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4 Questions Disney Needs to Answer on Wednesday

Shareholder meetings don't tend to draw a lot of interest when there isn't a proxy battle or big vote at stake, but that doesn't mean Disney's (NYSE: DIS) upcoming stakeholder event will be a ho-hum affair. Disney's annual meeting of shareholders takes place on Wednesday morning, and there are a lot of questions for the media giant to answer.

With Disney stock already 32% below its all-time high of less than four months ago, the House of Mouse is hurting. The stock hit a 52-week low on Monday, and it's not just the disappointing stock chart that investors will be watching at this week's shareholder meeting.

Image source: Disney.

1. Why did Bob Iger step down as CEO?

In a case of cruel timing, CEO Bob Iger announced that he was stepping down as CEO. Theme parks chief Bob Chapek is now at the helm. Iger had been pushing off his retirement with several contract extensions along the way, but why is he leaving with 22 months left on what was supposed to be his final contract?

Iger isn't going away completely. He will ride out the terms of his extension through the end of 2021, only now he will assume the role of executive chairman and lend a hand in guiding Disney's creative efforts.

A CEO with an abrupt departure can mean many things. The early theories suggesting health issues, a "me-too" situation, or Iger's political ambitions all seem fairly unfounded. However, shareholders will ask why he chose now -- with some of its overseas theme parks shuttered for COVID-19 containment, a challenging slate of 2020 theatrical releases, and a continued hemorrhaging of subscribers at ESPN -- to step down. One can argue that Iger is entitled to keep his reasons for leaving to himself, but with the stock plummeting 22% in the 10 trading days since his announcement, the questions will definitely come up on Wednesday.

2. Will Disneyland and Disney World close down?

Disney's parks in Shanghai and Hong Kong have been closed since late January. Its licensed resort in Japan closed down earlier this month. A Disneyland Paris maintenance worker has just tested positive for coronavirus, but that resort remains open for now.

At what point will Disney decide to shutter its stateside attractions? There may not seem to be much of a reason to do so now. There have been no cases tied to Disneyland in California or Disney World in Florida. However, with international visitors making up an important chunk of the guest count, is it prudent to keep the resorts open? Unless cases start to contract or we get a clearer picture of a low mortality rate, it's just a matter of time before Disney pulls a Walley World and tells guests that the parks are closed.

That won't be an easy decision for a business that was starting to get back into a good groove. Momentum is hard to regain once it's fumbled. Once you let that genie out of the bottle, even Aladdin won't be able to coax it back inside. Disney will never reveal the actual criteria that it's waiting to see materialize before shutting down its stateside resorts, but it will need to assure its stakeholders that it does have a plan in place.

3. How bad will 2020 be at the box office?

Disney was never going to top the monster year it had in 2019, when it put out all six of the country's highest-grossing films. Even before sizing up the recessionary fears that are starting to bubble up to the surface and the COVID-19 fears keeping people away from stuffy multiplexes, it was a given that 2020 wasn't going to live up the prior year's returns. We're starting to see how ugly things can be.

Onward opened this past weekend with just $39.1 million in domestic ticket sales, Pixar's weakest debut in more than a decade. Largely positive reviews should give it a long tail in its theatrical run, but it will surely close out its run as a box office disappointment, especially if coronavirus concerns keep people away from movie theaters in the coming weeks. The launch of Disney+ four months ago gives Disney a strong new digital outlet, but can the media giant convince its shareholders that this won't be the new normal?

4. Where is the next Disney+ hit?

Subscriber growth is slowing at Disney's new premium streaming service. The platform that closed out its first day of operations with 10 million subscribers in mid-November and closed out December with 26.5 million accounts was at just 28.6 million members in early February. Put another way, the service that grew its audience by a whopping 26.5 million subscribers in seven weeks was only able to add another 2.1 million users in the five subsequent weeks.

If Disney+ hasn't cracked 30 million by now -- another five weeks since the last update -- it will lead the market to question the platform that got them excited about Disney in 2019. Disney+ had a monster hit with The Mandalorian, but the real secret sauce of a successful premium platform is to keep the hits coming. Disney has an interesting pipeline of content, and it will need to sell that to its shareholders this week.

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Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short April 2020 $135 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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