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Disney beats on earnings and revenue, reports streaming subscriber growth

Key Points
  • Disney reported fiscal first-quarter earnings per share and revenue that topped analyst estimates.
  • On the company's post-earnings conference call, CEO Bob Iger said that ESPN+ doubled its subscribers to 2 million in the past five months. 
  • Disney launched the sports streaming service ESPN+ last year and plans to launch Disney+, a streaming service of its movies and original programming, later this year. If its deal for Fox closes, it will also have a larger stake in streaming service Hulu.
Chief executive officer and chairman of The Walt Disney Company Bob Iger walks on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) before ringing the opening bell, November 27, 2017 in New York City.
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Walt Disney reported earnings per share and revenue that topped analyst estimates Tuesday, helped by sales increases in its media networks and theme parks businesses, as the company said its sports streaming service ESPN+ now has 2 million paid subscribers.

The earnings report comes as the entertainment giant expands its direct-to-consumer offerings amid growing competition from Netflix and other streaming services. On the company's post-earnings conference call, CEO Bob Iger said that ESPN+ had doubled its subscribers in the past five months, noting that direct-to-consumer "remains our No. 1 priority."

Here are the results:

Earnings: $1.84 per share, vs $1.55 per share expected, according to Refinitiv

Revenue: $15.30 billion, versus $15.14 billion expected, according to Refinitiv

Revenue was down slightly from $15.35 billion a year ago while adjusted earnings per share fell 3 percent from $1.89. Shares were up 45 cents to $113.11 in extended trading, after rising 2 percent earlier.

Disney, whose assets include cable networks such as ESPN and film studios like Marvel, is making a push into streaming services as more consumers drop their pay-TV package in favor of cheaper options that can be watched through an internet connection. The company launched ESPN+ last year and plans to launch Disney+, a streaming service of its movies and original programming, later this year.

The company said that its direct-to-consumer and international segment posted revenue of $918 million and an operating loss of $136 million in its first quarter ended Dec. 29. due to increased costs related to ESPN+ and the upcoming launch of Disney+.

On the earnings call, Disney said that it expects investment in those ventures to negatively impact the segment's year-over-year operating income by $200 million in the second quarter.

Revenue in Disney's media networks business, which includes ESPN, rose 7 percent to $5.92 billion in the first quarter, compared to the year-earlier period, while its parks business was up 5 percent to $6.82 billion. Studio entertainment revenues fell 27 percent to $1.8 billion thanks to the strong performance of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" and "Thor: Ragnarok" in the prior-year quarter compared with "Mary Poppins Returns" and "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" this year.

The company expects its pending $71.3 billion acquisition of a majority of assets from Twenty-First Century Fox to aid its strategy in streaming. The deal is expected to provide Disney with additional media assets for its new streaming service and would also give Disney a larger stake in the streaming service Hulu.

But Disney's direct-to-consumer push comes with risks: It's hard to turn a profit on streaming services, which usually entail high content and technology costs but offer lower prices than traditional cable to attract consumers.

Disney said in a filing in January that its stake in Hulu and its ownership of BAMtech, the streaming technology that powers ESPN+, led to a loss of more than $1 billion in the 2018 fiscal year.

Disclosure: Comcast, which owns CNBC parent NBCUniversal, is a co-owner of Hulu.

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