Not to be upstaged by any convention or film festival, Disney (DIS) has its own biannual conference known as D23. The event allows Disney a chance to show off new movies and television shows, all in their own backyard. This year was no different with the 2013 D23 Expo, which offered a look at the road ahead for Disney and furthered a bullish stance on the media giant.
Disney made quite a splash at the D23 convention with casting announcements and new movies centered around the company's animation division. Here is a look at some upcoming movies from Disney:
· "Toy Story of TERROR!" - Disney is set to take one of its biggest franchises to television in an upcoming 2013 Halloween special on ABC. This is a huge move for the company and could set up well for future television specials centered around beloved Disney characters.
· "Frozen" - 2013 release from director Chris Buck ("Tarzan")
· "The Pirate Fairy" - part of the popular Disney Fairies line that will see Tom Hiddleston (Loki in "Thor") voice a young captain Hook, spring 2014 release
· "The Good Dinosaur" - new movie from Pixar will be released May 30th 2014. Movie centers around the thought of dinosaurs never becoming extinct, should be a huge franchise and could do well as a multiple movie franchise and consumer product giant.
· "Planes: Fire & Rescue" - set to be released on July 18, 2014, this is the sequel to "Planes", which is currently in theaters. "Planes", a spin-off of "Cars" that was set to be a direct to video launch got a run at theaters and made $22.5 million in its opening weekend. While this is down from the success of the "Cars" franchise, Disney believes the brand can become a powerful consumer product line in the same fashion as "Cars".
· "Legend of the Never Beast" - another movie from the Disney Fairies line will see a release in spring 2015
· "Inside Out" - Pete Docter ("Up", "Monsters Inc.") will direct this movie with a scheduled June 19, 2015 release date
· "Finding Dory" - the sequel to the high grossing "Finding Nemo" finally has some casting news and a release date of November 25, 2015. The movie will see Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy voice the parents of Dory (Ellen DeGeneres).
· "Zootopia" - This interesting concept centers around a world where animals live and people never existed. The movie, which will be released in 2016, had some buzz at D23 with several character bios and clever character names.
From the animated lineup, I think the vast number of films and the "Finding Dory" news were the most important. This looks like a strong lineup of original ideas and several sequels to successful concepts. "Finding Dory" adds to an exciting 2015 slate of blockbusters and could see huge box office revenue. Back in 2003, "Finding Nemo" went on to gross $380.8 million domestically and a worldwide total of $921.7 million. The movie remains the second highest grossing Pixar movie (behind "Toy Story 3") and fourth highest grossing animated movie of all-time. This 2015 follow-up could hit the $1 billion mark with a built in audience.
This brings up an interesting point of the year 2015. In that year, I believe Disney will see a huge boost to all segments with its strong line-up. Among them are the following blockbusters, which could all hit the $1 billion worldwide box office mark:
· "Star Wars VII"
· "The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron"
· "Finding Dory"
· "Pirates of the Caribbean 5"
Marvel, one of Disney's most famous acquisitions, was also a centerpiece of the event. Disney chose not to give up too much information or first looks at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con, saving them instead for this company event. The release schedule for Marvel looks like this:
· 2013: "Thor 2"
· 2014: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", "Guardians of the Galaxy"
· 2015: "The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron", "Ant-Man"
· 2016: Unannounced, one day in May blocked off
· 2017: Unannounced, one day in May blocked off
I was hoping that Disney would announce its plans for Marvel movies in 2016 and 2017. Disney has wisely announced release dates in May of both years, which has been a strong month for comic book blockbusters. Perhaps, with all the animated movie announcements, Disney is choosing to wait to discuss Marvel plans for Phase III, to boost shares at a later point down the road. One announcement concerning Marvel did come in the form of "Big Hero 6". Based on a Marvel comic series, "Big Hero 6" will be an animated comic book style 3D movie coming in November of 2014.
The biggest disappointment from Disney at D23 centered around information on Star Wars, or rather lack of no information on Star Wars. The popular franchise, which became part of Disney after the Lucasfilm acquisition, was not a focus point of the event. CEO Bob Iger did hint at how happy he was of the acquisition with this, "Disney, Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm all under one roof, even I have to admit that's pretty cool." The lack of Star Wars news shouldn't come as a big surprise as "Star Wars VII" is set to be released in 2015 and is still casting. Similar to the Marvel Phase III news, Disney shares could also see a huge boost once more details are announced on "Star Wars VII", including plot details and casting information.
The 2013 D23 event was especially important for Disney investors and potential investors as it highlighted the company's studio entertainment business segment. In fiscal 2013, this has been an underperforming segment. In the first nine months of the fiscal year, studio entertainment revenue has grown only 1% to $4.5 billion, compared to larger gains of 6% in media networks, 9% in parks and resorts, and 8% in consumer products. In the most recent third quarter, the segment saw a decline of 2% and saw operating profits decline 36%, due in large part to the underperforming "The Long Ranger" results.
D23 is a huge event for Disney and investors should take note. Disney just announced a huge lineup of movies over the next couple of years. These films should be enough to power growth in the studio entertainment division. With possible Star Wars and Marvel news down the road, Disney has a huge slate of films.
Despite approaching all-time high prices for Disney shares, the company trades at around 16 times estimated fiscal 2014 earnings. I am a little hesitant to use this as a valuation number, because I believe 2015 is certainly the year for investors to watch. Disney will have new movies in its biggest franchises, and several new animated properties along the way. Revenue continues to grow in other business segments, and the company's unprofitable interactive unit is about to get a lift from "Disney Infinity". It's time to get behind Mickey Mouse and go long Disney.