Disney's (DIS) - Get Report five-year growth story continues to unfold. Evidence can be found in the company's strong fiscal fourth quarter results disclosed after the closing bell, on Nov. 7, which sent shares rising 4.6% to $139.08 on Friday morning.
Riding The Right Trends
The media conglomerate's revenues of $19.1 billion topped analyst expectations, although by a narrow margin. Not much of a surprise, media networks struggled to gain much traction. ESPN suffered from the usual secular headwinds in linear TV viewership while battling higher programming, production and marketing costs. ABC faced some of the same challenges, as program sales and advertising revenues dropped.
But that's where the bad news ended. Disney flexed its content creation muscles and delivered growth of more than 50% in studio entertainment (including the consolidation of the Twenty-First Century Fox businesses) on the heels of a successful lineup of new titles that included The Lion King, Toy Story 4 and Aladdin.
The company also delivered impressive numbers in parks and experiences, the largest of Disney's segment, which generated 35% of total company revenues in the quarter. Supporting the 8% year-over-year increase in sales, despite the negative impact of hurricane Dorian, was consumer discretionary spending activity that has proven resilient, particularly in the United States. Guest spending, occupancy and licensed merchandise sales all looked robust, even if anticipation for the launch of Star Wars Galaxy's Edge in late August may have caused a delay in visitations to Disneyland Resort. Even so, the Millenium Falcon rides have carried over 5 million people since they opened, CEO Bob Iger said on a call with analysts.
The once-small direct to consumer and international division (which now includes Hulu) took center stage in the earnings call discussions with the management team. Disney+ is still days away from being launched in select global markets, so the venture did not have an impact on financial results in fiscal fourth quarter. However, anticipation continues to build up, as Disney has reported the completion of a successful platform test in the Netherlands. The company also disclosed that the streaming service, expected to have 75 million subscribers in five years at the mid-point of the guidance range (roughly half the size of Netflix's (NFLX) - Get Report current user base), will debut in Western Europe in March of next year.
It is no secret that DTC will progressively become Disney's most important business. Iger has even called streaming the company's "number one priority" recently. The media giant seems to have the right creative assets in place, and being competent at developing the distribution channels will be crucial to ensure proper monetization of Disney's content.
Cheap Stock, Given Growth Opportunities
Disney is a company in transformation, as the struggling cable and network divisions slowly take a back seat to a DTC business model that is fed by a content-producing machine. In order to appreciate the company's growth story, one must look past the negative financial impact that investing in content and distribution platforms will have in the next few quarters, and focus on the long-term opportunities.
Between Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu, I continue to estimate that the Burbank-based company could amass up to 160 million users across its three platforms by 2024, giving its streaming content competitors a run for their money. Right around the same time, Disney's management team expects direct-to-consumer services to achieve sustainable levels of profitability.
Should the base-case scenario above play out as expected, Disney may prove to be a cheap stock at its current valuation of just over 20 times earnings -- certainly a bargain compared to Netflix's 50 times multiple.
The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned in this article.