Disney Posts Strong Quarterly Results Despite Weakness in Film Studio

Paramount Pictures

UPDATED: The company says "Cars 2" and "Thor" didn't measure up to "Toy Story 3" and "Iron Man 2" a year ago.

The Walt Disney Co. topped fiscal third-quarter earnings expectations by hauling in 77 cents per share, a 15 percent improvement over last year and 4 cents better than analysts had predicted, but the  announcement Tuesday didn’t help the stock.>

Revenue also topped expectations, coming in at $10.7 billion, up 7 percent. Net income was $1.5 billion, up 8 percent.

Chief executive Robert Iger credited the company's media networks, especially ESPN, along with parks and resorts and consumer products for the strong results, though not studio entertainment, which was responsible for the bulk of a $34 million impairment charge.

Of Disney's five segments, only studio entertainment posted lower revenue this quarter compared with the same quarter last year. Revenue fell 1 percent to $1.62 billion, and operating income at the studio plunged 60 percent to $49 million.

Cars 2 and Thor had tough comparisons with last year's Toy Story 3 an Iron Man 2, but Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides offset much of the damage.

Disney shares were rising 2 percent in after-hours trading shortly after the earnings report, but fell to negative 1 percent during the company’s conference call with analysts.

Disney shares, which had been up 9 percent on the year as recently as last month, have taken a nosedive along with the rest of the market. In August alone, the stock has plunged 10 percent. On Tuesday during regular trading, though, the shares gained 5 percent to $34.70 on a strong market rebound, though the stock remains down 8 percent on the year.

Iger said Tuesday that the violent swings -- mostly to the downside -- on Wall Street nowadays hasn't affected Disney's business, and he doesn't expect that they will. "We remain well-positioned for whatever economic conditions we face in the future," he said.

Iger seemed most enthusiastic Tuesday about ESPN, which he said attracts an audience of 107 million each week when you add up TV, radio and the Web site. He said ESPN and Disney will remain “diligent” when bidding for sports rights.

ESPN is part of media networks, which was again Disney’s largest sgment, reporting $4.9 billion in revenue and $2.1 billion in operating income, up 5 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

Iger also boasted of a 24 percent ratings surge at Disney XD, and praised the recently aired Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension, a TV movie based on the hit animated show Phineas and Ferb, as a “phenomenal success.”  The movie is the No. 1 scripted telecast so far this year among kids 6-11.

All of the growth in media networks was attributed to cable networks, where revenue gained 7 percent to $3.5 billion. In broadcasting, revenue fell 1 percent to $1.43 billion.

Parks and resorts, Disney’s second largest segment, posted revenue growth of 12 percent to $3.2 billion, with kudos going to the domestic parks, the ocean-cruise business and Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. On the other hand, Disneyland Paris disappointed, as did Tokyo Disney Resort, the latter due to the March earthquake.

Revenue at consumer products grew 13 percent to $685 million thanks to toys associated with Cars 2 and Marvel superheroes. Interactive media, the only segment to show an operating loss, grew its revenue 27 percent to $251 million.