You may have heard that Disney has had a bit of a PR problem lately. That’s like saying the Seahawks have a QB problem. It’s an incredibly political understatement.
However, some of the worst quotes haven’t come from CEO Bob Chapek.
Instead, Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy, the money person at Disney, has said the quiet parts loud on multiple occasions.
So, when the CFO held a discussion on Wednesday, I covered my eyes but then peeked through my fingers to learn what she had to say.
Here’s a recap of Disney’s CFO’s discussion at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference 2022.
Comments and Interpretations
I should note in advance that I’m quoting or riffing off McCarthy’s comments during the conference.
Obviously, some of the interpretations may be incorrect. If you want to decide for yourself, here’s a transcript of the conversation.
The first request is, “…maybe you could talk about the investments you guys have made and sort of how you frame the growth prospects for Disney from here?”
McCarthy rehashes the events of the pandemic, noting how many of them directly impacted Disney. It’s something MickeyBlog has discussed frequently.
She adds that Disney recently increased its content budget to $33 billion, up $8 billion from the prior year.
Obviously, not all that money goes to Disney+, though. Instead, some of it involves licensing rights for sports programming on ABC and ESPN.
McCarthy actually explains that $11 billion or one-third of that capital goes toward sports licenses. Still, that leaves $22 billion for everything else.
Disney can make a LOT of television series and movies with, let’s say, $12 billion of that remaining $22 billion.
Interestingly, McCarthy stresses that Disney has maintained its capital expenditures (CapEx) at the parks.
The company famously saved itself nearly $1 billion by cutting CapEx at the pandemic’s start.
According to the CFO, Disney has invested heavily in the parks.
She points to Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, and Avengers Campus at Disneyland Paris as 2022 examples.
If you raised an eyebrow at that, I understand. Yes, those are projects Disney announced long ago that have stated during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the parks haven’t announced any massive plans beyond 2022. I think McCarthy just accidentally explained why.
The CFO refers to an upcoming bubble, an economic term that means the sudden rise of something like revenue or expenses.
McCarthy describes such an instance coming for Disney this summer. It’s the payment for the Disney Wish.
Here are her words on the subject:
“We do have a little bit of a bubble this year in our theme park CapEx, and that’s because we’re taking delivery of one of three cruise ships that we ordered a few years back.
The time horizon for those is a little bit lengthy. So, you got to get in front of it.”
In other words, Disney has apparently set aside cash regularly in anticipation of this expense,
Remember that the Disney Magic cost $400 million to build, and that was in 1996. So the inflation-adjusted 2022 price would be $670 million.
Industry insiders have pegged the cost of the Disney Wish at $900 million. Even a Fortune 30 company like Disney cannot cut a check that size easily.
Also, remember that Disney is currently building three ships. Now, let’s combine that knowledge with the reminder of the pandemic’s financial crunch.
I suspect Disney’s parks division suffered liquidity issues. These three cruise ships are likely a critical component. They worked as a bottleneck.
Hopefully, Disney will start announcing projects again at D23, which conveniently takes place less than two months after the Disney Wish launches its maiden voyage.
More Disney Hot Button Issues
The interviewer asks about the upcoming change to Disney+. Soon, the service will introduce an ad-supported version.
MickeyBlog will publish an explanatory article about this topic soon. Here’s the question:
“So, I wanted to ask you about as we talk about direct-to-consumer, Christine, the ad-supported tier of Disney+, why do you think this product strategy makes sense today?”
The CFO’s answer is this:
“(We) let the consumer decide how they want to consume content, how they want to experience things. And this goes right down the alley of having an ad-supported tier. Yes, it will be the lowest cost tier.”
In other words, Disney will happily display ads to customers who don’t mind them. Why? Disney makes a LOT more money that way. I’ll show you the math in that upcoming article.
Still, I know that this topic isn’t the one that intrigues you the most. You want to know about the parks.
Well, there was this question:
“The number that everyone brings up is the per capita spending growth of 40% over 2019 levels. What’s driving that? I don’t think it’s all ticketing….”
The answer is:
“I know we get a lot of focus on ticket prices, we have a wide range of ticket prices and not that dissimilar to what we’re doing in an ad-supported tier in Disney+, we have a very steady, stable entry level price for our parks that has not been raised since 2019.”
This circles back to the price increase article I wrote the other day. While the parks have undeniably increased in price, Disney has held the line on basic admission tickets.
I know that statement doesn’t seem true, but it is. The increases with general admission involve the Park Hopper/Park Hopper Plus options. Only the ceiling has been raised, not the floor.
The “Oh No, You Di’int” Quote
Finally, here’s the moment where the wheels come off. The CFO slips up after a perfectly rational, reasonable discussion about Disney finances.
Here’s the quote that defends Lightning Lane and Disney Genie+ as viable revenue streams:
“Some people have more time than they do money. And some people have more money than they do time.”
Yeah, I got nothing. Even if you think that, you should never say it.
Statements like that send the wrong message about how you perceive customers.
I think McCarthy means that guests with more money will pay more in exchange for shorter lines. The data absolutely supports that notion, at least so far.
Sadly, the phrasing has caused some fans online to hear their message as “The Poors can wait.”
I’m not about to get into that interpretation. However, I will say that if you read the entire discussion, it’s a fascinating insight into Disney’s strategy for the next few years.
Unfortunately, all those positives get drowned out by that one regrettable comment.
I sincerely hope that’s not Disney’s C-suite evaluation of its clientele.
Still, we did get more good news from the conversation. McCarthy indicated that character greetings will return to Disney parks soon.
So, Disney doesn’t plan to return park capacity to pre-pandemic levels. Instead, it will continue with the less crowded parks we’re seeing now.
So, this conversation was most full of wins, along with the one frustrating comment.