November is usually a big month for Disney (DIS 0.17%). Its theme parks tend to fill up over the extended Thanksgiving weekend. A major animated feature hits a multiplex near you around that time. And Disney Store locations cash in on Black Friday sales. But a lot is different in 2020.
This year has brought some unique challenges to Disney's model. Let's look at some of the dates that will (and will no longer) matter in November.
Disney's fiscal year ends in September, and next week it will announce its financial performance for the final three months of that year. It's not expected to be pretty. The $14.2 billion that analysts see in revenue for the fiscal fourth quarter is a big number, but it's 26% below where Disney clocked in last year. Wall Street's bracing for a loss of $0.71 a share, reversing its year-ago profit of $1.07 a share.
As bad as this all seems, it's actually an improvement on the top line from the 42% year-over-year plunge it posted in revenue last time out. This fiscal fourth quarter is typically strong for Disney since it represents the bulk of the summer season, when its blockbusters are firing up movie theater projectors, and its theme parks are slammed with families on vacation.
Things obviously didn't play out this way in 2020 for movie studios and theme park operators. The original Disneyland in California remains closed, and attendance is being capped to achieve social distancing at Disney World in Florida. Movie theaters also didn't start to open until August, and Disney has pulled its more prolific releases.
There will be strength in Disney+. The return of sports should provide a top-line boost for Disney's media networks segment, though the programming and licensing costs for the games will eat away at its bottom line. In short, the overall numbers won't be pretty, but investors already know that.
Until a couple of weeks ago, this was when Pixar's Soul would have hit theaters. Given the current climate, with movie theaters not drawing audiences, Disney decided to pull the film from theatrical release. Soul will instead be a Disney+ release on Christmas Day.
The approach is interesting. This isn't the first time that Disney+ has sprung a big feature on a holiday. It rolled out Hamilton ahead of Independence Day. But after initially releasing the live-action reboot of Mulan as premium video-on-demand to families willing to pay $30 a pop, it was interesting to see Disney just toss Soul into the Disney+ catalog without a premium window.
Does this mean that Mulan didn't live up to financial expectations? We will know a lot more about Disney in next week's earnings release and subsequent call. For now, there is no release hitting theaters in November. The company wants you to stay in and stream, even if it's not currently as lucrative as its former distribution model.
Black Friday is typically a good day for Disney across most of its segments. The retail angle is naturally going to serve its Disney Store and consumer products division well, but we already have had major online and offline retailers hold big sales events in mid-October. We've already talked about the lack of multiplex audiences. And Disney's theme parks also tend to shine during the holidays, but attendance levels are being kept in check. And with coronavirus cases on the rise again, that's probably not a bad thing.
Disney will still find its willing shoppers. But like everything else in 2020, it won't feel the same. The recession will also leave a mark in terms of how much money folks are comfortable parting with this season.
November is going to be challenging for Disney, but it's obviously not the only company that will struggle to live up to where it was a year earlier. Analysts see revenue for the media behemoth declining 25% for the whole quarter. It seems as if 2021 can't come soon enough.