Disney’s ‘Black Panther’ Helps Send Earnings Past Estimates

(Bloomberg) -- There’s more than vibranium to be mined in the mythical country of Wakanda.

Walt Disney Co.’s “Black Panther” helped the studio’s second-quarter earnings sail past Wall Street estimates on Tuesday. The film, which became a cultural phenomenon after its release in February, generated more than $1.3 billion in worldwide ticket sales for the Burbank, California-based company.

The movie’s surprisingly strong performance helped offset a television business that’s suffering from an industrywide decline in pay-TV viewership. Disney’s earnings also were bolstered by its theme parks, which saw attendance climb in a seasonally slow quarter. Higher ticket prices and new attractions -- in addition to an early Easter holiday -- helped fuel that business.

Disney’s ‘Black Panther’ Helps Send Earnings Past Estimates

Disney’s overall earnings rose to $1.84 a share, excluding some items, ahead of the $1.70 average estimate compiled by Bloomberg. Sales rose to $14.5 billion, compared with projections of $14.1 billion.

The shares gained as much as 2.2 percent to $104 in late trading. The stock was down 5.3 percent this year through Tuesday’s close.

TV Troubles

In the TV business, Disney’s outlook isn’t as bright. Viewers are continuing to cut the cord, contributing to a 4 percent profit decline for the company’s cable division. Cable profits were also crimped by the inclusion of the now majority-owned streaming service BamTech and a shift of college bowl games. Earnings at the ABC broadcast business were flat.

Disney has been taking steps to prepare itself for the future of TV, including launching ESPN+, a $5-a-month online TV service introduced in April. On Tuesday, the company announced a deal to stream UFC martial arts matches on the new service.

Still, much of Disney’s entertainment strategy is up in the air. It looks to shore up its TV and movie assets by acquiring a huge swath of 21st Century Fox Inc. for about $52 billion in stock. But Comcast Corp., the largest U.S. cable company, is considering making its own bid for that business, a person with knowledge of the situation said this week.

Sky Standoff

Comcast also is trying to acquire European satellite-TV operator Sky Plc -- a business that both Fox and Disney want to own. The situation is setting up a global standoff between the world’s biggest media giants -- and potentially frustrating Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger’s strategy to make Disney more of a direct-to-consumer media enterprise.

The executive said on Tuesday that he was confident the Disney-Fox deal would go forward.

The good news is Disney’s film studio is off to another strong year. Movie releases, including last month’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and the upcoming “Solo: A Star Wars” story, promise to cement the company’s position in theaters in the first half. Through May 6, Disney accounted for a third of the domestic movie business, according to Box Office Mojo. That was larger than the three next-largest studios combined.

Despite Disney’s dominance at the box office, the company’s stock price has remained largely unchanged over the past three years. It’s bounced around the $100 level as investors fret about competition in the entertainment business, especially as online operators such as Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. push deeper into the industry.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.