business

Disney Gets ‘Black Panther’ Boost, But TV Business Falls Flat

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  • Film has taken in more than $1.3 billion at global box office
  • Disney theme parks also helped bolster results last quarter
Disney CEO Bob Iger is confident the deal to buy Fox assets will go through.

There’s more than vibranium to be mined in the mythical country of Wakanda.

Walt Disney Co.’s “Black Panther” helped the company’s second-quarter earnings sail past Wall Street estimates on Tuesday. The film, which became a cultural phenomenon after its release in February, generated more than $1.3 billion in worldwide ticket sales for the Burbank, California-based studio.

The movie, the first major superhero film with a majority black cast, shattered industry myths and made a “very loud statement about the importance of risk-taking and the value of inclusion,” Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger said on a conference call Tuesday.

The film’s surprisingly strong performance helped offset a television business that’s suffering from an industrywide decline in pay-TV viewership. Disney’s earnings also were bolstered by its theme parks, which saw attendance climb in a seasonally slow quarter. Higher ticket prices and new attractions -- in addition to an early Easter holiday -- helped fuel that business.

Disney’s overall earnings advanced to $1.84 a share, excluding some items, ahead of the $1.70 average estimate compiled by Bloomberg. Sales rose to $14.5 billion, compared with projections of $14.1 billion.

TV Troubles

In the TV business, Disney’s outlook isn’t as bright. Viewers are continuing to cut the cord, contributing to a 4 percent profit decline for the company’s cable division. Cable profits were also crimped by the inclusion of the now majority-owned streaming service BamTech and a shift of college bowl games. Earnings at the ABC broadcast business were flat.

The tepid TV results weighed on Disney’s shares in late trading. They declined as much as 1.8 percent to $100.

The company has been taking steps to prepare itself for the future of TV, including launching ESPN+, a $5-a-month online TV service introduced in April. On Tuesday, Disney announced a deal to stream Ultimate Fighting Championship matches on the new service.

Still, much of Disney’s entertainment strategy is up in the air. It looks to shore up its TV and movie assets by acquiring a huge swath of 21st Century Fox Inc. for about $52 billion in stock. But Comcast Corp., the largest U.S. cable company, is considering making its own bid for that business, a person with knowledge of the situation said this week.

Sky Standoff

Comcast also is trying to acquire European satellite-TV operator Sky Plc -- a business that both Fox and Disney want to own. The situation is setting up a global standoff between the world’s biggest media giants -- and potentially frustrating Iger’s strategy to make Disney more of a direct-to-consumer media enterprise.

The executive said on Tuesday that he was confident the Disney-Fox deal would go forward.

The good news is Disney’s film studio is off to another strong year. Movie releases, including last month’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and the upcoming “Solo: A Star Wars” story, promise to cement the company’s position in theaters in the first half. Through May 6, Disney accounted for a third of the domestic movie business, according to Box Office Mojo. That was larger than the three next-largest studios combined.

Despite Disney’s dominance at the box office, the company’s stock price has remained largely unchanged over the past three years. It’s bounced around the $100 level as investors fret about competition in the entertainment business, especially as online operators such as Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. push deeper into the industry.

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