Disney to Begin 'Star Wars' Theme Land Construction Next Year

Star Wars Theme 1 - H 2015

The exec also said Wall Street "overreacted" to news that Disney's TV networks business, including ESPN, was experiencing slower growth than expected.

Disney COO Tom Staggs gave an update on the company's TV networks business and its theme park plans for Star Wars

Wall Street "overreacted" to Walt Disney's news on Aug. 4 that its TV networks business, including ESPN, was experiencing slower growth than expected, the exec said on Thursday.

As of Thursday, Disney shares are off 16 percent since the Aug. 4 pronouncement.

Speaking at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2015 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference in Beverly Hills, Staggs defended Disney's strategy of licensing some of its TV content to Internet streaming services, but he sees the traditional model of cable networks bundled into packages as dominating for the foreseeable future.

"We continue to believe in the bundle," he said. 

Staggs said Disney's content is so strong that if consumers further migrate away from cable and satellite TV and toward over-the-top Internet services, Disney is ready to "pivot" if necessary. "I don't see that soon," he said.

He noted that ESPN, the behemoth network that Wall Street has been agonizing over since Aug. 4, is positioned well for the long term, given that many of its sports rights are locked in until 2030. Also, growth of viewership on alternative platforms is explosive.

He noted the 60th anniversary of Disneyland in California and said the flagship theme park is "more relevant today than ever before."

He announced that construction of new lands based on Star Wars would start next year in both California and Florida, but still would not say when the attractions might actually open to the public.

He called the initiatives the biggest "single-theme" improvements at the parks in their history, reiterating that guests will be able to visit the bizarre cantina featured in the original film and fly Han Solo's Millennium Falcon.

Of the upcoming Star Wars movies, he promised they'd appeal to fans and newcomers, alike, then added: "I think it will be something China will embrace in a big way."

He also gushed over Pandora — The World of Avatar, a new land under construction at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida. 

"We're going to make mountains float. It's quite an engineering feat," he said.

Staggs also said the Pandora land — expected to open in 2017 — will include several attractions that won't be familiar to visitors until they see the upcoming sequels to Avatar.