For all the doomsday scenarios regarding Walt Disney Co. (DIS) , the stock enjoys overwhelming support from Wall Street analysts: 19 buys, 11 holds and two sell ratings, according to Bloomberg.
Of course, most have been wrong about Disney for 2017. Shares have fallen 5.7% this year, compared with an 11.9% advance for the benchmark S&P 500 index.
Wells Fargo Securities LLC media analyst Marci Ryvicker spoke this week for the majority of her brethren when she declared that "Disney is still so misunderstood." While investors have sold off the stock due to the impact cord-cutting is having on ESPN's revenue, Ryvicker countered that Disney's upcoming direct-to-consumer platforms, one for the sports network and another for films and television, eventually will drive growth and help change investor sentiment over the next 12 months.
The film/TV service alone could add as much as $30 per share to the stock, she said, a major reason Wells Fargo forecast that Disney can reach $116 per share in the next 12 months. That would translate into an 18% jump in its stock price from the $98.26 share price on Tuesday morning. Of course, that's called being bullish.
Ryvicker's optimism is predicated on the assumption that the Disney entertainment streaming service, expected to launch in 2019, would reach 10 million subscribers in its first year and 30 million by its fifth year. (The ESPN streaming service, due to start in 2018, will be "much smaller" than the entertainment platform, a positive but not nearly the potential game-changer like the entertainment service, which Disney bulls say eventually will approach Netflix Inc. (NFLX) in its appeal.)
Of course, the streaming entertainment service is likely to draw viewers away from Disney programming currently at Netflix and Hulu LLC, cutting into licensing fees. But even when factoring in lower revenue from video-on-demand services, Ryvicker said Disney can generate $2.4 billion to $6.5 billion in adjusted earnings over the first five years of the service. Marketing the service will be greatly enhanced by Disney's other businesses.
"Much like World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE) , Disney already has many outlets to promote its streaming service without spending much (i.e., Disney Channel, parks & hotels, films, etc.)," Ryvicker said in the investor note.
With just such an outlook, the Wells Fargo analyst found it baffling that investors have sold off Disney shares by 3.6% since CEO Bob Iger on Sept. 6 lowered earnings guidance for fiscal 2017, which ends at the end of this month. Sure, analyst numbers came down as a result, but that shouldn't change Disney's longer-term outlook -- a robust film slate over the next two years that includes two new "Star Wars" releases, several Marvel features and Pixar's "The Incredibles 2" and "Toy Story 4," as well as a very healthy parks business.
Having said that, Ryvicker did lower her earnings per share forecast for Disney's fiscal 2018 as a result of its August announcement that it would acquire an additional 42% stake in streaming infrastructure provider BAMTech LLC for $1.58 billion. Disney's total position in BAMTech will rise to 75%, with the remainder owned by Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League.
At the other side of the analyst universe lies BTIG Research's Rich Greenfield, whom Disney executives may liken to Darth Vader. (Greenfield in fact has been blocked on Twitter by Iger.) Greenfield's prognosis is famously much less sanguine. Not only is ESPN losing subscribers as more viewers move to skinnier bundles or no bundles at all, but its emphasis on using "SportsCenter" for talk and discussion is a "doomed" programming decision, he said.
Additionally, the BTIG analyst asserted that BAMTech "is losing money, with losses set to increase notably."
Disney didn't respond to a request for comment about about BAMTech's profitability.
Ryvicker countered that while ESPN is losing pay-TV subscribers, it is also gaining audience through the new digital pay-TV services led by Sling TV from Dish Network Corp. (DISH) and DirecTV Now from AT&T Inc. (T) . Disney is also comparatively unexposed to the general trend of declining advertising sales at television networks. Advertising supplies just 15% of Disney revenue, whereas the figure is much higher at Comcast Corp.'s (CMCSA) NBCUniversal and Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. (FOXA) .
"We know that no one is giving credit for any potential upside in the streaming apps -- not ESPN nor Disney," she added. "We continue to believe Disney is the best long-term play in the space."
And Ryvicker is not alone, though like much of Wall Street, she may not be right.
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