It has been lonely being a bull on Walt Disney Co (NYSE:DIS) stock. I’ve been pounding on the table saying near-term cord-cutting concerns are overdone, and that DIS stock will be just fine long term once the company pivots toward and makes a big push in streaming.
The markets haven’t agreed thus far. DIS stock hasn’t done anything other than grind gradually lower over the past year.
But DIS stock may be nearing a critical inflection.
Disney just launched ESPN Plus, which is part one of two in the company’s major pivot toward the streaming and internet TV markets (part two is a Disney-branded streaming service set to launch next year).
I expect ESPN Plus to kick-start Disney’s direct-to-consumer (DTC) growth narrative, and for that growth narrative to gradually take the spotlight away from the company’s cord-cutting headaches.
In other words, ESPN Plus isn’t the savior for DIS. But it is the start of a new era for Disney which could ultimately save this stock.
Here’s a deeper look.
What Is ESPN Plus?
ESPN Plus is Disney’s streaming version of ESPN, minus all the core ESPN offerings. Offered at $4.99 per month, ESPN Plus is a mobile app which allows consumers to live stream ESPN content, namely sporting events.
But the sporting events it offers don’t overlap with traditional offerings (think ESPN and ESPN 2), so you don’t get the big sporting events. NBA playoff games? Nope. Marquee NFL games? Nope. But you do get the array of college games, golfing events, tennis matches, rugby matches, MLB games and NHL games that aren’t normally on ESPN or ESPN 2.
Disney has structured ESPN Plus this way because it doesn’t want ESPN Plus to cannibalize its existing ESPN media business. It simply wants it to act as a supplement for die-hard and niche sports fans.
If ESPN Plus grows, then, it won’t be at the expense of the traditional cable business. As such, Disney is giving itself exposure to the hyper-growth streaming markets while also doing its best to preserve the bread and butter that is its Media Networks business.
What Will Disney Look Like in a Few Years?
ESPN Plus is only part one. The Disney-branded streaming service, set to launch next year, is part two. It will be much bigger and broader in scope, but it will likely operate in a similar fashion: a streaming service designed as a supplement to, not a replacement for, the traditional cable offering.
As such, here’s what will happen over the next several years.
Declines in the Media Networks business will persist due to cord cutting but also moderate because Disney will grow in step with new over-the-top television offerings like YouTube TV and DirecTV Now.
There will big growth in the company’s newly founded DTC business that will more than offset any persistent weakness in the Media Networks business. I reiterate that Disney produces and owns the best content in the world, and therefore, once the company figures out distribution in streaming, most of the company’s problems will go away.
The Studio Entertainment business will benefit from massive growth over the next two years thanks to a combination of Star Wars movies and Infinity War movies (the first Infinity War movie is shaping up to break box office records in a big way).
The Parks business always does well and should do particularly well alongside a booming Studio business.
Overall, then, the Disney of tomorrow will look a lot stronger than the Disney of today. That makes for a favorable setup to buy DIS stock at currently discounted prices (at 14 times earnings versus historical average of 20 times).
Bottom Line on DIS Stock
This isn’t the most exciting stock to own here and now. But DIS stock offers exceptional risk-reward asymmetry at current levels.
Near-term downside looks mitigated due to already-depressed expectations and a relatively cheap valuation. But long-term upside looks promising thanks to DTC business ramp.
As such, near-term risk looks small, but long-term reward looks big. I like that setup.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long DIS.