As Walt Disney Co. (DIS) - Get Report topped earnings forecasts after the bell Thursday, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger updated investors on the company's two top, intertwined priorities: closing the purchase of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc.'s (FOXA) - Get Report film and TV operations and developing its direct-to-consumer video products.
After the close Thursday, Disney reported fourth fiscal quarter earnings of $1.48 per share on a non-GAAP basis, beating expectations of $1.34 per share, according to FactSet. Shares of Disney rose after-hours on Thursday and were up 1.2% to $117.50 in pre-market trading on Friday.
"We're optimistic about receiving necessary approvals," Iger said regarding the $71.3 billion purchase of most of Fox's film, television and online assets.
Disney received clearance from the European Commission on Tuesday for the deal. Iger told investors that he expects to close the transaction "meaningfully earlier" than the company's prior target of June 2019. He declined to say whether Disney might wrap the deal in the first quarter.
Fox's library and its film and television talent will beef up Disney's forthcoming direct-to-consumer video streaming service, Iger said.
The new streaming service will be called Disney Plus, echoing the branding for Disney's ESPN Plus online service that has surpassed a million subscribers in the six months since its launch.
The Fox deal should also benefit Hulu LLC, which will have a majority shareholder for the first time in its history.
"We'll own 60%, which will give us considerable say in how Hulu is run," Iger said, regarding Disney's acquisition of Fox's 30% stake in the online service. Comcast Corp.
holds 30% and AT&T Inc.
has 10% following its purchase of Time Warner Inc. this summer.
While Disney will be the boss at Hulu, Iger said it will be "fiscally responsible to the other shareholders" in the video venture.
With divided ownership, the partners may have been reluctant to put much money behind new shows and films. That should change, Iger said. "We think there is an opportunity to increase investment in Hulu, notably on the programming side," he told investors.
Hulu's package of streaming cable channels attracts viewers that are about 20 years younger than traditional television audiences, Iger told investors. "It is a very strong play for advertisers because it can offer targeted ads, and it has great demos and it's a great user experience," he said.
While the plan for rolling up much of Fox appears to be on track, Disney did not get everything it wanted in the latest round of media consolidation.
Comcast beat Disney in the bidding war for European satellite TV Sky Plc, in which Fox owned a 39% stake. Disney agreed to sell the Sky stake for $15 billion, which will help finance the Fox deal.
While satellite TV is a legacy media business, Iger had hoped that Sky's customer relationships would help Disney launch its online streaming services in Europe.
"It could possibly be that it takes us a little bit longer to penetrate these markets," Iger acknowledged during Thursday's call.
Still, the Disney boss seemed to be at peace with the results of the Sky auction. "You can't cry over spilled milk," he said.