Forget About Movies, This Business Is Driving Disney's Earnings

When most people think of Disney , they think of the company's amazing blockbuster moviehits such as Frozen and Guardians of the Galaxy, or the upcoming Star Wars VII set to come out later this year. If you haven't dug into Disney's earnings before, you might think movies are the mainrevenue driver forthis company, but they aren't even close.

Disney's Florida theme park. Photo: Disney.

Studio entertainment, the segment of the company responsible for making movies, makes up only about 15% of the company's gross annual revenue.Instead, the company's second-biggest of its five segments is the one to be the most excited about: theme parks and resorts. This segment makes about twice as much revenue and income for Disney as studio entertainment. And while it's not the largest segment, it has the most potential for future growth.

The largest segment for the company by revenue, bringing in about half of the company's total revenue, is its network and cable segment, which is responsible for its cable networks and broadcasting, such as Disney Channel and ESPN. However, this segment, while massive and with its own opportunities in the future, is relatively stagnant overall.

While Disney does have an exciting movie lineup in 2015, theme parks and resorts still look to be the segment with the best chance to keep driving major returns for the company for the next few years.Here's why it's been so successful so far and what the next few years will bring.

Why Disney theme parks are thrivingIt's easy to say that Disney has the best theme parks in the world by pointing to how many agree, such as the Themed Entertainment Association, which ranks Disney parks as having nine of the world's top 10 theme parks, based on a rating system that looks at user reviews, personal experiences, and attractions.

But we don't have to go just with opinion. We can let the numbers do the talking. Theme parks proved to be Disney's highest-growth segment in fiscal 2014, with 20% income growth year over year. Disney's annual revenue from theme parks worldwide is about six times as high as the runner-up, Comcast'sUniversal Studios theme parks.

The really incredible part of Disney's 2014 theme park success is that much of its major income growth in this segment came from the company's U.S. parks that have been around for more than 50 years. These parks are still seeing renewed growth in new visitors and increased customer spend per visit.

Disney is by far the dominating player in the theme-park industry. But much more exciting than the incredible success the company has seen lately at its existing parks is Disney's next theme park, which is set to be the highest visited park yet.

With the most to gainDisney's existing parks are already proving they can continue to gain through new attractions, increased per-customer spending, and record-breaking visitation both domestically and internationally. This is where the studio entertainment segment is very important to the company, in that even though it's a much smaller segment by revenue, it does create the characters and "magic" that drive many of the new attractions, themes, and new visitors to these theme parks. In the coming year, expect that guest spending and increased attendance will continue to drive even higher income as Disney continues to capitalize on its characters such as those from Frozen and Star Wars.

Yet the reason this segment is about to see even more profits is Disney's coming park in Shanghai. While the park was recently pushed back to open in early 2016, instead of late 2015 as was originally planned, the wait looks as if it'll be worth it.

Image: Disney.

Disneyland Shanghai, the first Disney resort to open on the Chinese mainland, is going to be even more impressive than Disney's biggest park to date, Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Fla. While the Magic Kingdom draws nearly 20 million visitors a year, Disneyland Shanghai is anticipated to have 25 million guests during its first full year.

Disney's Shanghai resort, at a total investment so far of $5.5 million, will cover nearly 1,000 acres and is planned to feature a typical Magic Kingdom-style theme park, as well as multiple hotels (one announced to be themed as Toy Story, a first of its kind). Other attractions will include large retail, dining, and entertainment venues, as well as more formal Broadway-style theaters and outdoor venues.

When this park opens in China, expect that the wait (and current lowered income for international theme-park operations because of costs incurred from this investment) will pay off for Disney and its investors. With the amazing theme-park results we saw in the past year, it looks as if the next few years will only get better.

The article Forget About Movies, This Business Is Driving Disney's Earnings originally appeared on

Bradley Seth McNew owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of 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.

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