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In today's Motley Fool Take:

Disney Turnaround?

By Rick Munarriz (TMF Edible)

Mickey Mouse is flashing that wide signature smile again now that Disney(NYSE: DIS) continues to crawl out of the slump that made the stock a compelling takeover target and had its chieftain nervously eyeing the chopping block.

The entertainment giant saw its fiscal third-quarter profits rise by 21% to $0.29 a share on a 17% spike in revenues. With theme park attendance improving and ESPN a bulwark sporting 10 consecutive quarters of subscriber growth, weaknesses at ABC and the multiplex box office were easily overcome.

The company has earned $0.88 a share through the first nine months of its fiscal year. That's refreshing relative to last year's showing -- and the year before that -- but it's only a marginal improvement on the $0.85 a share that Disney earned three years ago during the same period.

However, Disney is targeting double-digit growth through at least 2007, hitting record operating profits again by fiscal 2005. The company also continues to pay down its debt, paving the way for share buybacks and a likely dividend hike. That should keep the lynch mob away.

Yet Disney continues to leave many spectators scratching their chins. It continues to hold off ordering its third cruise ship, despite the fact that bookings are running 30% ahead of last year and the Disney Cruise division's 25% in operating margins are as tempting as the upbeat outlook by rival fleets like Carnival(NYSE: CCL) and Royal Caribbean(NYSE: RCL).

In commenting on its intention to produce sequels on the characters it owns from Pixar(Nasdaq: PIXR) -- with or without Pixar's blessing -- CEO Michael Eisner singled out the success of Toy Story 2 and Shrek 2. It's not very comforting for a company that has produced countless animated sequels to have to rely on the work of rival studios to prove a point.

In sum, it's refreshing to have to reach to poke holes in Disney's boat right now. Yes, ABC is struggling with profitability, and attendance at the California theme parks has been running sluggish since the quarter ended, but with so many parts in the Disney machine, you never expect to have them all coasting along. The company is putting out more good news than bad, and that's probably the clearest indication that a turnaround is afoot.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares in Disney and Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation Pixar.

Discussion Board of the Day: Disney

What did you think of Disney's report? Are you distressed to find out that ABC will need a smashing new season to achieve profitability? Should the company go ahead and flesh out its cruise ship fleet? All this and more in the Disney discussion board. Only on

Will Blockbuster Bust Netflix?

By Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)

Today, the inevitable happened. Blockbuster(NYSE: BBI), which is still in the process of being spun off by Viacom(NYSE: VIA), has finally launched a mail-order version of its service, meant to take the wind out of Netflix's(Nasdaq: NFLX) sails -- and sales. This could spell bad news for Netflix, possibly depressing the number of new subscribers signing on.

This is a move that feels long overdue. Back in May, Blockbuster's answer to Netflix was to provide a monthly rental program in which customers paid a flat fee for a similar rental structure, which included having a specified number of flicks rented at any given time without late fees. However, it still required that customers bring their DVDs back to the bricks-and-mortar Blockbuster they rented them from.

Part of Netflix's major claim to fame has been the innovation and convenience of its Internet-and-mail-order hybrid, under which customers would log onto the Net to order movies, which they would receive via the U.S. Postal Service and easily pop back into the mail when done.

Blockbuster Online's version represents a $2 discount to the monthly fee Netflix charges for three movies out at one time. In addition, USA Today pointed out that Blockbuster's online catalog includes 25,000 titles, a vast improvement to the in-store model, where most emphasis is placed on a glut of new releases and more obscure or older films get short shrift. In a new twist, it will provide two free movie rental coupons for its stores per month with the service.

Obviously this could build quite a roadblock for Netflix. Incidentally, though, some Foolish community members have tried Blockbuster's service during beta testing, and its pros and cons have been thoroughly discussed on our Netflix discussion board: Lots of folks seem to think the Blockbuster version isn't that different.

However, much like Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick TiVo(Nasdaq: TIVO), Netflix has a history of innovating. (In the past, when I have mentioned how TiVo may in some ways, both now and in the future, prove to be a competitive force for Netflix, many Fools have written me to remind me of TiVo Chairman and CEO Michael Ramsay's presence on the Netflix board and the idea that where rivalry could exist, so then could partnership synergies.)

Though both stocks dipped today, this is hardly a move that is unexpected (especially given the beta test). Many are banking that the power of branding may ultimately mark Netflix as the winner in online, all-you-can-eat DVD rentals. However, what may be the clearer differentiator will be continuously tapping into what works for movie watchers, a feat that Blockbuster and bricks-and-mortar rivals like Hollywood Entertainment(Nasdaq: HLYW) neglected for a long time.

Here at the Fool, many have come to Netflix's defense. Here are a few articles:

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

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Marvel's Plush Deal

By Steven Mallas

Marvel Enterprises (NYSE: MVL) recently signed a deal with the specialty-gift concern Russ Berrie & Co.(NYSE: RUS) to take care of its merchandising needs in the area of plush toys and novel items.

Marvel and Sony(NYSE: SNE) may be doing incredibly well with their Spider-Man films, but exploitation of Marvel's properties via licensing is an important component to the company's success. Every conceivable area of the consumer products industry must be covered so the value of the lineup increases over time. Granted, there's a risk of overexposure of its characters, but Disney(NYSE: DIS) and its cavalcade of stars have proven that brand saturation and long-term market success are not mutually exclusive.

Speaking of potential overexposure, the release mentions that -- big surprise! -- Spider-Man will be the initial focus of Russ Berrie's retail attack. The plan is to make Peter Parker and his companion persona as cuddly as Mickey and Minnie or Time Warner's(NYSE: TWX) Bugs Bunny. I know, I know, you can't compare an icky-eight-legged-creepy-crawly to a sweet little mouse or a carrot-chomping hare. But I'm telling you, Spider-Man is heading to that kind of iconic status...and there are ample amounts of money to be mined from such equity of image. Of course, this inventory won't be attractive to just kids; you can bet collectors will be out in force and in acquisition mode.

As I previously mentioned in a piece about Marvel's entanglement with Disney, I would love to be able to say that I hold stock in the Incredible Hulk and Daredevil. But it merits some closer attention, especially since it got walloped recently on its latest earnings report. This villainous correction will probably give a lot of investors out there a second shot at this stock. There will be more movies down the line, more plush merchandise, more video games. Marvel will eventually regain its momentum, although it will probably take some time.

Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Disney, but none of the other companies mentioned

Quote of Note

"A little more moderation would be good. Of course, my life hasn't exactly been one of moderation." -- Donald Trump

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For a list of all our stories from today, see our Today's Headlines page.