Not that Disney had any reason to be concerned over its $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilm, but “of all our worries, ‘Star Wars’ is not one of them,” said Walt Disney Co. chief financial officer Jay Rasulo at an investor conference on Thursday.
During a presentation of the Mouse House’s assets at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference, in Beverly Hills, Rasulo said “the market is extremely hot for everything ‘Star Wars.’”
He called the franchise an “evergreen property” that continues to mint money through licensing deals, and had the potential to become even more valuable with the right deals.
When asked if Disney was worried that today’s kids may not be familiar with the films, Rasulo touted the strong sales of toys — the brand continues to prove one of the top franchises in terms of licensing revenue each year.
“This is not a new franchise for kids,” Rasulo said.
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But there’s still room for growth. Disney purchased Lucasfilm late last year as a way to cash in on the ongoing appeal of the 35-year-old “Star Wars” franchise and grow the brand in new ways around the world.
“The sky’s the limit,” Rasulo said of the potential for the sci-fi franchise, including expanding its presence in the company’s theme parks. “There’s incredible flexibility. It’s an unbelievable palette to create from.”
Rasulo said Disney’s in-house licensing and consumer products group would devote the next year on brokering deals around the world to expand the reach of the “Star Wars” brand.
Given its much smaller size, Lucasfilm had focused primarily on U.S.-based licensing programs and then on toys and a few other categories. But Disney plans to expand broaden it into housewares and other merchandise categories the way it’s increased the vast variety of products that feature Marvel’s superheroes.
“We will lay the groundwork for that … and when the film comes out in 2015, we’ll be ready to blow it out,” Rasulo said.
The overall strategy is “to put out a great film” first, Rasulo said.
As Disney has often stated before, Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm pics, as well as Disney branded animated and live action films, will make up a majority of the studio’s slate.
Rasulo also noted that one “Star Wars” trilogy film or “origin story film” would also appear on the release schedule each year, starting with the seventh installment in the “Star Wars” saga that J.J. Abrams will direct and Disney releases in 2015.
The exec cautioned that after the disappointing box office performance of “The Lone Ranger” this summer, “there needs to be a cap on (budgets of) tentpole franchise movies.” “Going forward, we will see a cap on spending on those movies,” he said.
Rasulo said Disney has no plans as of yet to make other high-profile acquisitions the way it picked up Lucasfilm.
“We are not in a position today where we feel there’s a necessity to buy something, Rasulo said. “We don’t feel like there are holes that there are out there we’re trying to fill.”
But the executive still kept Disney’s doors open to the possibility for a purchase, should the right deal come along.
“We demonstrated we remain extremely opportunistic in things that might show up that demonstrate to us that it’s a way to accelerate ourselves in a marketplace where we feel consumers live or consumers will live in the future,” citing acquisitions of Playdom and India’s UTV in the past.
Instead, Rasulo said Disney intends to use its cash to buy back the company’s stock, spending around $6 billion, and as much as $8 billion, during its fiscal 2014 year. That’s up from $4 billion over the last couple of years.
Disney’s stock was lifted on the news, up $1.55 to close at $65.49, a gain of 2.4%
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