Over the past 3 years, Walt Disney Co (NYSE:DIS) stock hasn’t done much of anything. Plagued by cord-cutting, but buoyed by red-hot studio and park businesses, Disney stock has simply bounced between $90 and $120 since early 2015. The total stock price change in that time frame? Down 2%.
In other words, it’s safe to say Disney stock has not been a winner. The S&P 500 is up 30% over the past 3 years.
That is unusual. Over the past two decades, Disney stock has morphed into an unparalleled media giant and developed a reputation for dramatically outperforming the broader indices. Indeed, from 2000 to 2015, Disney stock gained more than 200% versus a 40% gain for the S&P 500.
From this perspective, I think the recent and dramatic under-performance in shares of DIS is an opportunity. Disney isn’t going anywhere any time soon. This is a company with a huge moat, global reach, enduring value, healthy financials and stable long-term growth prospects. All the company needs is a catalyst to turn sentiment around in the media business and kick-start what could be a huge move to the upside over the next several years.
When will that catalyst come? Maybe as early as this spring. And definitely by next year.
Streaming Catalysts Will Materialize Soon
If you remove the company’s Media Networks operating segment, everything else at Disney is firing on all cylinders.
The Parks & Resorts business is growing at a rapid rate (revenues +13% last quarter, operating profits +21%), driven by healthy increases in both attendance and average ticket price. The Studio Entertainment business keeps putting up record numbers, as Disney’s suite of Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars films continue to dominate the box office. And as goes the Studio Entertainment business, so goes the Consumer Products business (the better the movies the are, the more ancillary merchandise Disney can sell).
All together, those three segments comprise about $32 billion in revenue and $8 billion in operating profits.
But then there is the other $23 billion in revenues and $7 billion in operating profits that belongs to Disney’s struggling Media Networks business. This business has fallen victim to cord-cutting trends. Consumers are ditching their mega-expensive cable packages, and opting for slimmer, cheaper over-the-top options like Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX). The net result is lower viewership for Disney’s suite of media channels (ESPN, ABC, Disney Channel, etc.), and therefore, lower ad revenues.
The declines have not been small. Over the past 2 years, Media Networks operating profit has dropped from $7.8 billion to $6.9 billion — and it’s down another 12% to start this fiscal year.
But a fix is coming. Over the next two years, Disney is jumping head-first into the over-the-top streaming world. The company is first launching ESPN Plus, a $4.99/month live sports streaming service, this spring. It plans to follow that up with its own Disney-branded streaming service in 2019.
Demand for those streaming services will be huge. How do I know this? Just look at the company’s other businesses, which are operating at record high levels with record high demand. More people than ever are going to Disney theme parks. More people than ever are going to watch Disney movies at the movie theater. And more people than ever are buying Disney-branded products.
Clearly, demand for Disney content remains exceptionally robust.
Therefore, all Disney has to do to fix its cord-cutting problem is deliver the content through an on-demand, over-the-top streaming service that is more convenient and cheaper than cable. Just imagine a Netflix-like streaming service, priced at less than Netflix and populated with all the Star Wars movies, all the Marvel superhero movies, all the cute Pixar movies like Wall-E and Up, and all the Disney classics like Beauty & The Beast.
That is a pretty compelling value prop. Considering nearly 120 million people around the globe are paying around $10 per month for Netflix originals, I can easily see 120 million people around the globe paying $5 per month for all of Disney’s content.
Bottom Line on DIS Stock
A turning point in Disney stock is just around the corner. Once Disney’s streaming services launch, and investors see that demand for these streaming services is huge, Disney stock will start to make a huge move to the upside.
Buying now, before that big move higher, seems like the smart move.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long DIS and NFLX.