The Walt Disney Company: A Corporate Strategy Analysis

The Walt Disney Company: A Corporate Strategy Analysis


November 2012

Written by Carlos Carillo, Jeremy Crumley, Kendree Thieringer and Jeffrey S. Harrison at the Robins School of Business, University of Richmond. Copyright © Jeffrey S. Harrison. This case was written for the purpose of classroom discussion. It is not to be duplicated or cited in any form without the copyright holder’s express permission. For permission to reproduce or cite this case, contact Jeffrey S. Harrison ([email protected]). In your message, state your name, affiliation and the intended use of the case. Permission for classroom use will be granted free of charge. Other cases are available at:­‐for-­‐active-­‐business-­‐education/research/case-­‐network.html



“Walt was never afraid to dream. That song from Pinocchio, ‘When You Wish Upon a Star,’ is the perfect summary of Walt’s approach to life: dream big dreams, even hopelessly impossible dreams, because they really can come true. Sure, it takes work, focus and perseverance. But anything is possible. Walt proved it with the impossible things he accomplished.”1 It is well documented that Walt Disney had big dreams and made several large gambles to propel his visions. From the creation of Steamboat Willie in 1928 to the first color feature film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” in 1937, and the creation of Disneyland in Anaheim, CA during the 1950’s, Disney risked his personal assets as well as his studio to build a reality from his dreams. While Walt Disney passed away in the mid 1960’s, his quote, “If you can dream it, you can do it,”2 still resonates in the corporate world and operations of The Walt Disney Company.

COMPANY HISTORY The Walt Disney Company (“Disney”) originated with its animated characters and expanded into other adjacent businesses with the goal of bringing happiness to families via several different, but related avenues. In October 1923, Walter (“Walt”) and Roy Disney established the Disney Brothers Studio and began creating animated films that would eventually be the foundation of Disney3. In 1937, Disney created Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This film is the only animated film to rank in the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American Films of all time.4 In 1955, Disney opened its first theme park, Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, that spanned over 160 acres. Opening day was not without issues. The temperature was over 101 degrees, there was a plumber’s strike, and the asphalt had been recently placed (which made the heels of women shoes sink into the ground). Even with all the negative press on opening day, Disneyland has still been one of the most successful, frequently visited theme parks in history. The construction of Disneyland was personally supervised by Walt.5 In December 1966, Walt Disney passed away from lung cancer. Although he was an avid smoker, he was always careful not to smoke around kids. Walt’s passing did not stop his brother Roy from continuing to build on his brother’s dream. In 1971, Walt Disney World opened its doors in Florida. Roy Disney passed away in late 1971. At that point, control of the company passed to Donn Tatum, followed by Card Walker and then Ron Miller (Walt’s son in law).6 Disney continued to expand by adding additional theme parks and media assets. In April 1983, Disney launched The Disney Channel. The original intent was to be a premium channel that catered to children and teenagers during the day and families in the evening. The Disney channel, through the Mickey Mouse Club, is partially responsible for the success of stars such as Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera. The Disney Empire was also expanding internationally. In 1983, Disney opened Tokyo Disney and in 1992 Euro Disney. Tokyo Disney, located east of the city, has two theme parks and three Disney hotels. Euro Disney has two theme parks and seven hotels. Today, Disney has over 11 Theme Parks and approximately 44 hotels surrounding the properties.7



In 1993, Disney purchased Miramax Film Corporation from Harvey and Bob Weinstein for approximately $70 million.8 Miramax operated as a separate unit of Disney. The Weinstein brothers continued to run Miramax under the supervision of Disney executives. By 2005 Miramax was valued at over $2 billion, with an extensive film library that included “Pulp Fiction” and “Shakespeare in Love”. The relationship between Disney and the Weinstein brothers was filled with disagreements, both financial and strategic. One of the more significant disagreements came over the release of the controversial film “Fahrenheit 9/11” that targeted President Bush during the terrorist attacks. Additionally, Disney claimed the Weinstein brothers paid themselves excessive bonuses in years when Miramax was not profitable. In 2005, the Weinstein brothers left Miramax to pursue other interests. Eventually, in 2010, Miramax was sold to Tutor-Saliba Corp.9 Another major Disney acquisition took place on July 31, 1995 with the purchase of Capital Cities / ABC for $19 billion.10 This gave Disney access to the television and cable networks of ABC and ESPN. In May 2006, Disney purchased Pixar for $7.4 billion in a cash and stock transaction.11 The relationship between these two companies began in 1997 with an agreement to create five films including Cars, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. The deal was a mutually beneficial transaction as it combined the computer animation power of Pixar with the marketing and distribution strength of Disney. Along with the Pixar purchase, Steve Jobs, founder of Pixar and Apple, joined the Disney board of directors.12 In 2009, Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment for about $4 billion. This purchase gave Disney access to several comic book characters, such as Spider-man, X-Men, Captain America and Thor. The Marvel purchase should prove to be lucrative as Disney presents the various characters through its many systems. In October 2012, Disney acquired Lucasfilm from George Lucas for $4 billion in cash and stock.13 Lucasfilm is most well-known for blockbuster movie hits such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Along with this purchase, Disney announced future Star Wars films that will be released in 2015. The Star Wars franchise films have earned over $4.4 billion in global box offices to date. Operations Disney’s objective is to be “one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information, using its portfolio of brands to differentiate its content, services and consumer products. The company’s primary financial goals are to maximize earnings and cash flow, and to allocate capital toward growth initiatives that will drive long-term shareholder value.”14 Disney currently has approximately 1.8 billion shares outstanding and is worth approximately $90 billion. With annual revenue of $41 billion in 2011, the company balances rewarding shareholders through dividends, share buybacks and investing in current operations. According



to Jay Rasulo, Disney’s CFO, about 67% of the cash generated is reinvested in current operations.15 Disney and its employees are tasked with protecting the Disney brand around the world and promoting “the delivery of long-term value.”16 One of Disney’s main objectives is satisfying the financial needs of the shareholders. However, Disney goes beyond satisfying just shareholder needs and places a significant emphasis on ethical behavior that impacts both families and the environment. Ethical standards at Disney do not just apply to the employees, but also to the Board of Directors. Disney’s “Code of Business Conduct and Ethics for Directors”17 governs the actions of the Disney board, holds them to high ethical standards and makes them accountable for actions taken on behalf of the company. Disney also has a code of conduct that deals with suppliers and has very specific rules around discrimination, harassment and child labor. Disney places a unique emphasis on the selection of the right people with talent to operate within each of the business segments. Much of the culture that Disney has today has been inspired by the legacy that Walt Disney left behind. Several books have been written about the culture including “The Imagineering Way” which gives details related to the creativity of taking dreams and concepts and transforming them into family entertainment. Even through large acquisitions, preserving the Disney culture has been a priority for Disney.18 Market Segments Disney creates and distributes entertainment through five main market segments:

Segment Approximate Revenues Media Networks $ 18,714 Million 46% Parks and Resorts 11,797 Million 29% Walt Disney Studios 6,351 Million 16% Disney Consumer Products 3,049 Million 7% Disney Interactive 982 Million 2%

In the words of Chief Financial Officer, Jay Rasulo: “… unlike other media companies, we really do have a very clear strategy of an ecosystem in which we both own the franchises and own the means of distribution to get those franchises out across almost all consumer touch points.”19 In other words, Disney is growing by using its various segments to help maximize the economic value of its products. In addition, managers are trying to expand the company’s international presence. As of fiscal year 2010, only 25.7% of the company’s revenues came from countries other than the United States of America and Canada.20 To more clearly describe the Disney strategy, Rasulo details the course of the “Toy Story 3” project through the various market segments during the 2011 Investor Conference Call:

“. . . Let me review the origins of this franchise. Toy Story was released in 1995, and Toy Story 2 was released in 1999. Based on the success of these two films, Toy Story was clearly a franchise, and we started to exploit across multiple geographies in multiple businesses.



Starting in 1998, we opened the Buzz Lightyear attractions in all of our parks locations. In 2008, we opened Toy Story the Musical exclusively on the Disney Wonder cruise ship. The same year, we opened the wonderful Toy Story Mania! attraction in Orlando and Anaheim.

In 2009, our Interactive Group released the Toy Story Mania! game for the Wii, which was a successful title for us. Toy Story Playland opened at Walt Disney Studios Paris, and Toy Story Land will open in Hong Kong later this year.

So with that market primed, we released Toy Story 3 in 2010. While we’d always planned to make Toy Story 3, our Pixar acquisition put this project back into the hands of Toy Story’s original creators, who we knew would make a wonderful film.

Toy Story 3 delivered Disney’s second biggest North American gross ever. . . The film’s opening weekend of $110 million set a new Pixar record. Its domestic box office totaled $415 million, became the eighth biggest international release in history, earning $650 million in box office. The film opened number one in 54 categories. Toy Story 3 became the fifth highest grossing worldwide film of all time with almost $1.1 billion in box office. It’s Disney’s second highest grossing film of all time, and it’s the highest grossing animated title ever.

The DVD was the number one animated and number one family title in 2010 in North America, the number one animated title in 2010 in Europe and the number one title in Latin America. We expect ultimate retail sales of Home Entertainment and TV platforms will drive another $650 million in retail sales, which brings the retail sales total to about $1.7 billion.

But as a franchise film, Toy Story 3 is a much more powerful driver for our merchandise-licensing business. The film had unprecedented support and shelf space at major retailers. For example, Target allocated significant shelf space to and created a custom animation commercial for Toy Story 3, and Toys “R” Us gave it a feature wall over the next three months, whereas this is typically offered for about two weeks.

Sales have been strong across all categories. Toy Story 3’s impact on our merchandising-licensing business has been significant, and we expect the film will drive $7.3 billion in ultimate retail sales, bringing the total retail sales to approximately $9 billion.

The books and magazines are sold in over 50 countries. The Toy Story Read-Along App was the number one book app in 45 countries. We expect the publishing business to drive about $250 million in retail sales.

This film is also driving sales at our Disney Stores. It’s currently the number three franchise at Disney Store, growing to half the size of Disney Princess. We expect the franchise to drive $325 million in sales at the Disney Store. Toy Story 3 was also the top selling Disney game of the year, and we expect about $220 million in ultimate retail interactive sales.

So, Toy Story 3 was also a critical and commercial success at the box office for the Walt Disney Company. But since it’s a franchise film, we estimate that it’ll drive nearly $10 billion in ultimate retail sales through traditional film channels and all of the ancillary markets in which we participate.

. . . We don’t allocate Parks revenue in this franchise analysis, so you don’t see the impact on our Parks business . . . but, we are confident that the film has greatly benefited our theme parks as well.”21

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