DISNEY ENJOYS DOUBLE DIGIT RISE IN PROFITS AS THEME PARKS AND RESORTS FLOURISH

Profits at Walt Disney jumped 11% in the first three months of 2017, bolstered by attendance at its theme parks and resorts.

Profits in the first three months of the year were $2.4bn. But the media giant’s revenue gains more muted, up 3% year-on-year to at $13.3bn (£10.3bn).

The firm remains on track for modest growth, in spite of subscriber losses at its sports television network ESPN.

“We’re extremely pleased with our results,” said Disney boss Robert Iger.

Disney’s business ranges widely, including movie studios such as Marvel and Pixar, theme parks, merchandise – even a cruise line.

Its television networks, which include ABC, Disney and the sports-focused ESPN, are the biggest earners, together accounting for more than 40% of the firm’s total revenue in the last financial year.

Pressure

However, ESPN has struggled with millions of subscriber losses and advertising declines in recent years, as live sports services have begun to feel the pressure from online television and viewer demands for cheaper cable packages.

This spring, ESPN laid off more than 100 people, including writers and on-air personalities.

Mr Iger said the company is confident of the demand for ESPN and pleased with the traction it is gaining on platforms such as television streaming service Hulu.

Revenue in the media unit increased 3% year-on year.

Mr Iger said the firm is focused on its mobile audience, aiming for an increasingly customised experience that allows fans to focus on news about their favourite teams.

The company plans to sell ESPN-branded streaming directly to viewers by the end of the calendar year, and that kind of personalisation is also likely to be part of the package, he added.

“Consumers will be able to buy the sports they want, when they want,” he said.

Mr Iger asked analysts for “a little bit of credit” for being candid with its thinking as it grapples with the changes.

“We wanted to signal that we had our eyes wide open about what was going on,” he said.

Revenue at Disney’s studio operations declined 1% year-on-year, as strong audiences at Beauty and the Beast couldn’t match the firm’s success last year with films such as Zootopia and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Strong visitor numbers at Disney theme parks and its new Shanghai resort in China helped lift the results, Mr Iger said. The park is on track to welcome its 10 millionth guest as it nears its first anniversary, he said.

“Attendance is outpacing our most optimistic projections,” he said.