By RYAN NAKASHIMA, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Walt Disney Co. said Tuesday that its net income rose 12 percent in the final quarter of 2011, as a slimmer movie slate and upbeat theme park results helped the company top earnings forecasts even while revenue gains were less than expected.
Net income in the October through December period rose to $1.46 billion, or 80 cents per share, from $1.30 billion, or 68 cents per share, a year earlier.
The results beat the 71 cents per share expected by analysts polled by FactSet.
Revenue in the company's fiscal first quarter ticked up 1 percent to $10.78 billion from $10.72 billion. The revenue figure fell short of the $11.20 billion expected by analysts.
Fees paid by distributors of ESPN rose, but advertising revenue at ESPN and broadcast network ABC was flat. Adjusting for the switch of the Rose and Fiesta college football bowl games to the second quarter and a delayed start to the pro basketball season, ESPN ad revenue rose 8 percent.
"There's real demand there so I'd say the advertising marketplace is healthy," CEO Bob Iger told analysts on a conference call.
Disney's movie studio revenue fell because it released fewer big films than in past years, in an effort to avoid write-downs on money-losers. Disney released "The Muppets" in the most recent holiday quarter, versus "Tangled" and "Tron: Legacy" a year ago. It also experienced a dip in sales of DVDs.
Interactive media revenue declined, too, as the company moved away from expensive console games and focused on cheaper-to-make social games. Iger said he believes the segment will finally turn a profit in the company's 2013 fiscal year.
Revenue at the company's parks and resorts division grew, thanks to higher spending and attendance at domestic theme parks, and the opening of Toy Story Land at Hong Kong Disneyland in November. Consumer products revenue grew.
The company is on track to spend several hundred million dollars more than a year ago on capital expenditures, including for its fourth cruise ship, the Disney Fantasy, which makes its maiden voyage next month.
Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo said Disney intends to continue promoting the company's brand by launching the Disney Channel and other spinoff channels, such as Disney XD and Disney Junior, in new countries.
"The Disney Channel is a franchise-builder, it's a Disney brand-builder," Rasulo said. Spending money to launch new channels in different countries, including a satellite channel targeting women and families in Japan next month, "makes those investments really pay back multifold," he said.
Shares fell 45 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $40.53 in after-hours trading following the release of results.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.