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'Avengers' + 'Star Wars' = big year for Disney

By RYAN NAKASHIMA
AP Business Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The pump is primed at Disney to reap the benefits of a big year at the movies.

With its Marvel movie "Avengers: Age of Ultron" just having notched the second-biggest domestic opening weekend of all-time and a new "Star Wars" movie coming this winter, analysts expect the company to post not only great movie studio results but a big uptick in consumer products revenue and profits this year.

"Avengers" has hauled in more than $650 million at theaters globally since its staggered release began two weeks ago, and buzz is already building for "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens" set for release Dec. 18.

One indicator of the craze surrounding "Star Wars" is that a second teaser trailer for the film released two weeks ago has been viewed over 200 million times.

"The excitement around this movie is unlike anything we have ever seen before," CEO Bob Iger told analysts Tuesday.

Iger also told CNBC Tuesday morning that "Star Wars" is already the No. 1 franchise in the world for consumer products. The Walt Disney Co. plans a massive release of new merchandise surrounding the movie on Sept. 4, what it's calling "Force Friday."

"I think you can expect that the No. 1 franchise in the world is only going to strengthen," Iger told CNBC.

Second-quarter results released Tuesday are a good start. Earnings in the March quarter came to $1.23 per share, beating the $1.11 expected by analysts.

Studio results were better than projected, given a tough comparison to last year when the smash hit "Frozen" was released on home video. Parks attendance and guest spending were higher domestically even with higher ticket prices, and consumer products revenue and profits rose. Media networks profits slipped despite higher revenue, due to the higher cost of sports programming, including the new college football playoffs rights which ESPN splurged on.

Revenue rose 7 percent to $12.46 billion, also topping estimates for $12.28 billion.

Analyst Robin Diedrich with Edward Jones said that Disney's studio, its "lifeblood," is very healthy, as the company is preparing to unleash more Marvel films, a Pixar sequel to "Toy Story" and the start of several "Star Wars" movies over the next several years.

"With a very strong slate they have going for the next four to five years at least, we're looking for double-digit earnings from the company. We think there's still value in the stock at these levels," she said.

Disney shares rose 82 cents to $111.85 in morning trade. The stock has risen 38 percent in the last 12 months.

_____

Portions of this story were generated by Automated Insights (http://automatedinsights.com/ap) using data from Zacks Investment Research. Access a Zacks stock report on DIS at http://www.zacks.com/ap/DIS

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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