'Black Panther' Helps Disney Beat Quarterly Earnings Expectations

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
'Black Panther'

Disney said that costs associated with a deal to acquire some 21st Century Fox assets, along with some higher compensation for employees, amounted to $194 million in the quarter.

The Walt Disney. Co. posted quarterly profit and sales that bested the expectations of analysts courtesy of Marvel Studios' Black Panther and strong financial results at the company's theme parks.

The company posted earnings of $1.84 per share on revenue of $14.5 billion, while analysts expected Disney to earn $1.70 per share on $14.1 billion in revenue. A year earlier, it posted $1.50 a share on $13.3 billion in sales.

Operating income at the company's cable networks unit fell 4 percent due to higher programming costs at ESPN.

Disney scored higher revenue at each of its four reporting segments, and operating income was higher at two of the four, with media networks, where ESPN resides, falling 6 percent to $2.1 billion while consumer products and interactive media was down 4 percent to $354 million.

Studio entertainment boasted the most growth in operating income, at 29 percent, followed by parks and resorts at 27 percent.

The studio would have made even more had it not been for A Wrinkle in Time with Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon, but Disney didn't say exactly how much that movie hurt the bottom line. Instead, the company merely acknowledged that the success of Black Panther "was partially offeset by the performance of A Wrinkle in Time."

During a conference call with analysts on Tuesday, CEO Bob Iger hailed the "incredible performance" of the "groundbreaking" Black Panther, which has crossed $1.3 billion in worldwide box office and proves "the importance of risk-taking."

Avengers: Infinity War has already crossed $1.2 billion without having opened yet in China, the exec noted before listing off an impressive roster of upcoming films that includes Mary Poppins Returns, Dumbo, Incredibles 2 and a host of Marvel and Star Wars movies.

Disney's earnings come as Comcast may be readying a hostile bid for the same 21st Century Fox assets that Disney has agreed to purchase for $52.4 billion. Disney said Tuesday that costs associated with the Fox transaction, along with some higher compensation for employees, amounted to $194 million in the quarter. 

Iger said Disney is "deep into the regulatory process" with the Fox deal and he therefore would not supply any details yet.

If Disney gets those assets, which include some cable stations and the Fox movie and TV studio, it would likely use some of that content when it launches a streaming platform that would compete with Netflix. Iger said Tuesday that the upcoming service will include "a robust slate of original programming" along with a library of material from Lucasfilm, Pixar, Disney and Marvel.

Iger said Disney isn't dependent on Fox content to launch its digital product, and he also said if Disney acquires Fox it will suddenly become a 60 percent owner of Hulu and Disney will still fuel that platform as well.

The CEO said that the upcoming service will eventually be the only place to see the shows and movies it will feature, outside of traditional movie theaters and TV outlets, because he is so committed to the digital platform's success.

Iger wouldn't say how many have signed up for ESPN Plus, its new digital service for sports programming, but offered, "So far, so good."

Disney shares fell 1 percent on Tuesday, but were heading 1 percent higher after the closing bell.