Walt Disney CFO Sees No Huge Studio Acquisition Coming

The Walt Disney Co.
Christine McCarthy

Christine McCarthy told an investors conference that Disney isn't prepping a big-time deal to transform the studio after earlier Lucasfilm, Pixar and Marvel Studio deals.

Disney CFO Christine McCarthy on Thursday downplayed M&A chatter on Wall Street over the Hollywood studio being at work on a big-time acquisition, possibly for Netflix, as it deals with a struggling ESPN network and changing consumer habits.

"I too have heard that narrative, but nothing has changed in our approach to M&A. We feel very good about our portfolio of businesses, and our M&A strategy is still a part of our overall growth strategy," McCarthy told the Citi 2017 Internet, Media & Telecommunications Conference during a session that was webcast.

Disney is home to Hollywood's biggest brands, including Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios and Pixar, all of which were acquired during president and CEO Bob Iger's reign. But as the studio continues to push into online and digital ventures, McCarthy said Disney isn't about to supersize its M&A strategy with a transformation deal to continue dominating the movie business.

"That is a consistent strategy that's not changed," she said of the Lucasfilm, Marvel and Pixar acquisitions. So expect Disney to continue investing in "high-quality branded content," McCarthy told investors, as well as leveraging digital technologies and expanding overseas.

McCarthy also batted aside speculation that the studio may spin off ESPN. She insisted Disney was happy with its current asset mix and doesn't comment on "that kind of speculation."

McCarthy added Disney will launch its direct-to-consumer ESPN service this year as a complement to the ESPN linear networks, not as a replacement. And while conceding NFL ratings were down, McCarthy argued ESPN's dominance over three decades underlines how live sports remains must-see TV viewing.

She also pointed to the recent U.S. election cycle dominating TV eyeballs to explain the downturn in NFL game viewership. "I think we can all agree that we have been through a very interesting election season, and that was probably one of a kind when you look at election seasons in previous cycles," McCarthy said.