UPDATED with more executive commentary. Disney reported third-quarter results significantly short of Wall Street analysts’ estimates on Tuesday, sending shares in the media giant sharply lower in after-hours trading.
Earnings per share came in at $1.35, which was below the $1.74 expected by the Street. Total revenue of $20.2 billion undershot the consensus estimate for $21.4 billion.
Shares in Disney declined 4% in after-hours trading after they finished the regular session at $141.95, up nearly 3% for the day. Disney stock has risen nearly 31% in 2019 to date as the company has delivered strong results and also convincingly positioned itself as a legitimate streaming rival to Netflix. In addition to Disney+, which will launch November 12, the company struck a deal with Comcast in May to take operational control of Hulu.
Disney blamed the bumpy quarter on its ongoing integration of 21st Century Fox assets acquired in a $71.3 billion deal that closed in March. Kicking off a conference call with analysts, CEO Bob Iger said he’s presided over quarterly conference calls for a while, but “this is one of our more complicated ones.” He noted that it was the first full quarter since the March close of the Fox deal.
CFO Christine McCarthy said the performance of several business units at Fox, notably its film studio, as well as those at international TV business Star, provided the downside surprise. Overall, the acquisition delivered a 60-cent hit to earnings per share, which was far greater than the company’s own guidance of 35 cents. The guidance “reflected our assumptions about the business at the time,” McCarthy said.
Despite the rough patch, she said, the company remains “excited” about the deal and reaffirms its earlier guidance that the acquisition will be accretive to earnings and provide $2 billion in cost synergies.
Another headwind in the quarter was wider operating losses in Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer and International unit ($553 million compared with $168 million in the year-earlier period). The bigger losses reflected the ramp-up of its own streaming outlets and the decision to pull titles off Netflix. In all, operating income will be adversely impacted by $550 million, McCarthy said. The deal with Comcast for Hulu meant ongoing losses for the streaming destination had to be absorbed solely by Disney.
The quarter, which ended June 30, featured a trio of huge film releases in Avengers: Endgame (which is now the No. 1 global grosser with $2.8 billion in ticket sales), Aladdin and Toy Story 4. Counting Captain Marvel and The Lion King, Disney has released five of the year’s top six box-office draws.
Fox, by contrast, has been mired in a slump, with quarterly releases including Dark Phoenix and Breakthrough. The comedy Stuber also flopped, but its release came in July, outside of the third quarter.
Iger said Fox’s studio performance was “one of the biggest issues” confronting the company in the quarter. “It was well below what it had been and well below what we hoped it would be when we made the acquisition.” He noted the lengthy span between when Disney made its initial proposal to take over most of Fox, in December 2017, and the close in spring 2019. “That’s a long period of time for a business that relies on constant decision-making and constant attention to detail,” Iger said. “While I don’t mean in any way to cast aspersions on any individuals at all, it’s a very difficult transition for that business.”
In many merger situations, Iger noted, “Decision-making can grind to a halt or certainly slow down. We’ve managed to avoid that in the purchases of Pixar and Marvel and Lucasfilm” over the past decade.
Attendance declined at domestic theme parks by 3% in the quarter. Management attributed the attendance dip factors such as general attendees waiting out the rush for Star Wars attraction Galaxy’s Edge, which opened at Disneyland in the spring. The company also “managed demand for the first few weeks in order to maintain a high level of guest satisfaction,” McCarthy said.
“Guest satisfaction, interest in the land is extremely high,” Iger said. “Long-term, we have no concerns whatsoever about” Star Wars attractions in Anaheim as well as one opening its doors at DisneyWorld this month. “It’s going to take some time for things to work themselves out,” Iger added.
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