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Disney profit and revenue beat Street, shares rise

Walt Disney Co posted a larger-than-expected rise in both quarterly profit and revenue, as strong results from its cable business helped it overcome a disappointing stretch for its film studio.

Shares of Disney -- which earlier announced that its finance chief, Tom Staggs, and the head of its parks division, Jay Rasulo, will soon swap jobs -- rose 3.3% after the company reported its earnings.

The management shift is part of a broader shake-up in the top ranks of Disney in recent months, and analysts said it could give Staggs the type of broader experience we would need to someday succeed Chief Executive Bob Iger.

Even as Disney is shifting executives, it is performing far better than many expected at soldiering through big drops in spending by advertisers and consumers.

That is partly due to cost cutting -- something Iger promised the company would continue to address.

But it also reflects relatively healthy sales. In the most recent quarter revenue climbed 4.5% to $9.87 billion, setting it apart from News Corp, Viacom Inc. and Time Warner Inc, all of which posted sales declines. What is more, Disney's revenue surpassed analyst expectations of $9.28 billion.

“They crushed forecasts, based on very strong cable results and material outperformance on the parks,” said David Bank, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets.

Sales at Disney's media network division, the largest in terms of revenue and profit and home to its lucrative cable networks, rose 14% on the back of stronger results from ESPN and growth at the worldwide Disney Channels.

Disney executives also said TV advertising is starting to recover -- which would only further support sales in the media networks division. The market for last-minute TV commercial spots is up about 20% from contracts that marketers signed for longer-term deals, a signal of rising demand.

In the parks division, which encompasses Disney's theme parks, resorts, cruise lines, and vacation and time share operations, operating income fell 17%. But that was nonetheless seen as a positive, given it was less than analysts had expected due to the pullback in consumer spending.

Still, Iger sounded several cautious notes during a call with investors and analysts. “While there are some signs of recovery, the environment remains challenging and we're managing accordingly,” he said.

He pointed to Disney's movie business as one area of concern. In September, Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook abruptly departed.

“As our numbers indicate, our studio had an extremely disappointing year in 2009,” Iger said. “This is primarily due to the performance of our live action slate but we also see challenges to the motion picture industry business model and we are taking steps to address them.”

Overall, net income in the fiscal fourth quarter, ended October 3, rose to $895 million, or 47 cents per share, from $760 million, or 40 cents a share, in the year-ago fourth quarter.

Excluding items, the company earned 46 cents a share compared with 44 cents in the prior year quarter, and beating analysts' average forecasts for 41 cents a share on that basis, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. (Reuters)