Disney beats Street on earnings and revenue

By Annalyn Censky, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Walt Disney Company's profit and revenue sailed past analysts' expectations Tuesday, as a solid showing from the media giant's TV networks offset a lackluster performance from its movie studios and theme parks.

Net income for the three months ending Jan. 2 fell less than 1% to $844 million, or 44 cents per share, from a year ago.

Excluding one-time charges, Disney (DIS, Fortune 500) said it earned 47 cents per share. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, who typically strip out one-time items from their estimates, were looking for 38 cents per share.

Sales rose 1% to $9.7 billion, which beat analysts' forecast of $9.66 billion.

"We are pleased with our first-quarter results and are excited about our creative pipeline, from upcoming movies like 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Toy Story 3' to new attractions at our parks and resorts," said chief executive Robert Iger in a statement.

Comparing this year's results to last year's first quarter is a bit difficult, according to analysts, since this year's earnings period included almost an extra week.

"I think it was a solid quarter, but there's a little bit of confusion, because the last weekend of the quarter included New Years Day," said David Bank, an analyst from RBC Capital Markets. "They had a much more profitable last week of the quarter, which makes it a little bit more of apples to oranges."

A mixed bag from Disney units

Disney's largest division -- TV networks including ESPN and ABC -- rebounded due to higher ad sales, with revenue rising 7%. Higher broadcast and cable ad sales also helped rivals News Corp (NWSA) and Time Warner Inc (TWX, Fortune 500). beat earnings expectations last week.

Revenue in the company's movie studio and theme parks, which account for about half of Disney's total revenue, were nearly flat.

Although the company had success with its first hand-drawn animated flick in years, "The Princess and the Frog," other launches such as "Old Dogs" failed to deliver. Disney reported a 1% drop in revenue in its studio entertainment division.

Disney shook up its top management during the quarter, swapping chief financial officer Tom Staggs with theme parks head Jay Rasulo.

Theme park and resort revenue was flat, in line with analyst expectations that the current recession would continue to keep attendance down at Disney's vacation spots.

Hotel bookings are currently down about 10% from last year, but that number is not necessarily indicative of how they will fare for the second quarter, Rasulo said during a conference call with analysts Tuesday. Since the downturn, both consumers and advertisers are waiting until the last minute to make buying decisions, he said.

Rasulo noted that Disney's goal is to slowly wean guests off major discounts at the theme parks, but at the same time, "we don't believe we're dealing with an economy that allows us to cut off the discounting immediately," he said.

During the call, Iger discussed the possibility of entering into a deal with Apple Inc's (AAPL, Fortune 500) iPad, which he called a potential "game changer." Disney is talking about developing iPad products for ABC, Disney, ESPN's ScoreCenter app and Marvel, he said.

Disney bought the Marvel Entertainment brand, which includes a catalog of more than 5,000 characters including Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk and X-Men, for about $4 billion in August.

Iger expects the brand to perform well in the video game market, especially for higher-end consoles, and Disney is also looking forward to revenue from toy sales and consumer products tied to the launch of their first Marvel film, "Iron Man 2" in May. To top of page

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