The Walt Disney Company's (DIS -1.33%) stock has been on a roller-coaster ride, crashing at the pandemic's onset, recovering throughout 2020, then crashing again in early 2021. Overall, the stock is down 42% from its high in January 2021.
Investors are concerned about the business as consumer behavior evolves rapidly and unevenly worldwide. Regardless of the near-term challenges of navigating a global company during a pandemic, Disney's long-term prospects are excellent.
The streaming segment is gaining traction
The core of Disney's business is a treasure trove of proprietary characters and stories that have delighted consumers for decades. The difficult-to-replicate intellectual property flows into Disney's theme parks, movies, series, merchandise, cruise ships, hotels, and more. The crucial element of its business is based on proprietary content. That means competitors cannot infringe on its business without spending decades and billions of dollars to build a suite of characters and stories that spark consumers' enthusiasm.
But the past decade has been tricky. Disney has had to navigate the transitioning of its legacy cable TV business over to streaming. The legacy method was a boon for The House of Mouse, so it was careful not to switch to streaming hastily. Nevertheless, in 2019 it committed to streaming entirely and launched its flagship service Disney+. As of Jan. 1, the service boasts 130 million subscribers, and the streaming segment as a whole (which also includes Hulu and ESPN+) has attracted 196.4 million.
Management forecasts that Disney+ will reach between 230 million and 260 million subs by 2024 and be profitable. To put that potential into context, Netflix surpassed 200 million subs in 2021 and reported revenue of $29.7 billion that year. In 2019, before the coronavirus disrupted operations, Disney's revenue was $69.6 billion. Home to iconic franchises like Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, and Mickey Mouse, Disney can reasonably reach and surpass Netflix's achievements.
The theme parks are emerging stronger than before
In 2019, Disney's theme parks generated $24.7 billion in revenue and $6.1 billion in operating income. Of course, the pandemic devastated the business, but it is bouncing back and more vital than ever. In its recently completed quarter, which ended in January, Disney's theme park segment produced $7.2 billion in revenue and $2.5 billion in operating income. Despite self-imposed capacity restrictions, the segment is on pace to eclipse 2019 totals.
When the parks were forced to shut down to guests, management developed and implemented several improvements. These included a digital reservation system that allows the company to manage attendance effectively, mobile ordering at food and concession stands, and premium features like Genie+, which enables guests to pay for the privilege of skipping lines.
This likely means that the parks will be more profitable from now on than before the pandemic's onset. The near term might be volatile as consumer behavior changes with COVID-19 trends. However, Disney's unique and valuable assets are likely to attract consumers in large numbers over the longer run. And the stock's 44% crash from its high only makes this investment a better value.