Could Disney Ever Fail?

By Elizabeth Grey

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 8.59.17 PM[Image source: Joe Penniston]

Disney has come a long way from humble beginnings. In 1923 Walt Disney produced Alice's Wonderland, a short silent film based on Alice in Wonderland. Today Disney is a behemoth; encompassing everything from the animated films that made it famous to its very own venture capital arm. As it stands, Disney is the 56th largest company in the world by market capitalisation, so could it ever fail?

The graph below shows the company's operating income since 2000.

It shows a relatively bumpy ride for Disney, which isn't all about films, but includes musical recordings and even live stage shows such as The Lion King, which took £600,000 in a week in London. The company took made almost 1.6 billion last year but it's clear to see that 2005 and 2009 were important years.

There were two major acquisitions in this period (not including Lucasfilm as there has yet to be a Lucasfilm/Disney release) – Pixar and Marvel. These two studios have contributed significantly to Disney's studio's operating income, especially considering the Marvel Cinematic Universe is now the highest grossing franchise in the world.

Out of Disney's top 20 grossing films since 2000, 11 were Pixar or Marvel. It's worth wondering just how the studio would be faring without them. It is fair to point out that Disney were distributing Pixar films before buying them out in 2006, but there was a time in the mid-2000s when the relationship nearly broke down completely.

But Disney's film studio isn't the biggest contributor. Over the years Disney hasn't just bought out movie companies, they've been diversifying their assets far beyond their original remit.

Not only do they have their Disney TV channels, but they own ESPN and ABC too. That's not to mention their consumer products division and their parks and resort the segment. The latter includes everything from their famous parks to their cruises, tour packages and ESPN sports-themed restaurants.

By breaking Disney's income down by division, we can see that films just overtook consumer products to be the third biggest contributor. Back in the early 90s the studios was contributing around a third of the entire company's operating income. In 2014, it was responsible for just under 12%.

Since 2004, the operating income from Disney's media networks, which includes all of their broadcast and cable television networks, television production operations, television distribution, domestic television stations and radio networks and stations, has risen significantly to 56% of the company's total.

What we see is Disney in its strongest position in decades, especially when you look at its share value. It recovered from the 2008 recession astonishingly quickly, so what would it take for us to never see a new Disney film ever again?

While the films themselves may not be the biggest source of revenue for the business, they are a crucial component of the brand. Without the studio you could also say goodbye to a lot of related product income. The parks would most likely remain, but really, what would be left of Disney then?

It would mostly be ESPN, which generates a significant proportion of the company's revenue. ESPN is not going anywhere anytime soon, but it's not like TV companies can't see their fortunes change. The sports channel is embracing streaming though, showing they're willing to innovate.

All in all diversification has made Disney a household name for a long time to come. The actual studio isn't as steady, especially with how we consume film changing in recent years, but with Pixar, Marvel, and now Lucasfilm, it would take only disastrous mistakes to take the studio down any time soon – especially as Walt Disney's brand is so closely entwined with its films.

With recent films Frozen and The Avengers: Age of Ultron currently sitting in the top 10 grossing films of all time, Disney's studio is still proving its worth. No matter how much people fret and worry about the state of the film industry, Disney isn't going anywhere for some time.

Elizabeth Grey is a British-based writer who started buying comics with her pocket money and never stopped. She tweets @ej_grey.

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.