Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) reported its fiscal third-quarter 2015 results after the close of the market today. The world's most powerful and well-known entertainment giant grew revenue 5% year over year to $13.1 billion, a hair short of analysts' expectation of $13.2 billion. The company's magic wand did, however, wave past expectations on the earnings side, with profit rising 13% to $1.45 per share, topping the $1.42 per share that Wall Street was forecasting.
Shares are down about 6% in after-hours trading, falling about 2% after the release and dropping another 4% after comments made on the conference call regarding the "modest" decrease in the number of ESPN subscribers. The initial drop was likely because Disney blew past expectations in the previous two quarters, and the market -- perhaps somewhat unrealistically -- was looking for a repeat. The company reported solid numbers, but it was no blowout.
Here's how things played out for Mickey and Company's four largest segments. (The interactive segment is tiny, accounting for just 1.6% of revenue, so it makes little difference in the overall results.)
Studio entertainment: Flies high on the back of Avengers
Disney's studio entertainment segment -- its third largest by revenue -- exhibited superhero-like strength, with revenue increasing 13% to $2.0 billion and operating income popping 15% to $472 million. It was the best-performing segment by far on the revenue side, and second only to the significantly smaller consumer-products segment on the bottom-line end.
Segment results were powered by the blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron. The Marvel franchise film had the second largest U.S. opening in box-office history when it was released in early May. It's pulled in $1.4 billion in worldwide receipts, ranking it the No. 3 top-grossing movie of 2015 and the No. 6 film champ of all time. Theatrical results also benefited from the continuing solid performance of Cinderella, released last quarter.
This segment's year-over-year increases are even more impressive than they appear because last year's third quarter included the international receipts from the humongously successful Frozen.
Media networks: Margins in the heavyweight steady themselves
Results in media networks, Disney's largest and most profitable segment, were a mixed bag. Revenue increased 5% to $5.8 billion, while operating income grew 4% to $2.4 billion. Positively, margins pretty much steadied themselves, with the bottom line rising almost as much as the top line. Last quarter, revenue popped 13%, but operating income dropped 2%.
The prime culprit for the margin contraction last quarter was ESPN, the phenomenally successful sports cable network, which is the heart of this segment. While ESPN is a monster of a cash-generating machine, challenges have arisen, with costs for securing the rights to broadcast live sporting events increasing, while the number of subscribers has declined over the past year because of "cord cutting," or people dropping or cutting back on their large cable packages.
The company said on the conference call that it expects a modest decline in the number of ESPN subscribers to negatively affect profit growth from domestic subscriber fees by a few percentage points.
Parks and resorts: Margins continued to swell along with attendance
Disney's domestic theme parks continued to draw in larger crowds last quarter, while park visitors, on average, continued to shell out more money during their holidays from real life. This dual factor -- a repeat of last quarter -- drove revenue growth of 4% to $4.1 billion. Operating income expanded more than twice as fast, up 9%, to $922 million.
Higher occupied room nights at Walt Disney World Resort and the Aulani resort in Hawaii also sprinkled pixie dust on this segment's results.
Consumer products: The force was with margins
This segment's revenue increased 6% to $954 million, with operating income rocketing 27% to $348 million. Disney's unparalleled ability to leverage its powerful intellectual property across segments was evident here. Licensing revenue popped as consumers gobbled up merchandise based on Frozen, The Avengers, and Star Wars.
The Avengers film just hit the silver screen this summer, and Disney's Lucasfilm will begin rolling out the third Star Wars trilogy starting this December, with Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. So investors can look for these hot properties to continue to benefit this segment in future quarters.
There are several huge catalysts for long-term growth on the horizon. In addition to Star Wars, which is as good as box-office gold, Shanghai Disneyland is slated to open in 2016. Visitors are expected to rush the entrance of the massive Chinese park, which is expected to draw 25 million attendees during its first full year -- a number that would dwarf the Magic Kingdom's attendance.
Long-term investors should focus on Disney's performance and catalysts for growth, rather than the market reaction. While there are some potential challenges ahead at the media networks segment, overall the company had a very solid quarter and there are some huge catalysts for long-term growth on the horizon.
Beth McKenna has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.