How 'Star Wars' Is Poised to Help Electronic Arts, Following Its Strong Results

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As excitement grows for the December film release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Electronic Arts (EA) expects the upcoming debut of its Star Wars: Battlefront title to be a bellwether of the video-game giant's success later this year.

EA's new Star Wars game is slated to arrive in November, just a few weeks in advance of The Force Awakens' Dec. 18 opening date. Late on Tuesday, the compny's CEO, Andrew Wilson, said expectations for Battlefront have risen so high that in the three weeks since EA's trailer for the game appeared, it "has been watched more than 29 million times date across social platforms."

The Force Awakens is being produced by Lucasfilm, which was purchased by Walt Disney (DIS) in 2012 for $4 billion in cash and stock.

Wilson, who said EA would show more of Battlefront at the upcoming E3 conference scheduled to be held in Los Angeles next month, discussed the new title and other company matters on a conference call to discuss EA's fiscal 2015 fourth-quarter results.

Michael Pachter, who covers EA for Wedbush Securities, said the importance of the upcoming Star Wars title for the company's business can't be overstated. The video-game giant forecast revenue of $4.4 billion for fiscal 2016, a rise from the $4.32 billion it reported for its just-completed fiscal 2015. Pachter said EA's growth is expected to come primarily from its "Star Wars" game license.

Pachter left his outperform rating on EA's stock unchanged but raised his price target on the company's shares to $70 from $55.

EA beat analysts' estimates, when it reported quarterly results after the market's close on Tuesday. Excluding one-time items, EA earned 39 cents a share on revenue of $896 million. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had forecast EA to earn 25 cents a share on $850.2 million in sales for the quarter, which ended March 31. EA said its results were bolstered by the strong performance of its new Battlefield Hardline title, since more than 30 million sessions of the game were played during the quarter.

Reaction to EA's results was positive enough to lift the company's stock by more than 4%, to $61.64 a share on Wednesday. By 1:30 p.m. EDT the stock was priced at $60.85.

EA said it won't release any new titles during the current calendar quarter, but such a practice is common among video-game publishers who often save their biggest releases for later in the year so as to take advantage of demand during the holiday shopping seasons.

In addition to Star Wars: Battlefront, EA is also expected to release the next versions of its FIFA soccer title and Madden NFL franchise during the third quarter of this year.

"The pipeline of titles for EA is somewhat sparse in the next several months, but will be a catalyst beginning in the fall," said Michael Olson, of Piper Jaffray. Olson also said that EA is to benefit from the growth of next-generation game console as the industry appears to be entering a new phase of growth. Olson has an overweight rating on EA's stock, and raised his price target on the shares to $69 from $68.

Along with its results and talk of Star Wars, EA on Tuesday announced a new $1 billion stock repurchase plan.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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