Last month was more "doo-dah" than "zip-a-dee" for Disney (DIS -0.15%) investors. Disney stock surrendered 15% of its value in August, making its stock chart the real song of the south. You have to go all the way back to October 2008 -- nearly seven years ago -- to find the last time that the family entertainment giant's stock took a bigger monthly hit.
August held so much promise at first, and seeing the stock rise to an all-time high just hours before Disney posted its fiscal third-quarter results suggests that the market also felt that way.
It didn't play out that way, of course. The report spooked investors. Disney's admission that it suffered a sequential dip in ESPN subscribers renewed cord-cutting fears, sending most of the media networks stocks reeling.
Outside of the premium movie channels, ESPN commands that highest ransom on your monthly cable or satellite television bill. ESPN can get away with costing cable customers a lot -- more than $6 per subscriber according to industry tracker SNL Kagan, more than four times as much as the second-costliest channel -- because it's the ultimate sports programming network. Live sports is likely the only reason that you haven't kicked your cable or satellite television provider to the curb, joining the millennials with their streaming TV platforms.
If ESPN is vulnerable, then the entire industry is at risk, and that's a pretty big deal at Disney where a little more than half of its operating profit last year came from its media networks division.
Lost in all of the gloom and doom is that Disney's media networks division did manage to post modest year-over-year growth in revenue and operating profit. These are challenging times, but Disney's finding a way to make it work. That may not have been enough to satisfy the Wall Street pros who downgraded the stock last month, but it should frame things properly for potential investors who are thinking about buying in after August's 15%-off sale.
There are a few reasons to be hopeful that September will be better. The first catalyst should come into play later this week when Disney rolls out new Star Wars merchandise. Disney has been playing up Force Friday, introducing new tie-ins related to December's highly anticipated release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
September is also when the NFL season starts and the MLB pennant races heat up. Folks may have eased up on ESPN during the summer, but that may not be the case now when the boys of autumn step up. Disney also just released Disney Infinity 3.0 over the weekend, a major update to its Skylanders-like video game line that combines real action figures and a RFID chip reader with on-screen play.
So there are certainly plenty of things that will keep Disney in the news -- in a good way -- in the coming weeks. All of the bullish catalysts won't amount to much if the market continues to sell off. Disney is strong, but there isn't enough pixie dust in the world to combat gravity. However, if the market holds steady, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Disney fare even better. It's how you put the "zip" back in "zip-a-dee-do-dah."