UPDATE 2-Theme parks, ESPN lift Disney quarterly profit
By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES Nov 8 (Reuters) - Media giant Walt Disney Co posted higher quarterly profit on Thursday, lifted by an increase in attendance at theme parks and revenue gains at sports juggernaut ESPN.
Disney reported diluted earnings per share of 68 cents for the quarter that ended in September, in line with expectations from Wall Street analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Net income rose 14 percent to $1.2 billion in the quarter.
The media networks unit that houses ESPN, the Disney Channels and ABC posted operating income of $1.6 billion, a 7 percent gain from a year earlier. ESPN brought in higher rates from cable operators and reduced its marketing costs, Disney said.
The theme parks division gained from passengers spending more time on Disney cruise ships plus a boost in attendance at theme parks in Hong Kong, California and Paris, the company said.
Disney released results shortly after its Oct. 30 announcement that it had agreed to buy filmmaker George Lucas's Lucasfilm Ltd and its "Star Wars" franchise for $4.05 billion in cash and stock. The company promised at least three new "Star Wars" films, starting with Episode 7 in 2015.
Shares of the company dropped 2 percent on Thursday in after-hours trading to $49. Earlier, shares closed at $50.04 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Morningstar analyst Michael Corty said Disney produced "another solid quarter" particularly with its cable networks business, though revenue was below what some analysts expected.
"Disney has so many good things going for it that any weakness in the stock would be a buying opportunity," he said.
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