Disney: Finally Moving Past The ESPN Woes
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Over the past couple of months, Disney (DIS) has seen a huge appreciation in stock price, breaking out to above $110 per share level. This upswing is on the heels of reporting record Q4 2016 quarterly and annual results, breaking the all-time worldwide box-office record and witnessing a slew of analyst upgrades. This inflection point coincided with Doctor Strange, Moana and Star Wars Rouge One and record Q4 results. The stock fell from the $120s in late 2015 to low $90s and had been stuck in the $90 range all throughout 2016 (Figure 1). This perpetual slump was almost entirely attributable to the decrease in ESPN subscribers. The ESPN franchise within the Media Networks segment generates revenue/operating income that are disproportionate to the amount of the company’s overall revenue and operating profit. Thus, one can see why investors were spooked after consecutive significant declines in ESPN subscribers and thus financial numbers over the past three years. Excluding ESPN, Disney has been executing well and reporting record numbers throughout its other business segments. Disney has a deep and diversified enough entertainment portfolio that made a compelling case that these ESPN fears were being overblown. Disney offers a compelling long-term investment opportunity considering the growth, pipeline, diversity of its portfolio, share repurchase program and dividend. These ESPN issues were being addressed in a variety of ways via Hulu, BAMTech investment, Vice production deal and Sling TV. Disney’s diverse portfolio consists of Marvel Entertainment, Lucasfilm, Pixar, ESPN, ABC, 32% shareholder in Hulu and of course the core Disney franchise (Disney Studios, Disney consumer products, Parks and Resorts and Disney Cruise Line) which lessens the dependence on ESPN moving into the future. As the ESPN revenue stream slowly recovers with initiatives put in place, Disney will likely retrace the $120 level seen in 2015.