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Walt Disney Stock: 4 Things CEO Bob Chapek Wants Investors to Know

The Mouse House CEO took over at a very difficult time, but he is optimistic about where Disney is and where it's going.

Bob Chapek became Walt Disney (DIS) - Get The Walt Disney Company Report CEO in February 2020. That means he basically took over the top job right as the pandemic hit. Chapek did not get a honeymoon period. Instead, he immediately had to make tough decisions about closing theme parks, cancelling theatrical releases for certain movies in favor of moving them to the Disney+ streaming service, and laying off workers.

The new CEO had to handle all of these things with his predecessor Bob Iger serving as chairman and many thinking that the old boss was still calling the shots. Chapek made it through, however, and Iger eventually retired, giving the new CEO a little breathing room.

Things have not gotten easy for Chapek as the pandemic remains a factor in theme park attendance around the world and the movie business remains in flux, but the Mouse House has roared back. That has given the still-new CEO a chance to not just crisis manage, but to move the company forward.

Chapek shared a lot of thoughts on the future of Disney during the company's second-quarter earnings call. And while the CEO did not pretend that all problems had passed, he did sound optimistic and encouraged.

"In Q2, Disney's employees and cast members continued to execute against our strategic priorities of storytelling excellence, innovation and audience focus, and I could not be more proud of what they've achieved," he said. "Our strong results this quarter, including fantastic performance at our domestic parks and continued growth at our streaming services along with the creative achievements of our content teams, once again proved that we are in a league of our own."

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Disney Theme Parks Bounce Back

The pandemic devastated the global theme park business and Disney was hit as hard as anyone. Many of its parks experienced lengthy closures and then reopened with capacity restraints. Chapek made it clear that the theme park group had turned a corner, highlighted by its flagships Disney World and Disneyland in the United States.

"As I said, our domestic parks were a standout. They continue to fire on all cylinders, powered by strong demand coupled with customized and personalized guest experience enhancements that grew per capita spending by more than 40% versus 2019. Response to next-generation storytelling like Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser has been phenomenal," he shared.

Chapek noted that the much-maligned new hotel, which opened March 1, has had consumer reviews that are "incredibly high and in line with our best-in-class offerings." He also noted that demand is strong, and "we expect 100% utilization through the end of Q3."

The CEO also spoke glowingly about how some of the company's global theme parks had performed.

"At Disneyland Paris, we are thrilled to take the next step in our ambitious expansion plan: the opening of Avengers Campus this summer as part of the resort's 30th anniversary celebration," he shared. "As Europe recovers from the pandemic, we've seen strong yield growth at Disneyland Paris and look forward to its continued recovery."

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Disney+ Continues to Grow

Disney+ has been one of the biggest success stories of the pandemic. The service exceeded initial expectations quickly and has continued to grow. Chapek used the term "standout" to describe not just Disney+, but all the company's streaming service (which include Hulu and ESPN+).

"We ended Q2 with more than 205 million total subscriptions after adding 9.2 million in the quarter. That includes 7.9 million Disney+ subscribers, keeping us on track to reach 230 million to 260 million Disney+ subscribers by fiscal '24. The growth of the platform since its launch reinforces its unique nature. Quite simply, we believe Disney+ is one of a kind, a service based on exceptional branded content with wide appeal across all four quadrants," he shared.

Chapek also noted that Disney+ wasn't just a family service pointing out that almost half of subscribers were adults without kids. The CEO expects new content to drive global growth.

"We currently have over 500 local original titles in various stages of development and production," he shared. "180 of those titles are slated to premiere this fiscal year, increasing to over 300 international originals per year in steady state. We believe these premium local originals, along with branded content with broad international appeal, will attract new subscribers and drive engagement."

ESPN Has Been a Source of Strength

Even before the pandemic, there were a lot of questions about the future of ESPN due to cord cutting. Chapek remains bullish about the sports network and its growth potential.

"ESPN viewership was notably strong for the quarter across both live events and studio programming with ratings up double digits, and we remain encouraged by how fans are engaging with sports content coming out of the pandemic," he shared. "Opening weekend of the NBA Playoffs was the most viewed in the past decade, and the ratings have been fantastic with over 4.3 million average viewers through 20 games on ABC and ESPN. Our groundbreaking NHL deal is unique in its exposure across ESPN, ESPN+, ABC and Hulu, culminating with the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which began on May 2."

Disney Has a Unique, Powerful Business Model

Chapek made it clear that Disney can leverage its content and intellectual property in ways that other companies simply cannot.

What sets Disney apart is our ability to reach people with our uniquely engaging content across an array of touch points to make our portfolio of businesses and brands a bigger part of their lives. This enables us to not only create new franchises like "Encanto," but to also build on existing IP across our lines of business. One example of this is our Toy Story franchise, which was created almost three decades ago with the release of the first film in 1995 and which is now brought to life across distribution platforms, geographies, businesses and time. In our parks, we've built a portfolio of four immersive Toy Story lands with more than 20 attractions and live character interactions available around the world, as well as two themed hotels.

That's a model that no other company can pull off at the level Disney does. Chapek explained the business model even further.

"Nearly 30 years after the film debuted, Toy Story is still a key consumer products franchise, generating over $1 billion in annual retail sales," he said. "And in just a few weeks, Pixar's Lightyear will tell the origin story of everyone's favorite space ranger when it hits theaters on June 17. Of course, Toy Story is just one of our many franchises, but it illustrates our unparalleled ability to bring stories to life in more ways for more people in more places."