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‘We were wrong’: Analyst upgrades streaming-focused Disney

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‘We were wrong’: Analyst upgrades streaming-focused Disney 1

Noted media analyst Rich Greenfield just issued a mea culpa on Disney’s ability to navigate the pandemic.

Greenfield’s LightShed Partners upgraded the Mouse House on Friday to ‘neutral’ after slapping a ‘sell’ rating on it in May.

“Our call has been dead wrong,” Greenfield said, explaining that his firm was “focused on how the market under-appreciated the impact of COVID-19” on fiscal 2020-2021 earnings.

Disney has been crushed by the coronavirus, as stay-at-home orders caused the company to temporarily shutter cruise lines and theme parks, such as Disneyland in California or reopen others, like Disney World in Orlando at limited capacity.

The owner of movie studios such as Pixar, Marvel and Walt Disney Studios also had to halt the production or push the releases of the majority of its biggest films into 2021 and beyond.

Despite those hurdles, Disney redoubled its streaming efforts and reorganized its entertainment operations to focus on Disney+. The course correction was applauded by Wall Street, which “looked past COVID,” and to a “normal” world, Greenfield said, adding that “even 25 years into our analyst career, the market is still teaching us new lessons.” 

The stock, which ended 2020 up more than 20 percent, closed flat on Friday at $178.69 a share.

Even though Disney’s earnings “have evaporated” with the company reporting “two of the worst quarters in the company’s history,” investors “rightly began to look beyond the near-term for this company and others, instead focusing on the post-COVID world, especially as it became clear vaccines were on the way,” the analyst said.

Greenfield added that he misjudged new chief executive officer Bob Chapek, who took the reins from legendary CEO Bob Iger in February, as not understanding the importance of streaming. Chapek, who ran the company’s important theme parks division, beat out streaming boss Kevin Mayer for the top job, which caused the LightShed analyst to doubt whether Disney understood the importance of streaming to its future.

But the pandemic quickly sharpened the importance of Disney+ as a way for the company to still make money while movie theaters remained closed. The quick pivot by Disney, which has put new content like “Hamilton,” the live-action remake of “Mulan” and “Soul” on its streaming service during the pandemic, has helped it amass over 90 million subscribers by the end of 2020 — an impressive feat for the year-old streaming service.

“Chapek surprised us,” Greenfield said, noting that the company is “leaning far harder into streaming” than expected and that it “now feels like we will see more theatrical releases appear day-and-date on Disney+.”

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