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Disney's higher earnings top forecasts

By Chavon Sutton, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Walt Disney Co.'s profit and revenue surpassed analysts' expectations Tuesday, as the media giant's TV networks and movie studios outperformed its theme parks.

Disney's (DIS, Fortune 500) net income for the three months ended April 3 rose to $953 million, or 48 cents per share, from $613 million, or 33 cents, a year earlier. The prior-year quarter included one-time items that reduced income by 10 cents a share.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters predicted net income of $881.3 million, or 45 cents a share.

Sales rose 6% to $8.58 billion, which was more than the $8.39 billion analysts expected.

"The incredible box office performance of Disney's Alice in Wonderland and acquisition of Marvel ... clearly show the benefits of investing in high-quality branded content" chief executive Robert Iger said in a prepared statement.

Disney's largest division -- TV networks including ESPN and ABC -- rebounded 6% thanks to higher fees from cable companies and, to a lesser extent, improving ad sales. Higher broadcast and cable ad sales helped rivals News Corp (NWSA) and Time Warner Inc (TWX, Fortune 500), which reported record quarterly profits, post strong results last week.

Revenue from Disney's movie studio and theme parks, which account for about half of the company's total sales, was up 9% from last year.

Alice in Wonderland, which grossed $962 million in global sales since its March 5 release, outshined Confessions of a Shopaholic and Race to Witch Mountain, the company's two major releases in this quarter last year. The company said Alice is its second highest grossing film of all time in terms of box office sales.

But some analysts foresee a lukewarm response from investors to the quarter's movie-driven performance.

"The Street usually doesn't pay up as much for film earnings," said Alan Gould, an analyst at Soleil-Gould Research Corp. "It prefers stronger numbers out of its media networks."

Disney's theme park and resort revenue were up 2% year-over-year, reflecting the slow return of consumers to vacation spending.

Disney wants to wean guests off the deep discounts it put in place during the recession, CFO Jay Rasulo told analysts during a conference call on Tuesday. He said Disney expects to "take pricing back to normalized levels" as early as fiscal 2011, which begins in October.

During the call, Iger discussed plans for Marvel Entertainment, which Disney bought in August for $4 billion. Investors are eager to see Disney leverage Marvel's catalog of more than 5,000 characters, including Iron Man, X-Men, and Spiderman.

Disney plans to push Marvel into the video game market, mobile applications, and social networking in the future, Iger said. But he warned that any major push to expand in the short term would be limited by Viacom (VIA), parent of Paramount Pictures, which still owns the distribution rights to Marvel's next four films.

Iger hinted that Iron Man 2, released May 7, should bode well for third-quarter earnings.

Ahead of its earnings release, Disney's shares closed down 47 cents at $35.76. Shares slipped 3% further in after-market trading.  To top of page

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