3 Stocks to Watch in Media: Disney, Netflix, and Facebook

By Markets Fool.com

Media and entertainment stocks can often be riskier than other sectors of the market; however, there are also some exceptional opportunities for growth in this business, both in traditional media and the more innovative social-media companies. For investors looking to profit from this lucrative sector, here's whyDisney , Netflix , and Facebook are particularly exciting companies to watch in the years ahead.

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Disney
Disney is a fairly exceptional company in the media and entertainment industry. No company comes even close to Disney in areas such as brand power and intellectual properties. The company owns brands such as ABC, ESPN, Pixar, and Disney itself, which are among the most recognized and respected names in the business.

Disney also owns the rights to many of the most valuable fictional characters and franchises in the world, from Mickey Mouse to Darth Vader, going through an almost endless gallery of unique assets. Also, management has proved time and again its exceptional ability to produce major blockbusters by capitalizing on those assets, so industry know-how and top human talent provide additional layers of competitive strength for Disney.

Source: Disney.

On the back of these fundamental strengths, Disney is building an amazing track record of consistent financial performance: The last time Disney delivered earnings below Wall Street projections was in the first quarter of 2011. Sales during the last quarter grew 7% year over year, while earnings per share jumped by a healthy 14% versus the same period in 2014.

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The future looks brighter than ever for Disney. The company has a promising pipeline of new content ready to be launched over the coming quarters, with the star of the show being Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is scheduled to reach theaters on Dec. 18. Expectations for this movie are sky high, perhaps even intergalactic, as some analysts project that Disney could make as much as $3 billion from it.

Netflix
Netflix is considerably smaller than Disney, and the company operates in the relatively young online streaming industry, so Netflix is a riskier choice for investors than Disney. On the other hand, the company offers explosive potential for growth over the years ahead.

Netflix ended the first quarter of 2015 with a massive 62.3 million streaming members, an increase of 4.9 million new members from the same quarter in 2014. Members streamed 10 billion hours during the quarter, so engagement is at record levels, too. This shows that Netflix is consolidating its leadership position in online streaming, a remarkably exciting industry offering enormous room for growth over the middle and long term as more households cut their cable cords.

Source: Netflix.

Content is a crucial differentiating factor for Netflix, and the company's strategy of betting on original productions is paying off in spades, as it's allowing Netflix to deliver high-demand and unique titles for a convenient cost. Management wrote in the latest letter to investors, "Our original content strategy is playing out as we hoped, driving lots of viewing in an economic way for Netflix while bolstering the positive perception of our brand and service around the world."

Because of booming demand for the service, management has recently announced an acceleration of its international expansion plans; Netflix is planning to broaden its presence from nearly 50 countries to 200 markets by 2017. Cowen Research recently issued a remarkably optimistic forecast, estimating that Netflix could reach 104 million international subscribers by 2020. That would mean nearly five times the company's current international subscriber base of 20.9 million as of the end of the first quarter.

Facebook
In case you haven't heard, consumers all over the planet are spending a growing share of their time and attention online, connected through multiple screens of different sizes. Advertising money needs to go in the same direction as consumers, and Facebook is one of the biggest beneficiaries from this trend.

Facebook is a textbook example of the network effect at play as a major source of competitive advantage. The bigger the platform, the more valuable the connections and interactions it provides, and this attracts even more users to Facebook over time.

As of March, Facebook had 1.44 billion average monthly users, a 13% year-over-year increase. If it were a country, Facebook would be bigger than China.

Source: Facebook.

Daily active users are growing at a faster rate than monthly ones, so engagement and activity are moving in the right direction. Facebook ended the last quarter with 936 million average daily users, a 17% increase versus the same period in the prior year. The company is also doing quite well in the important mobile segment. Facebook has 1.25 billion mobile monthly users, a 24% annual increase.

Facebook is investing tons of money for growth, which is dragging on profit margins. On the other hand, revenue growth is truly explosive. Sales grew 42% during the last quarter, reaching $3.54 billion. A growing user base, increased activity per user, and shrewd monetization of user activity should remain powerful growth drivers for Facebook in the coming years.

The article 3 Stocks to Watch in Media: Disney, Netflix, and Facebook originally appeared on Fool.com.

Andrs Cardenal owns shares of Apple, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Facebook, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Facebook, Netflix, 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.