Fifty-two weeks ago, fellow Fools Steven Mallas and Rich Smith disagreed on the value of Disney
Steven Mallas landed his first bullish punch: "Are you going to bet against Disney as the entertainment industry heads into a new age of digital distribution? With upcoming evolutions in disc formats (Blu-ray and HD-DVD) and all kinds of schemes for nascent broadband distributional channels hatching around us, a content player like Disney will see ample opportunity to sell its stories to millions of consumers over and over again."
He then pointed out the ABC network's prime-time dominance with hit shows such as Lost and Desperate Housewives, and the powerhouse cable stations ESPN and the Disney Channel. Content is king, and Disney certainly has plenty of that, but the company also controls a substantial portion of the distribution channels.
Not to mention that the theme parks are making lifelong fanatics out of our kids, and Disney got a great deal out of its Pixar acquisition. Take that, you bears!
Rich Smith couldn't let that flurry of fandom go unanswered. He pointed out that Disney is an unwieldy conglomerate with "so many moving parts that it's hard to stick an accurate valuation on the whole kit and kaboodle." The stock then traded 23% below its value in June 1998, and Rich was skeptical of then-new CEO Bob Iger's ability to turn the sinking ship around.
And he also thought Disney overpaid for Pixar by buying that company at its very peak and paying $7.4 billion for a diminishing future value. Ouch.
OK, so Cars wasn't Pixar's biggest-ever hit, but Steven noted that the film still grossed more than $60 million domestically in its opening weekend and that "having Pixar's John Lasseter in charge will hopefully catalyze Disney's entire animated department."
The stock didn't look cheap then by traditional metrics, but Steven said that you have to account for the massive brand value in Mickey Mouse, Pooh, and the rest of the iconic gang: "Investors can reinvest dividends and pick up shares at low prices, setting themselves up nicely for the eventual rebound. Just wait for that magic ..."
Rich had to concede the point on library value, but he thought the theme parks and television assets were much less valuable than Steven told us they were. And as for Pixar, well: "Statistically speaking, then, Pixar's chances of 'delivering value' for Disney shareholders are less than one in five. If you like those odds, buy Disney. As for me, I don't, and won't."
There's the bell!
When all was said and done, Steven's bull argument garnered 61% of the 276 votes our readers cast. Rich had to settle for 28%, and 11% just wanted us to know that they couldn't pick a winner.
That's a solid win for Steven in the ring of public opinion. In the real world, Disney's share price has risen 17% since that duel first aired. Sounds great, but it's still lower than the 21.5% gain in the S&P 500 in the same timeframe. I'll have to give that one to Rich, since investors could have done better with a simple Spyder
Thought you might prefer a tie, I'd like to use Motley Fool CAPS to break the deadlock. This is a four-star stock in the collective minds of more than 30,000 rated participants. While that's a solid grade, it's still not a five-star knockout today. Call it a split decision in Steven's favor.
Of course, I may be somewhat biased. I've been known to recommend Disney as a holiday gift, and I have repeatedly sung Iger's praises.
The Pixar deal hasn't shown us its true value yet. The first Lasseter-influenced animated release was Meet the Robinsons, which reportedly was partly remade under the gentle fist of the new boss and better for it. It still wasn't perfect -- the movie grossed a lukewarm $96 million domestically -- but it's still the biggest G-rated draw of the year so far.
The upcoming Ratatouille is a true-blue Pixar joint, but after that, we'll start seeing the undiluted effect of the new creative direction in Disney's vital animation department. DreamWorks Animation
Hot dog! More Foolishness:
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- Nice CEOs Finish First
Disney is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation, and so is DreamWorks Animation. Find out why the Gardner brothers are going ga-ga over animation with a free 30-day trial pass to our flagship newsletter service.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund is a Disney shareholder but holds no position in any of the other companies discussed here. If reality doesn't conform to Anders' views, well, reality is wrong. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure will make your day, every day.