LOS ANGELES - Walt Disney Co. posted strong fourth-quarter earnings, again bolstered by its powerful film studio business. But with Disney, analysts are focused less on the company's quarterly earnings and more on the big moves it's making that are expected to reshape the entertainment industry, including its $71.3-billion purchase of 21st Century Fox and its much-anticipated streaming service.
Disney earned net income of $2.3 billion, or $1.48 per share, on revenue of $14.3 billion during the fourth quarter, the company said Thursday. That compared with a profit of $1.7 billion, or $1.07 per share, on revenue of $12.8 billion during the same quarter a year ago.
Disney's profits and revenue exceeded Wall Street expectations. Analysts polled by FactSet had estimated earnings of $1.34 a share, on sales of $13.7 billion, in the quarter that ended in September.
Studio entertainment continued to drive results for Disney. In the fourth quarter, the company's studio posted operating income of $596 million, more than double the prior-year quarter, thanks to hits such as "Incredibles 2" and "Ant-Man and the Wasp."
Though Disney's media networks business, which includes ESPN, has been a drag on earnings in recent years as the industry copes with the persistent challenges of cord cutting, operating income at the networks segment grew 4 percent to $1.5 billion in the quarter.
Parks and resorts jumped 11 percent to $829 million in operating income. Consumer products declined 10 percent to $337 million.
For the full fiscal year, Disney generated $59 billion in revenue, up 8 percent from the prior year. Net income increased 40 percent to $12.6 billion.
Disney has not shared much information about its streaming plans for the post-Fox era. But that probably won't stop analysts from probing executives for additional details during the company's conference call this afternoon.
Big questions remain about how the Burbank-based media giant will integrate 21st Century Fox assets into its empire after its blockbuster deal closes. Analysts are also closely watching for signals of how Disney will use Fox's entertainment business and its own lucrative brands, such as Pixar and Marvel, to build its much anticipated streaming service.
Both the Fox deal and the direct-to-consumer strategy are key components of Chief Executive Bob Iger's plan to compete with streaming companies, such as Netflix and Amazon, for market dominance and prepare the company for an increasingly digital market.
Disney's plans have started to take shape over the last few weeks. In October, the company said Fox executive Peter Rice would be put in charge of the company's TV business, including ABC, bringing with him high-profile Fox players Dana Walden and John Landgraf. Some prominent Fox film executives, including production head Emma Watts, will also join the new company.
Analysts are also expected to ask Iger about how the company will divest of Fox's 22 regional sports networks, which the company is required to do in exchange for regulatory approval.
Disney has been looking to clear international regulatory hurdles to complete its blockbuster purchase of much of Rupert Murdoch's entertainment properties. The European Union in Brussels said Tuesday that it had conditionally approved the deal, but that Disney must sell its stake in History, Lifetime, Crime + Investigation and Blaze television channels in Europe.
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