Disney Needs to Fire CEO Chapek

Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) stock could not have been beaten down any harder. After its earnings release, the share price was blitzed, dropping 13% to a 52-week low near $87. Disney has lost half its value in the past year and about $150 billion in market cap. CEO Bob Chapek has bungled Disney’s move into the streaming business, an arena on which he has bet the company’s future.

While the Disney+ streaming service added 12.1 million subscribers to total 164.2 million, the division lost $1.47 billion. According to The Wall Street Journal, this was 38% more than analysts had expected.

Chapek will depend on subscription price increases for the streaming services and a new ad-supported version. However, the chance of success is a guess. And the guess is complicated by similar strategies by Amazon, Netflix, Apple and a dozen others. While Netflix does not have the financial resources to fight competition at the balance sheet level, Amazon and Apple have effectively infinite cash supplies and hundreds of millions of people who use Amazon for shopping and Apple for smartphones and computers. Business school professors would call Amazon and Apple’s advantages a huge “installed base.” Disney has only its brand and a backlog of famous and popular content. Add to that the fact that Disney studios continue to pump out films. However, so do the studios of Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

One analyst made the most important point about Disney’s streaming services: “We believe Disney may face a choice between its subscriber growth guidance and its streaming break-even guidance as we believe it may be tough to meet both.”

Overall, Disney’s growth slowed considerably in the final quarter of its fiscal year. Revenue rose 9% to $20.2 billion. However, for the full year it rose 23% to $82.7 billion. Net income for the year rose 58% to $3.2 billion. In the final quarter, this slowed as net income was flat at $162 million, which is tiny based on Disney’s financial history. The only bright spot was Disney’s theme parks. Disney said this might have been better except for the effects of COVID-19.

Chapek, the engineer of these disasters, tried to reassure investors. As Disney moves into its second century next year, “its best years still lie ahead.” Based on the share price, no one else believes that.

Chapek took over the chief executive role in February 2020. As the COVID-19 pandemic rocked Disney’s businesses, former CEO Bob Iger became active enough that people wondered who was running the company.

But Iger is long gone now. Chapek is the only person to blame for the Disney train wreck. If the board does not replace him, the problems will only get worse.

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