disneyland will reopen soon
Every Disney theme park resort but one has reopened their theme parks. Disneyland in California continues to be the outlier, and that means that Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure have remained closed since mid-March. With Disney World rolling out successfully in mid-July -- and COVID-19 cases in Florida falling sharply in that period -- it's just a matter of time before the original theme park in Anaheim follows suit.
It may take another year or two before Disney's theme parks are profitable again, but the operator's ability to adapt to new social distancing and safety requirements is encouraging. Opening Disneyland will complete the first hurdle for Disney to clear.
8. Disney knows how to go shopping
Disney paid more than $7 billion for Pixar. It shelled out roughly $4 billion apiece for Marvel and Lucasfilm. You won't find too many people arguing that Disney overpaid in any of those deals, as they're responsible for many of Disney's hit movies, shows, and even theme-park attractions over the past decade. Time will tell if its much more expensive deal for Twenty-First Century Fox will be the next big steal for the House of Mouse, but it has a pretty great track record. When it comes to mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity, Disney knows how to shop.
9. The dividend will come back
Income investors have never been a large part of Disney's shareholder base, but it likely shooed some of them away when it decided to suspend its semiannual dividend in May. There was a lot of COVID-19 uncertainty at the time. Its parks were closed, and movie theaters were shut down. ESPN was relying on the NFL draft and Michael Jordan's Last Dance documentary to keep viewers. A lot of those clouds have cleared, and the distributions should be back soon.
10. Disney World's big investments will pay off
Disney World turns 50 next year, and Disney has been fleshing out bar-raising attractions in anticipation of the important milestone. The pandemic has delayed new rides, with some lesser attractions getting shelved altogether, but by the end of next year, we should have Epcot's first roller coaster redefining the theme-park's identity. Disney World's Magic Kingdom -- the most visited park in the planet last year -- will have its high-tech Tron coaster up and running. If the economy is back and the coronavirus threat is fading in the rearview mirror, Disney World should be a pretty busy place in the coming years with the major additions currently being developed.
11. Maybe Mulan wasn't a flop
Disney's decision to bump Mulan from a theatrical release wasn't crazy. Folks just aren't going to the movies these days, as Tenet's weak showing bears out. Disney decided on selling it directly to the media giant's biggest fans, as a beefy $30 digital purchase for Disney+ subscribers.
The film's debut on Disney+ as a premium rental helped spur an initial surge in Disney+ downloads, but we still don't have a good read on how the film fared. One source said it was viewed by just 1.1 million Disney+ households -- or roughly 33 million in sales. Another source said Mulan was purchased by 29% of Disney+ stateside subscribers, a move that would more than make back its reported $200 million production budget.
Reality likely rests somewhere in the middle, and we should get the real numbers from Disney in a few weeks. Ultimately Disney has a new pandemic-proof way to monetize its studio productions.
12. Cruises should start sailing soon
Cruise lines have been smacked by rough waves since suspending passenger sailings more than six months ago. Disney is a big player here at the high end of the market with four ships -- and three more coming online in the coming years.
The good news here is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to extend the "no sail" order that has Disney holding off a resumption of sailing until later this year. With larger players shedding ships and Disney's firm grasp on the premium-priced family market, smoother seas are ahead for Disney's fleet.
13. Disney will be back sooner than you think
Disney shares are trading nearly 20% below the all-time high set just before Thanksgiving last year, but it won't take too long to overtake its former high-water marks. Analysts see Disney posting record revenue in the fiscal year that starts later this week. It will take two more fiscal years to take out last year's adjusted earnings -- but that's with a lot of pessimism priced into Wall Street forecasts.
Disney will emerge stronger and smarter as a more complete media stock out of the pandemic. It's made tech improvements at its parks -- from increasing the efficiency of security screenings at its entrances to revenue-boosting moves with its mobile ordering platform -- to emerge out of this stronger. It's learned more about digital delivery on the premium and subscription fronts.
Disney is already turning the corner, and just wait until it steps on the accelerator.