Disney’s Diverse Portfolio Shows Vulnerability

Yesterday, The Walt Disney
Company made the painful decision to cut 28,000 employees from its popular Theme Parks division, signaling that the entertainment giant’s forecast about the pandemic may be worsening and that any predictions for a robust return to normalcy at Anaheim’s Disneyland Park or Orlando’s Disney World, may be best reserved for Fantasyland.

Florida re-opened Disney World with much fanfare in July but in August, the company still reported over $3 billion in losses in the theme park sector.

Still, over the Labor Day weekend, both Disney World and the Universal Theme Parks in Orlando, recorded sold out attendance (albeit with pandemic-restricted consumer levels in each park.)

California’s Disneyland has remained closed since early March, only recently opening a small section of restaurants and shops in what’s called the “Downtown Disney District.” These stores are largely independently operated and aren’t significantly affected by the Disney company’s theme park cuts.

In 2019, pre-pandemic, Theme Parks represented Disney’s greatest revenue center, accounting for 26% of the company’s overall performance.

Of all of the legacy media brands – – The Walt Disney Company, Sony, Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros. and FOX (formerly known as 20th Century Fox, a company also recently acquired by the Walt Disney Company) – – Disney has the greatest variety of entertainment assets.

Beyond its “filmed entertainment segments” – broadcast and cable networks, the film studio, animation, Lucasfilm, Marvel, Pixar and its booming new streaming service, Disney+ — the company has cruise ships, hotels and theme park experiences, deeply associated with the company’s brand.

In a normal economy, such diversification would point to clever “brand extension” on behalf of Disney and in past years, its wide-reaching set of media businesses, properties and interests have helped keep the company at the top of the entertainment food chain.

Disney’s enviable galaxy of beloved name brands and franchises harmoniously integrated across the company’s wide-ranging platforms has served as a virtual master class in Intellectual Property revenue exploitation.

In other words, the Walt Disney Company is not only one of the most imaginative content providers on earth, but it’s equally creative at making the most of characters as historic as Mickey Mouse or as new as The Mandalorian, by monetizing each asset across every consumer experience possible.

Such ambition, however, comes with risk and when a global pandemic threatens all forms of “in person” entertainment, Disney’s unchecked business strategy faces an historic reckoning and thus, reevaluation.

Earlier this year, Netflix
achieved what some considered the unthinkable, unseating The Walt Disney Company in terms of market cap.

While many on Wall Street may not have been surprised at Netflix’s awesome success, traditional media watchers still found time to pause when considering that Reed Hasting’s invention had outperformed a brand not only as successful as the Disney Company, but Netflix achieved this feat in a fraction of the time it took for the Walt Disney Company to become the media world’s “Lion King” and it did it with a singular focus – – streaming.

The Walt Disney Company has been in existence since 1923; Netflix has been operating since 1997 and only began streaming original content in 2013, 90 years after Disney’s inception.

While Disney’s overall company has experienced severe losses (both in terms of personnel cut-backs and loss of major revenue), Netflix has flourished, benefiting from the pandemic as consumers largely avoid crowds and thus seek in-home entertainment options.

With the final quarter of 2020 soon closing out, entertainment historians and investment gurus will watch closely as the Walt Disney Company reconsiders its future.

It seems everyone touched by Disney – – its decision-makers, its workers and its fans – – has learned the hard way that it’s indeed a small world after all, and Covid-19 has impacted our world in a manner and with a scope few could ever predict.

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