by JACK ROSE, AUDREY LEW, and BRITTANY ORTIZ
Disney is a leading producer, owner, and distributor of media that owns, among many other things, broadcast network ABC; movie studios Pixar, Walt Disney Animation, Marvel, and Lucasfilm; Walt Disney Parks and Resorts that attracted nearly 150 million people in 2015 ; and cable sports network ESPN . Between ABC, its affiliates, and ESPN, Disney operates more than 300 channels worldwide, while its movie studios own the rights to The Avengers family and Star Wars . The last Star Wars release became the highest grossing domestic film earlier this year and with another releasing this December, the company’s film division remains strong . However, fluctuating results on the television side have led Disney to invest in new technologies and a desire to expand international reach birthed a new theme park in China, which opened earlier this year.
Disney’s Chief Executive since 2005, Bob Iger helmed the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm. Since Iger’s promotion from Chief Operating Officer, Disney’s stock price has risen more than $70 while it’s TV division has come to account for half of the company’s profit . Nearing the end of his career, Iger has repeatedly delayed his retirement and most recently set 2018 as the expiration date for his own tenure. His last task will be selecting his successor, after a recent candidate failed to last as heir.
Beyond Iger, various chairmen run each of Disney’s major compartments and the company’s board of directors is comprised of 11 members. However, it is this organizational chart, distributed by Walt Disney Studios in 1943, that largely explains Disney’s management philosophy . Rather than the typical hierarchy, the chart displays an interlocking web of managers, producers, and creators that are needed to produce a film. This organization is intended to encourage creativity and teamwork by emphasizing collaboration rather than chain of command. Each role supports, instead of merely instructing, another.
Annual revenue, profit, and net income have increased yearly since at least 2013, as has Disney’s valuation of its assets and balance sheet as whole. Disney’s revenue dwarfs that of most of its competitors in media, exceeded only by Sony and other conglomerates that produce and own as much content as Sony and Disney. Disney’s stock price is similarly higher than most competitors, currently hovering around $100 . The company’s price per share seems to be inextricably linked to the success of ESPN, which is struggling with subscriber losses and adapting to the future (see “Investments in Technology” section below).
Investments in Technology
Disney’s future focus is in technology as it attempts to revitalize ESPN and stay on the cutting edge of content creation and media. Primarily, in August the company invested $1 billion for a 33% stake in Major League Baseball’s BAMTech, a leading television streaming company. The deal included an option for Disney to take a majority stake in the company down the road. The first collaboration between the two will be BAMTech’s creation of a standalone streaming service for ESPN, which Disney hopes will help ease the network’s subscriber losses and struggling ratings. BAMTech adds 7.5 million paid subscribers across a multitude of streaming platforms to Disney’s already massive user base . The investment in BAMTech isn’t completely black and white, however. Television’s trend toward skinny bundles complicates the relationship between every content producer and cable provider, with Sling, DirecTV, Hulu, and more getting into the live over-the-top business. Disney’s BAMTech investment suggests a possibility that Disney itself could run a direct-to-consumer cable distributor itself .
Throughout this year, rumors swirled about the possibility of Disney purchasing Snapchat, Twitter, and/or Netflix, though analysts agree: none of these are likely. Twitter’s struggle to remain profitable and stabilize its stock price creates nonstop purchase rumors, but it seems that Disney doesn’t stand to benefit much from a Twitter acquisition . Snapchat has proved to be a unique outlet for Disney’s content, but doesn’t seem to be a likely purchase for the social media company . Though the investment in BAMTech signifies Disney’s interest in streaming, Netflix doesn’t appear to be a perfect partner, either. Netflix’s dominance in the streaming market has waned as challengers such as Amazon and Apple have stolen subscribers .
After the November 23 release of Moana, Disney is nearing $2.5B in total domestic box office gross for 2016 . With the top four grossing films of 2016 thus far (Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War, The Jungle Book, and Zootopia), the company topped $6B in worldwide box office gross for the first time in its history . This new record will only increase as Moana and Doctor Strange continue to screen and Disney’s final 2016 film releases: the newest film, Rogue One. Beyond the box office, movies like Star Wars, Finding Dory, and Moana provide massive profits in merchandising, both in America and abroad. In 2013, Disney merchandise sales brought in over $40B.
On June 16, Disney’s fourth international theme park opened in Shanghai, with the tagline “authentically Disney, distinctly Chinese” . The company avoided western branding and symbols by changing street names within the park and by filling the concessions with 70% Chinese food. Traditional Disney characters can be seen wearing traditionally Chinese silk costumes and speaking the native language. The Shanghai Disney Resort seeks to take advantage of the massive potential offered by China and the wider Asian market.
Despite Disney’s losses in television, its massive successes at the box office in 2016 have made up for it. The control of Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar promises success in the motion pictures department nearly every year. Further, Disney’s land holdings of theme parks underscore the company’s finances with physical propoerty–while most media conglomerates own intellectual property, Disney holds more tangible assets as well. The company’s investments in technology put it in a good place for the future–its theme parks’ MagicBands have already proven successful. But while the company must hope these investments pay off, it also faces the uncertain future of navigating an evolving marketplace with a new CEO. Iger’s selection of his successor is by far the most important storyline to follow within the massive world of Disney.
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