Still no magic at Disney despite box office hits
Disney continues to rule the multiplex.
“Guardians of The Galaxy: Vol. 2” and “Beauty and the Beast” are the two biggest box-office hits so far this year. And “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” could wind up being one of the biggest blockbusters ever when it is released in December.
But all that movie magic has meant little to Wall Street. The stock is going to need a classic, happy Hollywood ending. Because right now, it’s more tragedy than feel-good comedy.
Shares of Disney are now down for the year — and that’s after a flat performance in 2016.
Disney has lagged the Dow (which it is a member of) and big media rivals CBS, NBCUniversal parent Comcast and Time Warner during that time frame. (Time Warner is the owner of CNNMoney — and it is in the process of being bought by AT&T.)
The House of Mouse is outperforming struggling Viacom, though. And it’s also done as well (or poorly, as the case may be) as Rupert Murdoch’s Fox during the past year and a half.
So why is Disney still a Wall Street dud? It continues to be dragged down by problems at ESPN, the sports media empire that has been losing subscribers, ad revenue and talent after a series of high-profile layoffs.
Until Disney figures out a way to get EPSN back on track, the stock could continue to go nowhere fast. But there is good news.
Well-respected CEO Bob Iger, who has pushed back his expected retirement several times already, had his contract extended to July 2019 earlier this year.
That gives Disney time to find another successor. The previous heir apparent, former COO Thomas Staggs, left Disney last year.
It’s also worth noting that even though ESPN’s woes are kind of like the old “Not Top Ten” blooper reel it used to run on “SportsCenter,” the rest of Disney is actually doing extremely well.
Revenue and operating profits at the company’s ABC broadcast network were up in the most recent quarter. The theme parks and resorts business is booming, and the opening of the new Shanghai Disney earlier this year was a success.
And then there are the movies.
“Cars 3” — the latest from Disney’s Pixar — opened at the top of the box office. Sure, the movie is part of a critically maligned franchise. But the movies help Disney’s consumer products business as young kids continue to want Lightning McQueen toys.
Pixar is also releasing another film later this year, “Coco.” And the company’s Marvel unit continues to churn out hits at the box office and TV shows for Netflix. The next Marvel movie — a sequel to “Thor” — hits theaters in November.
And then there’s the return of Luke Skywalker. At some point, Disney investors might look past the problems at ESPN and come to the realization that the Force is still strong with just about every other part of Disney’s empire.