Walt Disney’s (NYSE:DIS) decision to delay the release of the Pixar animated feature “The Good Dinosaur” by 14 months sent tongues wagging in Hollywood, but barely caused a ripple on Wall Street.
In fact, this is probably good news for investors. Burbank, Calif.-based Disney has had two high profile flops in the past two years “John Carter” ($200 million write down) and “The Lone Ranger” ($190 million write down). Though the Disney, which has a market capitalization topping $117 billion, can afford to take the hit, those losses aren’t small potatoes either. CEO Bob Iger fired Rich Ross as head of Disney Studios after the “John Carter” debacle. This year it trimmed about 150 jobs from the unit.
Disney’s caution is a good thing even though it also means delaying the release of “Finding Dory” a sequel to the classic “Finding Nemo” by 7 months. Investors would rather Disney take its time to “get a movie right.” The company’s Studio Entertainment business continues to be a laggard. Operating income in the latest quarter fell 36% to $201 million while revenue slumped 2% to $1.59 billion. According to Box Office Mojo, Disney’s Buena Vista studios trails Time Warner’s (NYSE:TWX) Warner Bros. and Comcast’s (Nasdaq:CMCSA) Universal in the box office so far this year with 14.6% market share. Among the studio’s hits were “Monster’s University”, which has grossed more than $730 million.
There are already signs that the company has learned from its mistakes. Jerry Bruckheimer’s fifth installment in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series was pulled from the production schedule earlier this month. Bruckheimer’s latest film was “The Lone Ranger.” In another development, “The Good Dinosaur” Director Bob Peterson left the project last month, according to Bloomberg News.
Going forward, investors are going to expect big things from Disney’s film business, especially given its $4 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm, the producer of the “Star Wars” franchise. The media and entertainment conglomerate is already trying to integrate the characters into the Disney universe. Stores at Walt Disney World , for instance, sell action figures of Kermit and Miss Piggy dressed up like Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. They even have Mickey Mouse ears shaped liked R2D2.
For now, “Star Wars” fans will have to be satisfied with these cute knick-knacks. New “Star Wars” movies won’t begin to be released until 2015.
Though its fun to talk about movies and Hollywood, investors need to view this in a broader context. It’s never a good idea to buy Disney or any other entertainment stock solely based on one hit. They come and go. Disney, though, has a broad array of businesses such as ESPN and its Theme Parks and Resorts that can help make up any shortfall from its box office disappointments. In fact, the Theme Parks should continue to do well unless the economy seriously goes off the rails. Walt Disney World remains one of the top destinations of foreign tourists visiting the U.S. Though costs for sports programming continue to skyrocket, ESPN should hold its own, at least for now. Pay TV providers are becoming increasingly combative about paying fees to channel operators. ESPN’s are by far the highest on a per-subscriber basis.
Shares of the Burbank, Calif.-based company were off 0.80% at $65.20 at last look. The stock trades at a price-to-earnings ratio of 19.9, a premium to rivals such as 21st Century Fox (Nasaq:FOXA) and Time Warner. Disney, though, may have more room to run.
The average 52-week price target on the stock is $72.24, about 10% above where it currently trades. If Disney can fix the problems in its film studio business, there is no reason why the stock couldn’t easily reach that goal.
Disclosure - Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr and at Jonathanberr.com