Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Another Down Quarter for Disney, but Cable’s OK

mickey-and-friend1A bad quarter for Disney, but it could have been worse–at least Wall Street was expecting it.

After factoring out one-time charges and write-offs, Bob Iger and company earned 43 cents a share on revenue of $8.1 billion. Wall Street had been looking for 40 cents and $8.15 billion, respectively.

Iger: “We had a difficult second quarter due to the weak economy and other factors.”

The bright spot for the entertainment conglomerate is the same one you see at every media giant these days: Disney’s cable business. Revenue at ESPN and the Disney Channel was up four percent and operating income was up five percent. That’s because those powerhouse channels have locked in payments from cable operators that show up regardless of the economy’s state.

And that’s why you won’t see (much) programming from those channels on Hulu–there’s no way Iger is going to rile up the cable operators who pay for that programming by running it for free online.

Disney’s interactive group, which includes videogames and sites like Club Penguin, but not revenue from ABC.com and sales from Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes store, saw revenue decline 17 percent, and operating income drop two percent.

Here’s the breakdown by segment (click to enlarge):
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Write-down watch: Disney took $203 million in “impairment charges”–accountant-speak for “the stuff we bought back then isn’t worth much now.” That includes “$108 million related to radio FCC licenses and $46 million related to an investment in an Indian media company.”

This follows on the heels of a lousy February quarter in which the company didn’t hit expectations.

Disney (DIS) is the first of several big media companies to report this week. News Corp. (NWS) weighs in tomorrow, followed by CBS (CBS) on Thursday.

The Disney earnings call is starting now. I’ll listen in and update as warranted.

Disney CFO Tom Staggs on ad market, economy: “While we believe the pace of decline has generally stabilized, we believe ad buyers and consumers remain cautious.”

During Q&A, Iger has a long monologue about online philosophy, Hulu, etc., but my Webcast cut him off before he was finished. Don’t know whether to blame Disney or Time Warner Cable (TWC) for that one….

In any event, here’s my paraphrase of what I could get down, with a smattering of quotes:

“We found that as we move product to the Web…at least [with regard to] piracy that we’re aware of, there’s been a stabilization….We feel that if we don’t put it online…it will be demanded by consumers, and they’ll find ways.”

Research on cannibalization and piracy in general is inconclusive and some research conflicts with other research we’ve seen. “Some of this is instinct, by the way. It’s not all based on research.”

We feel media consumption is moving to the Web and that media consumption may be expanding. We think we’re better being online than not being online. We realize that Web monetization doesn’t exist yet, at least not at TV-like levels, but we believe that eventually it will.

A lot of the consumption that we’re seeing is incremental because it’s a different demographic. The average age of consumers watching ABC.com and itunes is younger than the average age of those watching network TV. The Hulu demographic is generally younger than prime-time network demographics. So we don’t believe it’s cannibalization.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work