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Disney Has a Lot to Prove on Tuesday

There's plenty at stake as Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) gears up to post fresh financials on Tuesday. Between the struggles at ESPN weighing on its flagship media networks business and new rides boosting its fledgling theme park segment, there's going to be a lot of tugging on both ends of the rope in Tuesday afternoon's report. 

Analysts are settling for flattish results. They see third-quarter revenue climbing a mere 1.1% to $14.43 billion. Investors should be used to weak and sometimes negative top-line growth. Disney has only managed double-digit top-line growth for a quarter twice over the past six years, and revenue has declined in two of the three previous quarters.

The news is likely to be even less flattering on the bottom line. Wall Street pros are expecting for a profit of $1.56 a share, just shy of the $1.62 a share it posted a year earlier. Normalized net income has also gone the wrong way in two of the past three quarters, so another small step back won't come as a shock to investors. 

Image source: Disney.

Setting a mousetrap 

This isn't Disney at its best these days. Fiscal 2017 is shaping up to be the third straight year of decelerating top-line growth at the House of Mouse. Media networks remains Disney's largest segment, and it's naturally struggling as cord cutters are kissing ESPN, Disney Channel, and other cable channels goodbye. ABC is also dealing with millennials opting to binge-watch shows on streaming services instead of dealing with linear television and its weekly installments. Revenue actually inched 3% higher for Disney's media networks segment during the second quarter, but operating income declined slightly. 

Disney's second-largest division is its theme parks and resorts division, and there's hope for growth here. The timing of the Easter and spring break holidays shifted from March to April this year, likely inflating the fiscal third-quarter's results. Disney also helped create its own luck by rolling out well-received additions at Disneyland and Disney World in late May. A new Guardians of the Galaxy-themed thrill ride at Disney's California Adventure and Pandora -- The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom seem to be attracting healthy crowds. We'll find out on Tuesday if the extra attention at those two parks is coming at the expense of Disney's other gated attractions.

Disney's third-largest segment is its studio arm, and it's here where we will likely see its biggest weakness. The movie-making behemoth is coming up against rough comparisons this time around. Revenue soared 40% during the third quarter of last year. The home video release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and a busy theatrical release slate including Captain America: Civil WarThe Jungle BookFinding Dory and Alice Through the Looking Glass will be a hard act to follow this quarter. Zootopia was also still playing well at the local multiplex. 

The fourth operating segment at Disney is consumer products and interactive media, but this division doesn't typically move the needle, as it accounts for less than 10% of revenue and segment operating income. It's probably a good thing that this was the only segment to post a decline in revenue in fiscal 2016. 

Reasonable growth at its theme parks and another period of holding steady with its media networks should be enough to offset the rough comparisons for its studio. It's the best time for Disney to prove that there's more to its business than a gradual slide in ESPN cable subscribers. Expectations are low, and that's not a bad thing these days.

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Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.