ESPN, moteur du groupe Disney

Walt Disney vient d’annoncer un bénéfice au 4ème trimestre, en ligne avec les estimations des analystes de Wall Street mais l’action a chuté de 5% vendredi dernier.

Il faut savoir que Disney est une entreprise aux activités extrêmement hétérogènes, allant des bien connus parcs d’attraction, des studios de cinéma, des navires de croisière, des produits de consommation jusqu’au réseau de télévision ABC. Mais une fois de plus, c’est la TV qui est la force motrice du bénéfice de Disney, responsable de 57% des revenus d’exploitation de la société. Et si on regarde de plus près, c’est ESPN, la chaine sportive #1 aux Etats-Unis, qui avec la contribution de Walt Disney, génère plus de bénéfices que le reste du groupe Walt Disney tout en entier !

Petit rappel historique, en 1996, Disney achetait Capital Cities & ABC pour 19 milliards de dollars, soit la 2ème reprise de rang de l’histoire américaine à l’époque. Le gros de cette valorisation concernait ABC, son réseau et ses stations mais au sein de Capital Cities se trouvait à l’époque une chaine sportive du nom d’ESPN. A l’époque, les dirigeants de Disney et notamment son PDG, Michael Eisner, pressentait un développement intéressant pour ESPN autour de deux axes : l’expansion internationale ou l’exploitation de la marque ESPN dans les parcs thématiques de Disney. Comme il le disait si bien : « Nous savons que lorsque nous posons Mickey Mouse ou Goofy sur le dessus des produits, on obtient des trucs assez créatifs ».

ESPN s’est bien développé mais pas comme Eisner l’avait imaginé… Les revenus à l’international ne représentent que 11% du total selon le cabinet de recherche Wunderlich Securities. Les restaurants à thème ESPN Zone furent un carton au démarrage mais 2 ont fermé leur portes depuis 2010. De plus, ESPN est très peu intégré aux parcs d’attraction Disney.

Mais Disney peut remercier ESPN pour les 6.1 milliards de dollars de revenus issus de l’affiliation (l’argent récolté par ESPN par les réseaux locaux diffusant la chaine) qui permettent de stabiliser les revenus sur chaque période financière. Les recettes publicitaires, estimées à 3.3 milliards de dollars, peuvent fluctuer selon l’économie mais les revenus issus de l’affiliation sont eux en nette augmentation (8% par an) au cours des dernières années. ESPN, ESPN2 sont disponibles dans une centaine de millions de foyers américains rapportant respectivement 5.13 et 0.68$ au groupe. Le revenu moyen d’une chaine cablée se situe aux alentours des 0.26$.

Aujourd’hui, ESPN vaut 40 milliards de dollars, selon un rapport de recherche effectué cet été par Wunderlich Securities, alors que le groupe Disney dans sa globalité vaut 84 milliards de dollars, donc cela vous donne une idée de la taille et de l’importance de la chaine dans l’empire Disney. Eisner et Disney avait donc flairé le bon coup en rachetant CapCities, d’une part avec la croissance phénoménale d’ESPN et avec la détérioration de la valeur d’ABC au cours de ces 15 dernières années (ABC est valorisé à 1.7 milliards de dollars soit 4% d’ESPN

Avec cette nouvelle valuation, ESPN se place en tête du classement mondial des marques média car il n’existe tout simplement pas d’autres média capables de générer autant de contenu que d’argent. Les deux autres marques média se trouvant au-dessus d’ESPN sont News Corp (58 milliards de dollars) et Comcast (96 milliards de dollars) mais leurs modèles économiques sont tout autres.

Avec l’augmentation fulgurante des droits TV et la compétition féroce face à des acteurs comme Fox Sports et NBC Sports, certains ont pu croire que la profitabilité d’ESPN aurait pu être mise en mal. Il n’en est rien puisque la chaine de sport du groupe Disney a renouvelé récemment les droits pour la Major League Baseball en doublant par la même occasion le montant investi et a acquis l’année dernière les droits de la NFL contre 15.2 milliards de dollars pour 8 ans. Au final, ces contrats long terme permettent aussi de stabiliser les revenus sur la durée pour la chaine.

Pourquoi ces investissements alors ? La réalité est simple. La valeur du sport à la télévision ne fait qu’augmenter à cause des nouveaux modes de consommation, avec par exemple le différé (mais qui a pour impact de limiter l’efficacité de la publicité d’une certaine manière…) ou la catch-up. Mais ce n’est pas un soucis pour ESPN puisque 99.4% des événements sports à la TV sont regardés en direct et l’acquisition de ce contenu à forte consommation garantit une audience aux chaines et réseaux locaux qui doivent donc souscrire et s’acquitter de leur dû auprès d’ESPN.

A date, ESPN semble être devenu un mastodonte des médias et en se basant sur cette analyse, il semblerait que rien ne puisse arrêter cette chaine.

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