NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Disney can thank a handful of housewives – Desperate Housewives, to be specific – for its better-than-expected third quarter earnings.
Disney reported third quarter earnings of $0.41 cents a share, beating Wall Street estimates by three cents. The media titan got a $325 million boost from its television division, thanks to hits like "Desperate Housewives," "Lost," and "Dancing with the Stars" and a $27 million gain in its parks and resorts division thanks to the 50th anniversary of its theme park empire.
"The earnings per share blew everybody away; the consenus was $0.38, so $0.41 is a big overdelivery," said Laura Martin, an analyst with Soleil/Media Metrics. "The other line items were more mixed. They overdelivered in media networks; the ABC network was really excellent. But their studio entertainment numbers were light compared to our estimates."
The studio division proved to be a weak link for Disney, posting a $62 decrease in operating income and a 15% decline in revenue. High marketing costs, as well as declining home video sales and a lack of strong titles in the quarter, contributed to those declines. Studio executives are hoping three new theatrical releases, including the CGI film "Chicken Little" and "The Chronicles of Narnia," will boost those numbers in the next quarter.
The company reported revenues of $7.7 billion, slightly below the $7.9 billion projected by Wall Street analysts but above the $7.5 billion it reported in the same quarter last year.
Another strong area for Disney was its theme park business which surprised some analysts.
"The two big theme parks seem to be doing well and their advance bookings are holding up, so that's encouraging," said Dennis McAlpine of McAlpine Associates. "It's amazing that something as corny as a 50th birthday celebration actually worked. My curiosity will be what happens in September when they open the park in Hong Kong – whether that will be a Tokyo or a Paris."
The earnings growth was welcome in the current weak environment for media companies, which has hurt shares of competitors like Viacom and Time Warner, parent company of CNN/Money.
"There has been (talk on Wall Street) that major media companies are out of favor. I have seen this chicken-little behavior before," said outgoing CEO Michael Eisner, jokingly alluding to Disney's forthcoming animated film. "I have worked in the industry for four decades. At least once a decade they fall out of favor, but each time they emerge stronger than ever. This is for cyclical economic reasons."
But analysts had plenty of questions about prospects for Disney's home video and DVD business.
"They are looking for a good sale of Toy Story one and two (to be re-released next quarter), and while they are cautious about it, they are not overly concerned about it," said Michael Kupinski, an analyst with A.G. Edward and Sons.
Pixar was another question on analysts' minds. Disney is in ongoing negotiations with the animation studio about extending its distribution deal.
"It's a dancing contest at the moment between Disney and (Pixar chief) Steve Jobs to see who is gonna come out looking the best," said analyst McAlpine. "But they could very well do a deal, and I think they should."
Dinsey gained $26 million on the sale of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, but incurred a $32 million partial impairment charge for a cable television investment in Latin America and a $24 million write-down related to the MovieBeam venture. All three reduced third quarter earnings per share by a penny.
Disney's shares rose just before the close in anticipation of the report, closing at $26.14. Shares dipped slightly in after-hours trading.
While the company was reporting results, the Delaware court issued a judgment in favor of Disney, saying it did not breach fiduciary duties in awarding a $140 million severance package to its former president Michael Ovitz, who was ousted after 14 months on the job.
Soleil's Martin does not own shares of Disney, and her firm has no banking ties to the company. McAlpine does not own shares of Disney, and his firm has no banking ties to the company. A.G. Edwards & Sons does own shares of Disney and has investment banking ties to the company.