Films the star performers as Disney beats forecasts with $1.3bn profit

HIT films such as Toy Story 3, Iron Man 2 and Alice in Wonderland helped media conglomerate Disney to post forecast-beating quarterly profits, despite dwindling theme park attendances.

• Woody and the Toy Story gang have proved a huge hit once again, boosting Disney's coffers

Third-quarter pre-tax profits hit $1.3 billion (829 million), up from $954m a year ago, with revenue rising 16 per cent to $10bn.

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Advertising revenue at sports channel ESPN was up 31 per cent, thanks partly to carrying the World Cup tournament, with most of the earlier matches falling within the quarter to 3 July.

Excluding the World Cup, ESPN ad revenue was still 17 per cent higher than a year ago, beating its media company peers amid an ad market recovery.

Barclays Capital analyst Anthony DiClemente said: "The 17 per cent recurring growth in ESPN advertising in the quarter was the fastest amongst its peers. I think that's a big positive."

Higher ad rates at broadcast network ABC were offset by lower ratings; its profits were only 2 per cent higher.

Disney's film studio posted a much-anticipated turnaround thanks not only to the Pixar animated franchise Toy Story but also Alice in Wonderland. The group's purchase of Marvel Entertainment last year also gave it an extra boost from the release of Iron Man 2 in early May. Write-downs on Prince of Persia and Sorcerer's Apprentice pushed costs up, but the unit returned to the black.

Disney said its pending $660m sale of Miramax Films to a group of investors led by construction magnate Ron Tutor will have minimal impact on its earnings. Profits at its theme parks fell 8 per cent because of higher costs and lower attendance domestically. This month, Disney raised ticket prices by 3.8 per cent for an adult day pass at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, indicating a move further away from its recession-driven discounts.

Per guest spending rose 5 per cent in the quarter. In contrast, when accounting for the calendar shift of the Easter holiday, domestic attendance was down just 1 per cent, indicating that smaller discounts were not turning off many people.

Chief executive Bob Iger said that, aside from the quarterly results, Disney was attracted by the explosive growth in casual social games on the internet, justifying the $563m it is paying for game-maker Playdom, in a deal announced last month. It could pay a further $200m based on performance that would boost Disney's profits.

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The company first sought to license its Disney and Marvel characters and ESPN brands to Playdom, which makes popular Facebook games such as Social City and Sorority Life.

But Iger said Disney moved to buy Playdom after estimating industry-wide social game revenues would increase 30 per cent annually.

"As we looked closely at the growth in that space, we felt it's growth we should participate in, essentially as an owner," he said.

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