Walt Disney Co. (NYSE:DIS) is slated to report its fiscal-fourth-quarter and full-year 2015 results after the market closes on Thursday, Nov. 5. The world's most powerful and well-known entertainment giant is going into its last fiscal quarter of the year on a solid note. Margins continued expanding last quarter, excitement around the upcoming Star Wars' film is building, and the company's stock price has substantially recovered from the hit it took after comments on last quarter's conference call regarding cord-cutting.
As always, long-term investors should keep their eyes on the big picture and not get too hung up on Wall Street's expectations or quarterly results, which can be lumpy. As long as key metrics generally keep moving in the right direction, Disney's stock should continue to be a long-term winner.
Here's what to watch in the report.
ESPN and margins in media networks
The market will surely be focusing on Disney's largest and most profitable segment: media networks, and specifically on the heart of that segment, ESPN. While the phenomenally successful sports cable network remains a cash-generating machine, challenges have arisen. The number of subscribers has slightly declined over the past few years because of people dropping or cutting back on their large cable packages, while costs for securing the rights to broadcast live sporting events have been increasing. So, while margins are still hefty, they're under some pressure.
Although Disney turned in solid results last quarter, its stock sank after the company said that it expects a modest decline in the number of ESPN subscribers to trim a few percentage points off a forecast for profit growth from domestic subscriber fees from 2013 to 2016.
Cord-cutting is a legitimate concern, and an issue that investors should follow closely going forward. That said, concerns seem somewhat overblown at this point. We're talking about relatively small decreases in subscribers -- 7.2% during the four-year period through July, according to Nielsen, though CEO Bob Iger said during last quarter's conference call that this number is overstated. Disney is aware of the issue and taking steps to mitigate it, such as trimming costs in the segment. Furthermore, Iger has said that the company could offer a stand-alone ESPN offering, though that probably wouldn't be for at least five years.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens flies into the picture
In what's sure to be box-office gold, Disney will begin rolling out the third Star Wars trilogy starting on Dec. 18, when Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits the silver screen.
Theater receipts should put some force into Disney's studio entertainment results in the first quarter of fiscal 2016 and beyond. This segment has been flying high, thanks to Disney owning four of the top 10 blockbusters of 2015. The film will, however, indirectly enter Disney's results this quarter, because movie-based toys hit retailers' shelves on Sept. 4. Based on Hasbro's (NASDAQ: HAS) third-quarter results, consumers are hungry for all things Force Awakens. The leading toy and game company, which holds the license to produce Star Wars toys, said that toy sales were tracking at the high end of its expectations. This is not only great news for Hasbro but also for Disney, as its consumer products segment gets a cut of these sales.
Margins and attendance in parks and resorts
Disney's second-largest segment, parks and resorts, has been performing well in 2015. Its domestic theme parks continued to draw in larger crowds last quarter, while park visitors, on average, shelled out more money. This dual factor fueled revenue growth of 4% last quarter, while operating income expanded 9%. Higher occupied room nights at Walt Disney World Resort and the Aulani resort in Hawaii also helped propel the segment last quarter.
It would be an especially good thing if pixie dust continues to sprinkle on this segment. As with media networks, the segment's relative size means it has an outsized effect on overall results.