Disney's Wonderful World Of Spinoffs And Profits

Walt Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color” has exploded into so many hues that it takes an earnings call to remind us of the full spectrum of its expanding universe. Yesterday’s chat discussing fourth-quarter and full-year earnings for fiscal 2013 with CEO Robert Iger & Co. is a case in point. 

“Disney ended its fiscal year in blockbuster style on Thursday, reporting solid growth in fourth-quarter profit, unveiling a substantial Netflix deal and savoring a stock price that has climbed 35% over the last 12 months,” Brook Barnes reports in the New York Times. “Its challenge now is to keep the momentum going.”



That, of course, has been the challenge since “Steamboat Willie” first pulled out of port in the Twenties with a Bronx cheer (1:11) at the prevailing behemoths of the day. Here’s how it intends to do that going forward after reporting “net income of $1.54B, +11.0% vs. the period last year, on revenue of $11.57B, +7.3%,” as Deadline Hollywood’s Davis Lieberman relates

“Disney's earnings release came just hours after the company made a splash with video delivery service Netflix Inc., announcing a long-term agreement for several new live-action series based on Marvel Entertainment comic book characters,” reports Daniel Miller in the Los Angeles Times. Starting in 2015, “characters Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage will get their own shows. Each will receive a 13-episode story arc, to be followed by a miniseries based on Marvel's ‘The Defenders’ franchise.”

On the disappointing side, Iger said that “Star Wars: Episode VII” — “the first new film in the science-fiction saga since [Disney] agreed to acquire Lucasfilm for $4 billion last year” — was being pushed back to December 2015 to “allow the creative team the time to make a great film,” the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Fritz reports.

It was originally scheduled for Summer 2015 but, points out Fritz, a few months’ “delay is significant as it pushes ‘Episode VII’ into Disney's fiscal 2016 and its release isn't only expected to generate massive box-office revenue, but a number of toys and other merchandise.”

“Disney's Interactive unit turned around in the quarter, earning $16 million after losing $76 million a year ago, partially on sales of its new Disney Infinity console game,” reports Reuters’ Lisa Richwine. “The company has sold more than 1 million Infinity starter packs.” 

“ESPN is still the company's rising star, as its sports programs are eagerly sought by pay-TV providers and can extract higher ad rates,” writesUSA Today’s Roger Yu, even though higher costs and an accounting adjustment drove down operating income lower for the year. 

And let’s not forget theme parks, which “again are making billions of dollars in profits, thanks to charging visitors more than ever for tickets, food, hotel rooms, and merchandise, as Robert Niles posts on the Theme Park Insider. “Operating profit for the company’s parks division, which includes Disney Cruise Line, increased 15%, to $571 million,” reports the NYT’s Barnes.

Disney’s first mainland China theme park, Shanghai Disneyland — “the centerpiece of its Shanghai Disney Resort which is targeted to open in Pudong at the end of 2015 — is on schedule and it announced “it will open “the world’s largest Disney Store” nearby, Deadline London’s Nancy Tartaglione reported last month.

Disney has always adapted. Look at the credit roll for a “Wonderful World of Color” episode that aired in the Sixties. It was shot on Eastman Kodak film and aired on NBC, which it switched to from ABC because it was first network to advance past black-and-white programming.

And Disney usually gets its way, in the spirit of ol’ Walt.

Just consider “Saving Mr. Banks,” which opens in theaters “everywhere” on Dec. 20, and kicked off AFI Fest in Los Angeles last night. “The Disney film … chronicles the two arduous weeks Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his creative team spent convincing unenthused English author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to relinquish rights to her novel Mary Poppins in 1961,” writesUSA Today’s Andrea Mandell.

“Mary Poppins” is No. 25 on Box Office Mojo’s list of All Time Domestic Grosses Adjusted for Ticket Inflation, a 50th Anniversary Blu-ray version will hit the stores in time for Christmas, the musical adaptation is still faring well on Broadway seven years into a revival and now Walt Disney Studios is not only poised to make money on a movie about how Walt Disney made money but is also burnishing its creative image in Lalaland. 

“Walt Disney acts in a very un-Disney way. He slugs back Scotch. He uses a mild curse word. He wheezes because he smokes too much,” the New York Times’ Barnes wrote in a fascinated look at the making of the film a few weeks ago. He went on to point out that “its existence says something big about Disney: despite its well-earned reputation for aggressively managing its image, it can get out of the way and let filmmakers lead.”

Right after Iger, who clearly clears the path.

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