Over the past few years, investors in The Walt Disney Company (DIS 0.11%) have been on a nonstop thrill ride rivaling any found in the company's worldwide collection of theme parks.

Pandemic-induced shutdowns of movie theaters and theme parks initially sent the stock plunging, before excitement over the prospects of its Disney+ streaming service and the reopening of the economy sent the stock climbing to a new all-time high.

The onset of the bear market sent the stock plummeting once again, and it's currently notching lows last seen at the height of the pandemic.

The good news for investors is that many of the macroeconomic headwinds are likely already baked into Disney's stock price, which has fallen more than 57% from its peak, presenting a compelling buying opportunity.

Disney's Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure at Night.

The Disney California Adventure theme park. Photo by author.

A growing force in streaming

Disney recently passed an important milestone in its streaming video business. Disney+ added 12.1 million subscribers worldwide during its fiscal fourth quarter (ended Oct. 1), far exceeding expectations of 8.8 million.

More importantly, the company now has more than 235 million subscribers across its streaming services, which also include ESPN+ and Hulu.  This helped Disney to surpass streaming pioneer Netflix (NFLX 1.53%), which closed out the quarter with 223 million worldwide subscribers. 

While that might be cause for celebration, the news wasn't all good.

Disney's direct-to-consumer (DTC) business lost a stunning $1.5 billion during the quarter, capping off a year with an operating loss of more than $4 billon for the segment. 

The sheer magnitude of those losses sent fair-weather investors running for cover, but it's important to put Disney's results in context. The company has been spending heavily to build out its streaming library, and its goal has always been to generate a profit by 2024.

During the earnings conference call, management noted this was a "turning point," with the DTC business reaching "peak" losses, while it reaffirmed its plans to hit a profit within the coming two years.

Investors will be watching closely to ensure this is the case. If the company is successful, this will likely act as a significant catalyst for Disney stock.

Experience matters

Earlier this month, Disney+ launched its ad-supported tier, but has turned the process on its head. While most rivals are debuting similar offerings at a reduced price, Disney's pricing decision came from a position of strength.

The ad-supported tier launched at $7.99 per month -- the price of its existing, ad-free tier -- and the company simultaneously raised the price of its ad-free tier to $10.99.

To backstop the move, Disney reportedly had more than 100 advertisers lined up to provide a variety of 15- and 30-second commercials at launch, with no more than four minutes of ads per hour. 

The price increase and the debut of the ad-supported Disney+ tier are expected to hasten the journey to profitability for the DTC segment.

Disney has derived a vast amount of experience from Hulu, which has long offered subscription-based and ad-supported tiers. This experience will give the company the inside track to immediately generate meaningful advertising revenue from Disney+.

This all comes as the parks, experiences, and products business recovered from its lockdown-induced slump, with fiscal 2022 revenue for the segment soaring 73%, even climbing 12% compared to pre-pandemic levels. However, if economic headwinds persist into 2023, theme park attendance could falter.

Then, there's the return of Bob Iger.

Disney surprised and pleased investors last month with the return of the iconic executive. Iger was chairman and CEO for 15 years and is credited with turning Disney from a $47 billion business into a $250 billion multimedia powerhouse -- before its recent slump.

Along the way, he brought numerous profitable movie studios into the fold, including Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, while piloting Disney's massive $71 billion acquisition of Fox. 

Iger's intimate knowledge of the company and years of experience running the House of Mouse will no doubt give him the skills needed to help steer the ship from its current choppy waters.

An important lesson from history

Winston Churchill famously said, "Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it," and while he certainly wasn't talking about investing, the lesson still applies.

Looking back at how a stock has performed during other bear markets -- and how quickly it recovered -- can give investors insight into its current potential.

From its peak during the Great Recession, Disney stock lost more than half its value, plunging 55% from peak to trough. During the coming year, however, the stock surged 113% as investors came to realize that a depressed stock price isn't necessarily a sign that a company is in trouble. Some of the current parallels are eerily similar. 

Lastly, Disney is selling for a song. The stock currently trades for less than 2 times sales, its cheapest price-to-sales ratio in 12 years. 

Given the company's trove of intellectual property, significant opportunity for growth, and bargain-basement sales price, Disney has all makings of a no-brainer stock. Now the company just has to execute on that potential.