Walt Disney's quarterly earnings are expected to fall slightly, a rare stumble for the owner of some of the most successful TV networks, movie studios and theme parks in the world.
The results, due out after the stock market closes Tuesday, will include higher programming costs for college football games on Disney's ESPN channel and a lineup of home entertainment video releases that didn't boast as much box-office appeal as in previous years. Those are two of the key factors that caused analysts surveyed by FactSet to predict Disney's fiscal first-quarter earnings will decline by about 4 percent from the previous year.
Excluding one-time items, analysts expect Disney to earn 77 cents per share during the period covering the final three months of last year versus 80 cents per share during the same period in 2011.
Even if that forecast proves accurate, it probably won't hurt Disney's stock too much. The shares are still hovering near record highs, with Disney well positioned for the next several years. The stock closed Monday at $53.90, just 60 cents off the all-time high that it struck Friday.
Disney is expected to negotiate higher fees from cable and satellite TV providers to carry its ABC network and the company also is opening new theme parks and other attractions that are likely to bring in more crowds. On the movie studio side, sequels are already in the planning stages for three of the most successful film franchises in Hollywood history: the "Pirates of the Caribbean," ''The Avengers" and "Star Wars." Disney just picked up the rights to the latter film in late December when the company completed its $4.06 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd.
Last month, Walt Disney Co. announced that it had hired acclaimed science-fiction film maker J.J. Abrams to direct the next "Star Wars" installment, which is scheduled to be released in 2015.
During Tuesday's earnings conference call, executives will have a chance to elaborate on plans for the "Star Wars" franchise.