Disney reported $1.84 in adjusted earnings per share for the fiscal second quarter, ended March 31, on $14.55 billion in revenue. Revenue rose 9% year over year, while earnings increased 23%. The results also topped the consensus analyst estimate of $1.70 in EPS on $14.11 billion in revenue, according to FactSet Research Systems Inc.
Shares fell slightly in pre-market trading on Wednesday.
Strong growth in Disney's studio entertainment and parks and resorts segments, respectively up 21% and 13% in revenue year over year, drove the performance, as media networks (up 3%) and consumer products and interactive media (2%) saw smaller increases on the top line and actually slid 6% and 4%, respectively, in operating income.
Disney's effective tax rate fell from 32.3% a year ago to 20.7% thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
"It's hard to come up with enough superlatives" for the studio business, Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said on an earnings call after the market close. He referred to both "Black Panther," which made a "very loud statement about risk-taking and the value of inclusion," and "Avengers: Infinity War," which opened after the close of the quarter but had the largest domestic opening in history.
The strong performance of "Black Panther" in its studio segment, Disney said in its earnings release, was partially offset by that of "A Wrinkle in Time" versus "Beauty and the Beast" in 2017. The home release of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" also drove the results.
Iger said on the call he met with the Marvel Entertainment team on a regular basis and movies were plotted out "well into the next decade." He hinted at another franchise following the current Avengers cycle, adding, "There's certainly a lot more stories to tell" in the Marvel universe.
Iger also said more details would arrive in coming months on new Disney, Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar content for Disney's new streaming platform, due to arrive in late 2019 after a deal with Netflix Inc. (NFLX) - Get Report expires.
"We are committed to this working," Iger said, as the platform will be the global home for all of Disney's TV and movie content.
While Iger avoided directly talking about Disney's pending $66 billion deal for Twenty-First Century Fox Inc.'s (FOXA) - Get Report film and television studios, international satellite TV operations and other assets, he did say the Fox content would augment the platform should the deal proceed, specifically mentioning National Geographic.
Reports surfaced late Monday that Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) - Get Report was lining up financing to challenge Disney's purchase of the Fox assets. Comcast already is squaring off with Fox over a majority stake in the U.K.'s Sky plc; Disney would inherit Fox's 39% minority stake in the pending acquisition.
Iger noted the value of Sky to Disney, saying a platform that can bring content to consumers and monetize it is something the company views as attractive.
As for theme parks, the CEO said, "Our parks cont to drive growth." He talked about a recent visit to the new Toy Story Land at Shanghai Disney Resort and noted the opportunity for further expansion in the park. Iger also said there was opportunity to expand in China and potentially other parts of the world, saying it was "an inevitability" that Disney would build in other countries while cautioning that it might not happen any time soon.
"We are continuously engaging in conversations with people from different parts of the world on potential parks," he said.
Iger also said Disney is building out its existing parks, potentially offering opportunities for pricing leverage as customer experiences in the parks improve.
In its earnings report, the Burbank, Calif., company attributed a 4% drop in operating income at its cable networks to continued investment in its BAMTech streaming platform, including the new ESPN+, higher programming costs at ESPN and lower ad revenue at Freeform. Broadcast revenue and operating income essentially were flat, with higher affiliate revenue offsetting lower ad revenue and higher programming and marketing costs.
ESPN+ launched April 12 for $4.99 per month, following the end of the quarter.
"The reviews have been strong, and the response from sports fans has been enthusiastic," Iger said on the call, declining to provide statistics on viewership thus far aside from "so far, so good."
The CEO said Disney would continue to invest in live and nonlive sports content for the product, asserting there was ample opportunity to fuel it with material not on its ESPN TV network. Iger noted the five-year deal revealed Monday under which ESPN+ will air 15 live UFC events starting in 2019.
As with the Disney-branded streaming platform, Iger said Disney could take advantage of Fox assets such as its regional sports networks with its acquisition but that the platforms largely would be anchored by Disney's own content.
One benefit of the Fox deal, however, would be Disney acquiring majority control of Hulu LLC by adding Fox's 30% stake to its own 30% holding, and Iger said the intention was to fuel it with more original content from both partners. Comcast also owns 30% of Hulu, while Time Warner Inc. (TWX) holds the remaining 10%.
Up next week will be upfront events for advertisers for Disney ABC and ESPN.
Disney CFO Christine McCarthy on the investor call said Disney had "good ratings momentum" with "American Idol" and "Roseanne." This year's event will be the first where Disney ABC handles all consolidated ad selling.
In one down note on the call, McCarthy said same-store sales in Disney's retail business were lower year over year, leading to lower operating income in its consumer products segment.