Disney's streaming business (sans ESPN+) turns a quarterly profit

Walt Disney Co. is making massive strides toward making its streaming business profitable, a milestone that comes none too soon as its traditional TV networks continue to decline.

The Burbank media and entertainment giant reported overall streaming business revenue of $6.19 billion for the second fiscal quarter of 2024, up 12% compared with a year earlier. Disney’s streaming business — which includes Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ — reported an operating loss of $18 million for the three-month period that ended March 30, a 97% change from last year, when it reported losing $659 million.

The company’s “entertainment streaming” business, which consists only of Disney+ and Hulu (and not ESPN+), was profitable during the quarter, notching operating income of $47 million, compared with a loss of $587 million a year earlier. Excluding ESPN+, streaming revenue of $5.64 billion was up 13% from a year earlier.

Overall, Disney generated $22.1 billion in revenue that quarter, up 1% from the same period a year earlier. Sales came in roughly in line with analysts’ estimates, according to FactSet. Earnings, excluding certain items, were $1.21 per share, up from 93 cents a year earlier and better than the $1.10 that analysts had predicted, on average.

Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger noted the growth in streaming in a statement, saying that the business, in addition to the company’s continued strength in experiences, which includes the parks, drove the company’s second-quarter performance.

Disney’s investment in streaming, which accelerated to grow the Disney+ service that launched in 2019, has lost billions of dollars to date. The company expects its combined streaming operations to finally turn a profit in the fiscal fourth quarter of 2024.

This marks Disney’s first quarterly earnings report since Iger trounced activist investor Nelson Peltz in a proxy fight, in which Peltz had sought a board seat. Investors, in a vote tallied at Disney’s annual shareholder meeting in April, decisively rejected Peltz’s bid.

Peltz, among other things, had demanded that Disney show a realistic plan for Netflix-like profit margins in the costly streaming business. To get Disney closer to its profitability goals, Iger waged a severe cost-cutting plan, eliminating more than 8,000 jobs.

“Looking at our company as a whole, it’s clear that the turnaround and growth initiatives we set in motion last year have continued to yield positive results,” Iger said in a statement.

Although Disney’s streaming business was a bright spot for its entertainment segment, the company’s linear TV business struggled in the quarter, reporting $2.77 billion in revenue, a decrease of 8% compared with a year earlier. The linear networks reported operating income of $752 million, down about 22% from the same period last year.

The company said its losses in linear networks stemmed from lower affiliate revenue because of a decrease in subscribers after Spectrum dropped eight networks, including Freeform and Disney Junior, from its lineup as part of Disney’s new cable licensing agreement with cable giant Charter Communications. Those negotiations resulted in a more-than-10-day blackout of ESPN and ABC channels as the two companies hashed out an agreement.

The company’s film studio business also struggled, with revenue falling 40% to $1.39 billion for an operating loss of $18 million. Disney posted weak box-office results compared with last year’s second quarter, when it had Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

Disney movies have had a weak run in 2024 and the company is hoping for a rebound with “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” “Inside Out 2” and “Deadpool & Wolverine.”

Disney’s sports sector reported revenue of $4.31 billion, up 2% compared with a year earlier. ESPN operating income was $778 million, down 2% from the year-earlier period.

Meanwhile, its “experiences” division — which encompasses theme parks such as Disneyland and Walt Disney World; cruise lines and consumer products — continued to drive profit for the company with $8.39 billion in revenue, an increase of 10% from a year earlier. Operating income from the parks division was $2.29 billion, up 12%. The segment accounted for 59% of the company’s operating income.

The growth in experiences came from higher results at Walt Disney World in Florida and Disney Cruise Line, the company said.

Additionally, Disney took a $2-billion write-down of its troubled Star India business after agreeing to merge the operations into a joint venture controlled by rival Reliance Industries, a major Indian conglomerate. The Star India business, along with its HotStar streaming service, became part of Disney through its 2019 acquisition of 21st Century Fox.

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