Disney (NYSE:DIS) is well-known for its movies, both its classic cartoons and newer animated films such as Frozen, as well as its franchises including Marvel and Star Wars. However, few might realize that the segment that makes Disney movies, what Disney calls Studio Entertainment, is dwarfed by the media-networks and theme-parks segments in terms of operating income and could soon be passed by the consumer-products division. Here's how studio entertainment will soon be the least lucrative of all of Disney's segments, and why this matters for investors. 

Frozen Via Inside Movies

Source: Disney.

Studio entertainment's impressive growth
Studio entertainment has had an amazing past couple of years. Frozen in 2013, some big Marvel hits in 2014 and 2015, and many successes in between have all helped this segment to surge in recent years. And Star Wars: The Force Awakens is currently stealing all the buzz.

Even though the segment's revenue grew only 1% year over year in the most recent fiscal year, ended Oct. 3, operating income in the segment grew 27%. The continued success of the company's movies at the box office versus the cost to make the films led to this impressive growth. The company has already released an exciting lineup of 2016 titles, and we should expect to see these numbers only go up next year. 

Yet studio entertainment seems likely to soon become the smallest Disney segment. While consumer products is still smaller than studio entertainment by profit -- totaling $1.752 billion by year's end compared with $1.973 billion for studio entertainment -- Disney announced in August that it plans to roll its smallest segment, interactive, which has been responsible for games and other digital-media entertainment, into consumer products.

As the lines between what is a digital game and what is a consumer product has blurred, such as with Playmation, which offers a virtual reality-like experience combining digital games with physical products, merging the two segments just makes sense. The company will begin reporting the single segment starting with its first quarter of the 2016 fiscal year, the next quarter to be announced. 

Playmationlogo
Source: Disney.

Still, interactive is only a sliver compared with these other two, and even with it rolled into consumer products, the combined segment's operating income will still be slightly shy of that of studio entertainment. Yet with the growth consumer products has shown recently, that's likely to change sometime in 2016. While studio entertainment's 27% income growth is impressive, it's still not the fastest-growing segment. During the fiscal year, consumer products' operating income jumped 29% year over year. 

Why this matters
So why does it matter that the segment responsible for making Disney movies will soon be the company's smallest? It matters because the segment is performing incredibly well, and still it will soon be the smallest of the four segments the company reports on, showing just how incredible the company as a whole is performing, not only in movies but also with products, theme parks, and a diverse array of network programming.

Total net income in the recently reported fiscal 2015 was 12% higher than 2014 because as all the segments were performing well together. As the studio-entertainment segment continues to produce blockbuster hits that create the characters and stories that fuel the rise in these other segments, segments that themselves make more income than the movies, we can expect Disney's total income to continue rising nicely. 

Bradley Seth McNew owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends 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.