Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) crushed Wall Street's expectations in the recently reported first quarter. The company is looking back at six straight quarters of positive earnings surprises, and Disney shares have started off 2015 with an 11% return while the S&P 500 SPY rose less than 2%.
Following that fantastic first-quarter report, Disney CEO Bob Iger and CFO Jay Rasulo sat down to a conference call with analysts, fielding questions and expanding on the state of the business. Here are five of the most interesting lessons investors learned from that call.
From Hollywood to Bollywood
As a truly global company, we have talked a lot about the importance of developing local content. And the success of the film PK in India is a perfect example. It's now India's highest grossing movie of all time with almost $107 million in global box office. It's also Bollywood's most successful movie ever, co-produced and released by our Indian subsidiary, UTV. PK will soon be on 3,500 screens across China. -- Bob Iger
Global media giants ignore Bollywood at their own peril, and Disney isn't getting caught in that trap. Instead, Iger sees the Indian market as yet another vibrant venue in which his company can monetize a big hunger for cinematic content.
It's a very different market, for sure. Hollywood produced 476 theatrical titles in 2012, collecting an average of $22 million per movie at the box office. All told, that adds up to $10.8 billion in total ticket sales.
Meanwhile, in India, the Bollywood machine pumped out a staggering 1,602 titles. With the average revenue per film landing at just $1 million, the $1.6 billion market size may not impress American studios.
But these fundamental differences only underscore the magnitude of "PK." The New Delhi production, best described as a Hindu update of Kevin Spacey vehicle "K-Pax" from 2001, pulled in 107 times the average revenue for its market.
Pulling off a similarly scaled hit in America would generate something like $2.5 billion at the box office. That has happened exactly once. And don't forget that the production budget for "PK" was a measly $13 million. A $107 million return on that investment isn't half bad.
Disney's Indian production studio looks kind of lonely right now. Iger may talk about developing local content, but he doesn't own any production assets in no-brainer markets like China, continental Europe, or even Latin America. As a Disney shareholder, I can't wait to see the company following through on its global vision with a plethora of localized mini-studios. It just makes sense.
How busy are Disney's hotels and resorts?
Occupancy on our domestic hotels was up 8 percentage points to 89% and per room spending was up 4%. And that's not small potatoes.
I think hoteliers in general will tell you that to try to fill a hotel beyond 89%, 90%, 91% is extremely difficult. To go beyond that, it takes too many match-ups of people who are staying three nights checking out replaced by five nights replaced in rapid succession, it becomes quite difficult.
So, I think that you are right that when you see occupancy in that kind of range, you are getting close to pretty much a full house and those were historically the numbers at which we started to think about expanded capacity. Of course, relative to the Orlando market, there are many -- still many, many more hotel rooms off property than they are on property. And I am sure they are not experiencing rates of occupancy anything like that. -- Jay Rasulo
To put Disney's 89% hotel occupancy rate in perspective, consider the case of the American tourist mecca, Las Vegas. The city broke tourism records in 2014, filling hotels with ease. Even so, hotels on the prime real estate of the Vegas Strip reported a 92% occupancy rate, leaving 8% of the rooms unused. The brick wall around 90% that Rasulo was talking about is a reality even for the best hotel operators in top-shelf markets.
In other words, Disney's resort business is humming along at top speed. These high occupancy rates were achieved while raising prices modestly, which seems like the only quick route to further growth in this segment. Great results also open the door toward building more hotels around Disney's parks, but that's a slow and costly play. Disney is building new reports connecting to the theme parks in Hong Kong and Shanghai, but I'm not aware of any hotel expansions in America.
So, for now, the tourists who don't fit into Disney's 89% hotel occupancy rate have to spill over into other lodging providers around Orlando and Anaheim. You can call it a driver of the local economy, or leaving millions of tourist dollars on the table. That's another potential growth project that Disney might want to explore.
What does Maker Studios bring to the table?
We had consumption of short form video on our own digital platforms like ESPN.com, Disney.com, ABC, but we didn't have the kind of traction or the kind of traffic that Maker had. And we thought this would be a great opportunity for us to distribute much more effectively in short form.
And it was I think a unique acquisition opportunity for us, given all the growth in short form consumption. I don't think it necessarily suggests a direction in terms of where we are heading as a company overall. The power of this company largely is in its brands and storytelling and creativity that runs across platforms, and is often distributed by third parties whether they are movie theater owners, big box retailers, or MVPDs to name a few -- or new platforms like Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Hulu.
So, I think the primary thrust of the company is going to continue to be investing in its brands and its creativity, and selling as broadly as we possibly can. But we like being in new spaces as well. -- Bob Iger
This is Bob Iger admitting that not even his titanic media studio knows how to do everything.
YouTube star factory Maker Studios gives Disney access to some of the short-form video platform's biggest stars, like Epic Rap Battles of History and video gamer PewDiePie. Those two channels alone account for over 9 billion YouTube views and 36 million channel subscribers.
But that's not all.
The billion-dollar studio acquisition also put Maker Studios' creative juices in touch with Disney's own production assets. It's a cross-pollination of new and old creativity and business thinking. That's what it takes to stay relevant in the increasingly digital world that Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon are creating.
That nugget ties right into Iger's next insight.
The next level of personal entertainment
I think this company needs to focus more on creating a tighter or a closer relationship to its customers for a variety of reasons. Not only to mind customer data and usage and obviously create revenue opportunities from that, but to provide customers with experiences that they want in demand basically to be even more user-friendly, more customizable, more personalized. That's really important in terms of the long-term future of this company. And you will see in various initiatives that are aimed at achieving just that. -- Bob Iger
That's right. DVR recording and over-the-top video streaming is just the beginning. Beyond that, Bob Iger sees the consumer demanding an even more personalized entertainment experience, and he hopes to be able to meet that requirement.
Disney won't be alone in this, of course. YouTube and Netflix are already tailoring their content feeds to your personal tastes. Disney is treating both of these new-age channels as business partners, which bodes well for the next era. I'm heavily invested in the digital future of the entertainment industry, because I share Iger's vision here.
Disney doesn't live or die by "Frozen" alone
We think Frozen has legs. We absolutely believe that this is beginning of a long-term franchise for the company and that will reflect itself in all of our divisions, consumer products certainly not the least of which. But even if you look at the last quarter, many other franchisers, franchises were contributors to the success of the consumer products division.
By the way, not the least of these was Mickey and Minnie, Disney channel franchises. And we like what Frozen delivered but it's not -- it's certainly not the one and only for us. We have 11 franchises that now retail at over $1 billion as of the last year. -- Jay Rasulo
Yeah, so if you thought you'd make it through an entire Disney article without running across "Frozen," I'm afraid you were mistaken.
On the other hand, this quote reminds us that Anna and Elsa sure made a difference, but that Disney is so much bigger than any single franchise. Even a monster property like "Frozen" can only do so much for a company with a world-class stable of proven cash machines.
Elsewhere in the call, Bob Iger repeated the line about 11 billion-dollar Disney franchises, and filled in with a couple more examples. "The strong holiday demand for Frozen as well as Mickey and Minnie, Spider-Man and Avengers led to the most successful quarter ever for Disney consumer products," Iger said.
There's life in the classics yet, and I don't expect that to change. Have you seen the lengths Disney is going to in order to keep its best back-catalog titles current? The live-action "Cinderella" remake, 65 years in the making, hits theaters in March. "Snow White and the Huntsman" pulled in $400 million of global box office stubs, 75 years after the animated tale's debut. "Maleficent" followed up on "Sleeping Beauty" a mere 55 years later, ringing up more than $750 million in worldwide ticket sales.
For a lesser studio, these remakes might have qualified as big risks. For Disney, they're simply a smart way to stretch an established content portfolio even further. One day, we'll get a live-action version of "Frozen," too, just as kids start to forget the words to "Let It Go."
Just be prepared to wait a few decades for that one.