Walt Disney Co.’s sports division could attract outside investors at a valuation of up to $22 billion, according to analysts, based on financial results that were made public for the first time.
(Bloomberg) — Walt Disney Co.’s sports division could attract outside investors at a valuation of up to $22 billion, according to analysts, based on financial results that were made public for the first time.
Disney provided the results for its flagship ESPN network and related channels on a standalone basis in a filing on Wednesday. Earlier this year, Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger reorganized Disney into three divisions: entertainment, sports and parks. In July, he said the Burbank, California-based entertainment giant is seeking an investor to help accelerate ESPN’s transition to streaming from traditional TV.
Disney shares were little changed at $84.36 on Thursday after analysts wrote that ESPN’s margins were lower than expected. Profit at Disney’s sports TV networks fell 20% to $1.48 billion through the first nine months of fiscal 2023, according to the filing. Sales declined 1.3% to $13.2 billion.
Although earnings are contracting at the sports media unit, the numbers indicate a still fairly profitable operation, even amid the growing challenges of a weaker TV advertising market and subscribers canceling cable TV in favor of streaming services like Netflix Inc.
The division generated operating income of $2.71 billion on sales of $17.3 billion in the previous fiscal year, Disney said.
The numbers support a valuation of up to $22 billion, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Geetha Ranganathan said in a research note.
What Bloomberg Intelligence Says:
“Disney’s disclosure of ESPN’s standalone financials highlights the urgency for attracting investors and making an aggressive direct-to-consumer pivot.”
— Geetha Ranganathan, senior industry analyst
— Read the note here
In this year’s third quarter, the division, which also included results for the ESPN+ streaming service, posted profit of $854 million on sales of $4.3 billion. More than half of that revenue, or $2.6 billion, came from cable and satellite TV subscribers. Some $1.15 billion was from advertising.
India’s Star channels offset ESPN’s earnings. Star lost $444 million through nine months of this fiscal year, while the domestic ESPN channels earned $1.89 billion. Disney won the traditional broadcast TV rights for the Indian Premier League cricket tournament in a bidding war last year. More recently, the company has been looking to sell its Indian TV business.
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Disney acquired ESPN through the purchase of Capital Cities/ABC in 1996. At the time, it was an afterthought to the ABC network, but the business, with its twin revenue streams from advertising and cable subscriber fees, became a huge source of profit.
ESPN, like other traditional TV channels, has been challenged by subscribers canceling their cable subscriptions and the need to continue to invest in ever more expensive sports rights.
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