* Disney profit rises 30 pct in fourth qtr
* Media, parks businesses strong
* Shares rise 2 percent after hours
By Lisa Richwine
Nov 10 Walt Disney Co unveiled strong
results that trumped Wall Street's expectations as advertisers
spent more at cable networks like ESPN and consumers kept going
to theme parks despite a rough economy.
The operator of networks ESPN and ABC, a movie studio and
theme parks reported a better-than-expected 7 percent gain in
fiscal fourth-quarter revenue and a 30 percent jump in net
income, spurring a 2.5 percent gain in its shares.
The results reassured investors, some of whom had been
nervous about the toll that economic uncertainty would have on
consumer spending, and then on the world's largest
entertainment, leisure and consumer conglomerate.
Disney has produced steady gains quarter after quarter
under Chief Executive Bob Iger, who announced last month he
will step down as CEO after March 2015. But it reported a rare
revenue miss in its May results, and spooked investors again
last quarter with warnings about higher costs at ESPN and other
Going forward, Disney said it plans to replace NBA games
with college basketball and other live sports programming as an
NBA labor dispute drags on. Any decrease in ad dollars should
be more than offset by savings from not having to pay rights
fees for NBA games, Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo said.
"I do not believe it will affect us to the negative
financially if the season in fact does not end up happening,"
Rasulo told analysts on a conference call.
Iger, meanwhile, defended a recent deal with the National
Football League to keep "Monday Night Football" on ESPN through
2021 at a cost of about $1.9 billion a year.
"There's no question it was an expensive deal," Iger said.
But he added the agreement provided long-term certainty of
quality content to viewers and advertisers, plus expanded
digital rights. The NFL "creates value for ESPN" and "grows
customer engagement," Iger said.
He also said terms for soccer's World Cup and the Olympics
"didn't meet our standards" and the company "couldn't justify
the costs others paid for it."
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Calling his remaining tenure "not as brief as people
suggest," Iger said a main goal was to take advantage of new
technology to showcase the company's programming. "It's a huge
strategic priority for us," he said.
Qaurterly results were generally solid across the company,
showing strength at the media and theme park units that are
sensitive to swings in the economy, analysts said.
"They were solidly in line on balance," said Janney
Montgomery Scott analyst Tony Wible, adding the parks unit
appeared "relatively healthy" despite concerns about consumer
sentiment amid high unemployment and weak economic growth.
The parks and resorts group reported an 11 percent revenue
gain to $3.1 billion.
Disney had been expected to show stronger results after
rivals including Comcast Corp , Time Warner Inc and News Corp reported gains propelled by a
healthy advertising market.
The media networks unit, the company's largest which
incorporates sports channel ESPN and the ABC broadcast network,
posted a 9 percent gain in revenue to $4.8 billion.
The studio and entertainment division was the laggard among
Disney's main business arms for the quarter, with revenue
sliding 8 percent to just under $1.46 billion in the quarter.
"The Lion King 3D" and "The Help" were hits but faced tough
comparisons with last year's "Toy Story 3."
Revenue jumped 7 percent to $10.43 billion, exceeding
estimates for $10.36 billion.
Net income for the quarter rose 30 percent to $1.1 billion.
Earnings per share came in at 58 cents, ahead of analyst
expectations of 54 cents, according to Thomson Reuters
Disney shares rose 2.5 percent to $35.50 after hours on
Thursday, up from an earlier close of $34.64 on the New York