UPDATE, 3:35 PM: CEO Bob Iger seemed more relaxed and feistier than usual in today’s earnings call with analysts. He called the ad market “healthy” — with all spots sold out for the upcoming Academy Awards broadcast. He wouldn’t comment on reports about ABC’s talks to create a news channel with Univision, although he says that Disney has “an interest in seeing that ABC News has an opportunity to flourish.” But he also acknowledged that he’s scratching his head over some recent industry initiatives. Iger says that he’s ”still not sure I understand” what Verizon and Redbox have planned for their just-announced streaming service. He added that Disney is ”in discussions” to change its DVD and Blu-ray release policy to wait 28 days before selling discs directly to discount rental services such as Redbox and Netflix. Up to now Disney didn’t think that a delay would have much impact on disc sales, but he says that “the industry has continued to suffer on the sell-through side.” Yet Iger sounded frustrated by another initiative to promote disc sales: giving disc buyers the additional opportunity to stream movies to mobile devices. Disney has its own program, called Key Chest. Iger says, though, that ”we haven’t rolled out Key Chest as much as we hoped.” Meanwhile he’s “taking and wait-and-see” on joining other studios that support the UltraViolet streaming program. Iger says he’s “not sure it has proven to be as robust as we expected, or as consumer friendly as we had hoped.”
Meanwhile Iger told investors to expect a healthy increase in pay TV fees for Disney’s cable channels following his company’s wide-ranging recent licensing agreement with Comcast. The high price also gave Comcast the right to stream shows from certain channels to mobile devices — and that’s “something other distributors clearly want to offer.” New arrangements with DirecTV, Time Warner Cable, and Cablevision will kick in “relatively soon.” The CEO dismissed talk among pay TV operators about trying to give consumers a break by offering packages of channels without pricey sports services including ESPN. “They haven’t had that much interest,” he says, because ESPN has “gotten into that virtual must-have category.” He’s also unpersuaded that consumers want to just pay for the channels that they watch. “People want variety and they’re getting it today,” he says. If pay TV providers offered channels on an a la carte basis then “niche channels would go away and that wouldn’t necessarily be good.” And if programmers found themselves collecting less advertising then “the $60, 100-channel package would become a $60, 50-channel package.” Iger says that he recently went online and couldn’t find a cable operator’s low-priced package without ESPN. ”My guess is they aren’t marketing them extensively,” he said. CFO Jay Rasulo joked to analysts that Iger was only looking as an experiment — not to buy.
PREVIOUS, 1:20 PM: Shares are down slightly in after hours trading as many investors, who weren’t expecting much from Disney this quarter, still ended up disappointed. Net income came in at $1.46B, up 12% vs the period last year, but on revenues of $10.78B, up just 1%. The Street thought that Disney revenues would come in closer to $11.18B. Earnings at 80 cents a share were well ahead of the 72 cent consensus forecast. The Studio Entertainment unit stumbled with revenues down 16% to $1.6B. The company says it had fewer film releases than last year. But the results also show that this year’s titles including Real Steel, The Muppets, and War Horse were no match for last year’s Tangled and Tron: Legacy. The home entertainment operation also suffered as Cars 2 paled next to last year’s Toy Story 3. The Media Networks division had a mixed story with total revenues up just 3% to $4.8B. The cable networks were up 8% but ABC’s revenues fell 7% and its operating profits dropped 23%. That was partly due to the lack of political ads, but the high marketing costs to launch network series and a drop in ratings added also hurt. Parks & Resorts looked better with revenues up 10% to $3.2B. Disney says that consumer spending was up — and it benefited from having its cruise ship, Disney Dream, running for the entire quarter. It launched at the end of January 2011. Consumer Products revenues were up 3% to $948M, but operating income was flat due to higher operating costs. But the Interactive Media unit was pummeled with revenues down 20% to $279M. Disney says it had fewer game releases, and nothing that could compare to last year’s Epic Mickey, Toy Story 3, and Tron: Evolution. CEO Bob Iger says that Disney’s “off to a good start in this fiscal year” and is positioned “to deliver long-term shareholder value.”