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Walt Disney: What To Expect In 2022

The Mouse House had a challenging year but people who hold Disney stock have reasons for optimism.

The mouse escaped a lot of traps in 2021.

Walt Disney (DIS) - Get Walt Disney Company Report spent the past year -- really most of the past two -- adapting to the pandemic. The company handled its theme parks around the world facing limitations and dealt with a very challenging box office environment for feature films.

The pandemic hit the Mouse House hard, but CEO Bob Chapek also had his share of successes. Specifically, the Disney+ streaming service grew much fast than planned, but even that hit some bumps as growth slowed toward the end of the year.

Full disclosure: I have a long-term position in Walt Disney.

Now, with 2021 in the rearview mirror, Walt Disney has big plans for 2021. CEO BOB Chapek laid out some of those in the company's fourth-quarter earnings call

Grow Disney+ Subscribers

Chapek explained that Disney+ subscriber adds slowed down in the second half of 2021 because of pandemic-related delays in producing content. That's something he said will not be the case in 2022. 

He cited "Book of Boba Fett" and Peter Jackson's Beatles documentary, which premiered late in 2021, before going into the overall plan for next year.

"In total, we are nearly doubling the amount of original content from our marquee brands, Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and National Geographic coming to Disney+ in FY '22, with the majority of our highly anticipated titles arriving July through September," he said. " This represents the beginning of the surge of new content shared last December at our investor conference 2.0."

Chapek added that his company recognizes that "the single, most effective way to grow our streaming platforms worldwide is with great content, and we are singularly focused on making new high-quality entertainment including local and regional content that we believe will resonate with audiences."

Disney has more than 340 original shows in various stages of development for the "next few years," he said.

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Theme Parks Continue Their Comeback

The fourth quarter marked the first time since the pandemic began that Disney had all of its theme parks open around the world. Some still had limited capacities, but all were open. 

Chapek is excited about the approval of vaccines for 5-11-year olds but he takes a broader view of why the company's theme parks will have a strong 2022.

"But what is perhaps most exciting is the work that we have done during the time our parks were closed to reengineer and reimagine the guest experience. We have introduced a number of exciting new offerings that enable guests to create their best Disney day. 

In late August, Disneyland Resort launched Magic Key, the new annual membership program that is resonating strongly with legacy annual passholders, while also attracting new passholders," he said.

Chapek said he is most encouraged that 40% of current sales are to new passholders. He said he is also excited about the response to the new Disney Genie, a paid program that replaced the old Fastpass+ at Disney World and will be coming to Disneyland in the new year.

"The majority of Genie and Genie+ users have said it improved their overall park experience with nearly one-third 3 of park guests upgrading to Genie+, making it possible for them to spend less time waiting in line and more time enjoying attractions, entertainment, dining and retail opportunities," he said.

Disney and the Metaverse

Chapek noted that while his company has a major presence in the physical world, it also has the assets to leverage in the growing digital world ad the metaverse.

"The Walt Disney Company has a long track record as an early adopter in the use of technology to enhance the entertainment experience," he said. Chapek sees a huge opportunity in platforms that don't even fully exist yet.

"Our efforts to date are merely a prologue to a time when we'll be able to connect the physical and digital worlds even more closely, allowing for storytelling without boundaries in our own Disney metaverse. 

"... As we look ahead to this next frontier, given our unique combination of brands, franchises, physical and digital experiences, and global reach, we see limitless potential and that makes us as excited as ever about The Walt Disney Company's next 100 years."

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