Disney earnings: $1.63 per share, vs expected EPS of $1.45

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Walt Disney reported quarterly earnings and revenue Tuesday that handily topped analysts' expectations, as sales in its film unit surged on the strength of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

The media giant posted fiscal first-quarter earnings of $1.63 per share, adjusted, on $15.24 billion in revenue. Earnings per share rose 28 percent from the previous year, while sales climbed 14 percent.

Analysts had expected Disney to report earnings of about $1.45 a share on $14.75 billion in revenue, according to a consensus estimate from Thomson Reuters.

"Well, we had great performance across the board, really. Clearly, 'Star Wars' drove the studio performance," CEO Bob Iger told CNBC's "Closing Bell" on Tuesday.

But the company's cable networks — a recent point of concern for investors — saw a year-over-year decrease in operating income.

Disney shares fell as much as 6 percent in after-hours trading, before regaining some ground to a drop of 4 percent.

Disney's quarter, which ended Jan. 2, included the opening of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," the company's first foray into the venerable movie franchise. That vehicle, which Disney promises is just the first of many such films, crossed the $2 billion mark earlier this month — becoming only the third movie to ever do so. The company touted its coming films from the "Star Wars" franchise as well as new Marvel features and animated films.

Its studio sales for the period came in at $2.72 billion, up 46 percent year over year, and topping estimates of $2.32 billion, according to StreetAccount.

Investors also are looking for clues on the strength of Disney's media networks — including the sports programming cash cow ESPN. Part of investors' concern is that the media giant will see ESPN revenue slide with the trend of "unbundling" — consumers opting for television programming options that don't include a bundle of networks they never watch.

Customers holding lightsabers and dressed as Jedi Knights collect their tickets from the counter at the first public screening of Walt Disney's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" at a Vue Entertainment cinema in London.
How's all the money from 'The Force Awakens' divvied up?

Revenue of $6.33 billion for its media networks unit slightly beat expectations and rose 8 percent from the previous year. But operating income for the segment fell 6 percent to $1.41 billion. The company said advertising and affiliate revenue grew, but was partially offset by "a decline in subscribers and unfavorable foreign currency translation impacts."

Operating income for the cable networks slid 5 percent to $1.2 billion "due to a decrease at ESPN," the company said. Still, Iger told CNBC that subscriber growth has picked up at ESPN since the quarter ended.

"We've actually seen an uptick recently in ESPN subs. We did reference, in candor, in the August call, that we had seen some sub erosion, and that in fact was the case. But the last few months, in particular, have been encouraging," he said.

Iger addressed the changing media landscape and the consumer shift from cable, saying that Disney's brands will help it to "contend successfully with ups and downs in the global marketplace."

"This is a company that is going to thrive in a new media world. Technology, in many ways, is propelling a lot more consumption of media, but it's propelling consumption of media that people want," Iger said.

Disney's parks and resorts unit, meanwhile, met analysts' expectations. Sales in the segment climbed 9 percent to $4.28 billion, while operating income rose 22 percent to $981 million.

The company also announced Tuesday that it would adapt its animated hit "Frozen" as a stage musical. The show is expected to start in 2018.

Before announcing fiscal first-quarter earnings, shares in Disney had seen a roughly 12 percent year-to-date slide — worse than rivals CBS, 21st Century Fox and Time Warner.

— CNBC's Everett Rosenfeld contributed to this report.