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Disney’s Iger Returns to Familiar Stage, but With Different Challenges

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Even in decline, traditional television remains Disney’s largest business, delivering $8.5 billion in operating income in the fiscal year that ended in October.

Disney and other old-line media companies are facing a simple equation that has proved astoundingly difficult to solve: Profit from traditional television is declining at a faster rate than streaming losses are moderating. In Disney’s case, traditional television earnings are expected to decline by $1.6 billion in 2023, while losses from streaming will abate by only about $900 million, according to Mr. Nathanson.

In November, Disney said that losses from its streaming portfolio totaled $1.5 billion from July through September, compared with $630 million a year earlier.

But Mr. Chapek, who led the company’s November earnings call, reiterated a promise that Disney+ would turn a profit by next October. Wall Street has been skeptical of that assertion, and Mr. Iger may revise it on Wednesday, along with guidance that Disney+ would have 215 million to 245 million global subscriptions by 2024. Disney+ currently has about 164 million worldwide.

Companies always try to put the rosiest spin possible on numbers when talking to analysts, shareholders and the news media on quarterly earnings conference calls. But the upbeat tone struck by Mr. Chapek in the November session did not sit well given the numbers that Disney was reporting. Along with widening losses in streaming, Disney had disappointing profit margins at its theme park business and missed Wall Street’s overall expectations for both revenue and net income, a rarity for the company. (When one senior Disney executive privately told Mr. Chapek before the call that his planned remarks were too positive, he called her Eeyore, the gloomy donkey from “Winnie the Pooh.”)

Mr. Iger will undoubtedly highlight some of Disney’s recent achievements. “Avatar: The Way of Water,” released by Walt Disney Studios, has generated $2.2 billion worldwide since it arrived in theaters on Dec. 16. Disney received more Oscar nominations last month (23) than any other company. Over the end-of-year holidays, Disney’s theme parks were gridlocked, easing fears about consumer belt-tightening.

“Despite the macro headwinds, the parks still feel incredibly strong,” Ms. Ehrlich said.

But Mr. Iger will also need to contend with a lackluster set of overall numbers, at least if analysts’ forecasts are correct. Analysts are expecting per-share earnings of about 79 cents from Disney, down from $1.06 for the same period a year ago, and revenue of $23.4 billion, up from $21.8 billion a year ago.

Brooks Barnes

2023-02-06 10:00:12

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