The Walt Disney Company (DIS) built itself a diverse empire since the 1920s, creating a wide range of lucrative products in a number of marketplaces. As the largest mass media conglomerate in the world, Disney is best known for its film and TV productions and theme parks. Its television arm controls the ABC television network, with eight owned-and-operated broadcasting stations and over 240 affiliates, as well as a number of cable networks, including Freeform, Disney Channel, and ESPN.
Walt Disney Pictures, Disney Animation, and Pixar produce films for Walt Disney Studios, and Disney also owns Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm, which are huge cash cows for the company—notably, in the film and merchandise markets. The company also has a presence in the travel industry, with the Disney Cruise lines. And the company expanded its presence of theme parks beyond the U.S.-based Walt Disney World and Disneyland to include others around the world.
In this article, we dissect the company and highlight its business model, business units, and more importantly, its main rivals.
- Disney is a media and entertainment powerhouse that has a well-diversified business plan.
- The company is well-known for its animated classics but also deals in film and television production, travel and tourism, streaming services, and merchandising.
- The company reports revenue for two main units: Parks, Experiences and Products and Media & Entertainment Distribution.
- Because it has its hands in so many corners of the media industry, it also has many competitors.
- Disney has been resilient, taking out the competition when necessary.
Disney’s Business Model
Walt Disney has historically been associated with animated classics like Cinderella, Snow White, and Bambi and, most notably, characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. But its reach doesn't just end there. As noted above, Disney is a well-diversified company that deals in television and film production, travel and tourism, as well as theme parks.
Financial results were released for 2021 in November 2021. The company reported annual revenue of $$67.14 billion compared to $65.39 billion from 2020. That represents a 3% increase, thanks to subscriber growth for its streaming services.
In 2018, the company went through a strategic reorganization, creating four different business segments. These businesses were later reorganized to form two major units and four content groups. More details on these are listed below.
Parks, Experiences and Products
This segment is made up of a number of global theme parks, water parks, and resorts in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Disney's cruise line operations, which were established in 1998, are also part of this unit. This segment derives the majority of its revenue theme and water park passes as well as related amenities. Merchandise, resort stays, and licensing of the company's intellectual property (IP) are also major revenue drivers.
The Parks, Experiences and Products segment reported total revenue of about $16.55 billion for the 2021 fiscal year. That was a 3% drop from the previous year when it earned roughly $17.04 billion. Disney attributed the decline to the ongoing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Media and Entertainment Distribution
Disney combined all of its media and entertainment brands under the Media & Entertainment Distribution banner. The unit houses Disney's international businesses and a variety of direct-to-consumer streaming services, including Disney+ and Hulu, in which the company owns a majority position. As such, it melds advertising, media distribution, and technology into one.
In 2020, the company announced it this unit would be split into different content groups, including:
- Studios: This content group is made up of Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Animation, Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Studios, and Searchlight Pictures. Together, these studios create what the company calls "theatrical and episodic content" for Disney's streaming platforms.
- General Entertainment: This content group is responsible for creating long-form content for the company's streaming platforms and includes properties, such as 20th Television, ABC Signature, and Touchstone Television. It also houses ABC News, the family of Disney Channels, Freeform, FX, and National Geographic.
- Sports: This unit holds sports news and content, including live programming through ESPN, ESPN+, ABC, and other cable channels.
In 2021, Disney's Media & Entertainment Distribution unit earned revenue of about $50.87 billion. This was a jump of 5% from 2020 when it recorded $48.35 billion in revenue. The increase was the result of higher advertising revenue for live sports,
Bob Chapek assumed the role of chief executive officer (CEO) at the Walt Disney Corporation, taking the reins from Bob Iger in February 2020, who headed the company for 15 years.
As mentioned earlier, Disney is a fairly well-diversified company. Its reach extends beyond entertainment, including travel and tourism, theme parks, and consumer products among others. So if you want a peek at some of the main competition, it's probably a good idea to look at them based on the business unit. We've noted some of the largest ones below.
Film and Television
As noted above, Disney is a key player in the film and television business, producing films and televisions shows. Its owned-and-operated stations in some of the major U.S. metropolitan centers produce local news and shows, as well. The following are some of its key competitors in this sphere:
- Comcast (CMCSA): Comcast is another diversified company that has its hand in many different pots. Its film and television studio unit include major names like Universal, DreamWorks, and Universal Television. The company also owns NBCUniversal, which includes a series of owned and operated television stations under the NBC banner as well as CNBC, MSNBC, and Telemundo. The studios unit reported revenue of about $9.5 billion for 2021 while the media unit earned roughly $22.8 billion.
- Sony: Sony's motion picture group is comprised of a number of properties, including Sony Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Screen Gems, and TriStar Pictures. The company's Sony Pictures Television is a key producer and distributor for television with joint ventures (JVs) across the world. The company reports full-year results in April or May each year. Net profits for the third quarter of 2021 came in at about $1.3 billion thanks, in part, to Spiderman.
Disney launched its streaming service in 2019, bringing together all of its original Disney content, including animated films and TV series, as well as other offerings from Marvel, Pixar, National Geographic, Star, and Star Wars. The company continues to produce and distribute original content on the platform.
The service is offered in more than 50 different countries with plans to launch in other markets. Subscribers can choose a monthly or annual membership, which is billed automatically to a credit card.
- Netflix (NFLX): The streaming giant's history goes back to 1997 when its creators started a DVD-by-mail rental business. The company completed its initial public offering (IPO) in 2002 at $1 per share. With the fall in DVD demand, Netflix shifted its focus to streaming in 2007 and now streams television shows and movies around the world with more than 200 million members. It also produces original content that is available through its online and digital platforms. Netflix reported revenue of $30 billion in 2021.
- Amazon Prime Video (AMZN): The e-commerce giant began streaming TV and film content to subscribers of its Prime membership in 2006. Like Netflix and Disney, Amazon also produces original content that is distributed directly through Prime Video. Members can also rent or buy content—charges go directly on the payment card associated with their Prime membership. Amazon boasts more than 200 million Prime members worldwide. Amazon's revenue for 2021 was $469.8 billion, which includes Prime.
Disney owns and operates four major theme parks, including the two very popular Magic Kingdom Park and Epcot, as well as two water and sports-related parks in the United States. This is in addition to the other global parks it runs, including those in Europe and Asia. With 12 global theme parks around the world, Disney is a leader in the theme park business. But that doesn't mean it doesn't face any competition.
Challenging Disney's theme parks are major rivals:
- Six Flags Entertainment (SIX): The largest theme park company and the largest water park operator in North America owns and operates 27 different theme parks and water parks across North America. In November 2019, Six Flags announced plans to open a new park in the Middle East with Six Flags Qiddiya, which will be located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In 2021, the company earned about $1.5 million in revenue.
- Cedar Fair (FUN): With 17 theme parks across Canada and the United States, Cedar Fair earned $1.34 billion in 2021. Cedar Fair also has two facilities for sports enthusiasts along with 11 resorts.
- Universal Studios: Although it doesn't have nearly as many parks and attractions as the others listed, Universal still packs a huge punch, thanks to the popularity of the Harry Potter books and movies. These themed parks have helped boost Universal's attendance numbers at its five locations in the U.S. and Asia. Owned by Comcast, it earned $5 billion in revenue in 2021.
Disney's first cruise ship set sail in 1998. Its family-friendly cruise vacations helped "high margins and double digit returns on invested capital." The company expanded its fleet to include a total of five cruise line ships that sail to a number of destinations, including the Caribbean, Alaska, Hawaii, and Europe. The following are some of the company's stiffest competition within the cruise line industry.
- Royal Caribbean (RCL): Established in 1969, Royal Caribbean offers some of the most immersive experiences on its fleet, including ice skating, rock climbing, and surfing. The company sails to more than 300 destinations on 26 different vessels. Total revenue for RCL came in at $1.53 billion for the 2021 fiscal year.
- Carnival (CCL): Carnival Corporation owns and operates a number of global cruise line brands, including Carnival, Princess Cruises, and Holland America Line. It boasts a fleet of 87 ships that dock in more than 700 worldwide destinations. The company plans to add as many as 16 new vessels to its fleet by 2025. The company reported total revenue of $1.91 billion during 2021.
- Norwegian (NCLH): Norwegian was founded in 1966. It sails to more than 450 destinations, offering what the company calls "the freestyle experience." Rather than binding travelers to a set schedule, the company allows its passengers to dine and do activities on their own time. In 2021, the company earned revenue of $0.6 billion.
Disney's profits often fluctuate due, in part, to seasonality as well as the timing of releases. But it retains a massive presence in several industries and one that most people identify with when they think of animated films and theme parks.
Disney's studio entertainment businesses are constantly innovating, which is evident in its profits often show this. Disney produces a range of consumer products with involvement in licensing, publishing, and retail and thus competes with other vendors in these areas. However, according to Market Realist, Disney believes it is the largest worldwide licensor of character-based merchandise.
Disney made headlines when it announced it negotiated a deal to acquire certain assets from 21st Century Fox in March 2019, particularly its film studio and the streaming service Hulu. The plan was to rival Netflix. The $71.3 billion deal was completed on March 20, 2019, making Disney the largest media powerhouse on the planet.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit Disney and its competitors' theme parks and resorts, cutting into attendance numbers and, therefore, revenue. But the company opened the gates to its theme parks for the entire 4th quarter in 2021, which was not the case for all Disney locations in the fourth quarter of 2020. As noted above, Disney reported revenue of $16.55 billion for its Parks, Experiences, and Product segment for 2021.
How Does Disney Compete With Competitors?
Disney is a powerhouse in media, entertainment, travel, and tourism, so it comes as no surprise why its rivals do whatever they can to try to get an edge on the market. One of the main ways that the company stays on top of its competition is through its brand identity. Disney has built a very strong and reputable base that is visible through its theme parks as well as its film and television offerings. For instance, it has successfully transferred its brand over to the cruise line industry, targeting families with young children by advertising Disney cruises. Furthermore, acquisitions, such as Hulu's streaming service, also helps chisel away at its rivals' market share.
How Is Disney Different From Its Competitors?
Disney has taken careful steps to create a very strong brand identity, which is what sets it apart from its competition. Let's face it, when most people think of princesses, they think of Disney. The company has also been able to innovate and diversify and use that brand identity to create a formula for success. This all leads to a fiercely loyal customer and fan base.
Who Is Disney’s Biggest Competitor?
Naming Disney's biggest rivals depends on the business unit. If you're looking at film and television, its rivals include Universal (which is owned by Comcast), Sony, Time Warner, and ViacomCBS. Netflix and Amazon are Disney's main competitors in the streaming service space. In the theme park space, Six Flags, Cedar Fair, and Universal work to take away market share from Disney. Travel and tourism companies, such as Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian, are among its main competitors.
Are Disney and Universal Rivals?
Disney and Universal are major rivals overall. Both are major conglomerates with a global presence. But they also compete against one another in several business segments, including film and television production and theme parks and entertainment.
The Bottom Line
Most of us automatically think of Mickey Mouse or some of the animated classics when we hear the name Disney. But there's more to the company than just cartoons and fairy tales. In fact, Disney is a well-diversified powerhouse that has its hand in many different business units. This includes theme parks, travel, merchandising, advertising, on top of film and television production and distribution. Some of the company's rivals are also taking a cue from the company and expanding their horizons, hoping that their diversified business plans will help them eat away at Disney's market share.