2 Things to Watch When Walt Disney Co Reports Earnings on Feb. 3

By Markets Fool.com

Disney is set to post fiscal first-quarter results after the closing bell on Tuesday, Feb. 3. With the stock up 30% this past year, investors are looking for The House of Mouse to manage a strong close to calendar 2014. Wall Street targets have revenue and profits both improving on the prior year's record results.

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Metric Q1 2014 Q1 2015 (change)
Earnings per share $1.04 $1.07 (3%)
Revenue $12.3 billion $12.9 billion (5%)

Source:S&P Capital IQ. Q1 2015 is Wall Street's consensus forecast.

Forget movies, follow the dolls
Disney's studio business draws most of the press attention these days. Sure, that unit has been on a roll with hits like Frozen and Guardians of the Galaxy powering massive growth. In fact, movie profits more than doubled last year to $1.5 billion. And that was with no Pixar film in the lineup. Looking ahead, Disney has 21 tentpole movies slated to launch in the next three years as compared to just 13 over the past three. Clearly, the film business will be a big part of the company's future.

Image source: Marvel.

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However, Disney's consumer product division could steal the show in this quarterly report. Frozen-themed toys and products were some of the most popular holiday purchases at major retailers from Wal-Martto Disney's own shops around the world. And here's another data point to consider: Toy giant Mattellast week booked a 12% drop in Barbie sales over the holiday quarter. There's no big mystery about which brand of toys filled family shopping carts instead.

Disney's consumer products division improved sales by 11% in 2013's holiday quarter while profit jumped up 24% to $430 million. Look for the House of Mouse to log even better gains in 2014's final quarter.

Changing television trends
Meanwhile, if there's not-so-good news in Disney's announcement it could come from its biggest division, the cable and broadcast networks. That unit was the only one of Disney's five operating segments to post lower profits last quarter and came in last place in terms of sales growth. The outlook isn't much better for the quarter that just closed.

We know that the TV advertising industry has been flat lately. Ratings are creeping lower overall, as more people switch off live television and tune into on-demand and Internet-delivered shows. At the same time national advertisers are directing greater portions of their budgets into digital channels. Facebook, for example, soaked up $3.6 billion of ad spending in the fourth quarter, up 60% from the prior year. That leaves fewer ad dollars for the broadcast networks to fight over.

Image Source: ESPN.

The good news for investors is that Disney has the ESPN empire to help cushion the blow from softer TV ad revenue. Just this month that channel set fresh ratings records in the college football championship game, where 30-second spots reportedly went for $1 million apiece.

Not only has ESPN locked down college football playoffs for the next decade, but it also has a deep portfolio of long-term rights with the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball. Those deals will send programing costs higher for Disney, but the investment is likely to pay off. Demand for live sports shows like this months' college football hit should stay strong well into the future.

The article 2 Things to Watch When Walt Disney Co Reports Earnings on Feb. 3 originally appeared on Fool.com.

Demitrios Kalogeropoulos owns shares of Facebook and Walt Disney. His favorite Marvel character right now is Hulk. But he's trying to keep an open mind about Ant Man, too. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook, Mattel, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.