What: Shares of Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) gained 11.3% in October, according to data from S&P Capital IQ.

So what: The media giant traded just ahead of the market for a couple of weeks. The big move came on Oct. 19 and 20, when Disney made two key moves and enjoyed one important consumer trend:

  • In a bid to cut costs, the troubled ESPN network will lay off 4% of its staff.
  • Balancing Disney's tight relationship with Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), the company is launching a digital subscription service in Europe.
  • And, to nobody's surprise, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is setting ticket-sales records some two months before the movie hits theaters.

Now what: Those boosters were not exactly listed in order of importance.

Weak ESPN results brought Disney' shares down following August's third-quarter report. Laying off 300 employees and adjusting expectations for the sports network could stabilize that tortured operation. Is it a cure-all silver bullet? Not exactly, since the core problem is shrinking ad sales on the premium network. Cutting your way to core improvements hasn't been proven to work, though it may be enough to prop up operating results for a short while.

In brighter news, though, Disney is doing exactly the right things in the digital space. The all-out Netflix partnership will launch in January, proving that the House of Mouse isn't afraid to ride new technological platforms into the digital broadcasting era. But that agreement only covers the U.S. market, leaving plenty of room for independent experimentation elsewhere. So why not cast a company-owned digital net in Europe, perhaps paving the way for a global expansion? This is smart management.

Finally, everybody expects Star Wars VII to break all kinds of records in December. Anything short of an epic box office tsunami will be seen as a huge disappointment, and undermine the value of Disney's $4 billion Lucasfilm acquisition. Until then, nuggets like October's massive pre-sales performance don't really serve any useful purpose other than moving the bandwagon down the tracks.

Anders Bylund owns shares of Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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