Walt Disney Co. (DIS - Get Report) shares traded sharply higher Friday after the media giant managed to beat Wall Street forecasts for its fourth quarter profits while continuing to ramp up investments ahead of its much-anticipated Disney+ streaming service launch.
Disney said adjusted earnings for the three months ending in September, the company's fiscal fourth quarter, came in at $1.07 per share, down 27.7% from the same period last year but firmly ahead of the Street consensus forecast of 95 cents per share. Group revenues, Disney said, rose 34% to $19.01 billion, just shy of analysts' forecasts of $19.04 billion.
Disney+, the group's much-hyped streaming entertainment service designed to take on Netflix (NFLX - Get Report) and Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) -- as well as offerings from AT&T (T - Get Report) and Comcast (CMCSA - Get Report) -- will launch on November 12. Users will be able to pay $6.99 per month for the entire Disney content library, or $12.99 for a bundle that includes ESPN and Hulu. The service will launch in western Europe, as well as the United Kingdom, on March 31, Disney said.
Iger told CNBC Thursday that the Disney+ offering was "ready to go", adding the company had signed a distribution deal with rival Amazon, adding it will be available on that company's FireTV. It will also be available on Apple (AAPL - Get Report) , Google (GOOGL - Get Report) , Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) and Roku (ROKU - Get Report) from the time it is launched next week.
"In addition to creating a phenomenal product, we're supporting the launch of Disney Plus with an unprecedented marketing campaign drawing on every existing connection The Walt Disney Company has with consumers," CEO Bob Iger told investors on a conference call late Thursday. "It's an historic effort to raise awareness and drive demand, one that reflects our all-in commitment to the strategic initiatives and our determination to launch big and scale fast."
"We're also very pleased with the consumer enthusiasm we're seeing, as well as the interest from partners like Horizon, which is now offering a free year Disney Plus many of its customers," he added. "We spent the last couple of years completely transforming the Walt Disney Company making strategic acquisitions and organizational changes to focus the resources and immense creativity across the entire company on delivering an extraordinary DTC experience unlike anything else in the market.
Disney shares were marked 4.72% higher in early Friday trading following the earnings release to change hands at $139.44 each a move that would extend the stock's year-to-date gain to around 26%.
For the fourth quarter of its fiscal year, Disney said theme parks revenues, Disney said, rose 8% to $6.7 billion, topping the consensus estimate of $6.56 billion, while operating income rose 17% to $1.381 billion. Media networks revenues jumped 22% to $6.5 billion, again topping Street forecasts, but operating income fell 3% to $1.783 billion.
Cable networks revenue rose 20% to $4.2 billion, Disney said, while studio entertainment revenues soared 52% to $3.3 billion thanks in part to success for releases of The Lion King, Toy Story 4 and Aladdin, lifting operating income 79% to $1.08 billion.
ESPN+, Disney's online sports streaming offering, now has around 3.5 million subscribers, the company said in a conference call. It also added the Hulu, which is now under Disney's control, will be the official streaming home for FX Networks starting in March of next year.
"Key is obviously what level of success Disney+ has in the marketplace, starting with its launch next Tuesday in the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands, then New Zealand and Australia on November 19th, and then Western Europe March 31st," said Credit Suisse analyst Douglas Mitchelson, who pegs first quarter subs at 6.8 million, rising to 15.5 million by the end of Disney's fiscal year.
"Secondarily, will investors consider reported EPS estimates to be derisked for FY20 in the low $5's, or to drive increased interest in Disney's core businesses will mgmt need to demonstrate Fox execution, reasonable ratings, cord cutting stabilizing, Film success and/or parks returning to attendance growth," he said.