(This is Part V of a multi-part series answering the question: “How Much Money Did Disney Make on the Lucasfilm deal?” Previous sections are here:
Part I: Introduction & “The Time Value of Money Explained”
Appendix: Feature Film Finances Explained!
Part II: Star Wars Movie Revenue So Far
Part III: The Economics of Blockbusters
Part IV: Movie Revenue – Modeling the Scenarios
Part V: The Analysis! Performance, Implications, and Cautions)
Have you ever been on a long hike? Your friends tell you, “Let’s go on this beautiful four mile hike to the top of a mountain with a scenic overview.” So you say yes. You go. It’s long, but you keep trudging.
Midway, you start to count your steps, anything to avoid thinking about the burning in your legs. You imagine the joys of finishing. It just keeps going.
Finally, mercifully, you finish and you’re at the top of the hill. Man, the view is worth it.
Then it hits you: you have another four miles to get back down.
It was four miles each way.
That’s a test of fortitude. I bring this up because this article just keeps going. Every time I think I’m finished, well I find another fascinating principle to explain. The “movies” portion alone has kept me busy for four parts and a bonus appendix. (And maybe a bonus article next week on this topic.)
Last time, I explained how I built 8 scenarios forecasting the future of Lucasfilm’s film slate. Previously, I explained how feature film economics work, explained my financial estimates for the first four Star Wars, and explained the economics of blockbusters, which developed a set of “comps” for franchise blockbusters. I brought them together in my 8 scenarios. Today, we’re bringing it home to analyze the results of my model. (See the links at the top.)
Really, this is the fun part. The hard work was building the model and getting some good data to make it accurate. That was the hike up the hill. Let’s gaze out at that gorgeous view, to drive the above analogy firmly into the ground.
The best way to summarize our 8 scenarios is to calculate the net profits for each outcome. (In my model so far, gross profits are revenues minus costs, and net profits then subtract talent participation.) I’ve discounted them all back to 2012 acquisition dollars since that is when Disney first acquired Lucasfilm:Those are a lot of big numbers, so another way to look at it is in percentage terms of the acquisition price ($4.05 billion with a “b”). Here’s that:Wow. So in 5 scenarios, Disney makes all its money back with just this line of business alone. Further, even if they only achieve “Blockbuster Average” at the box office, they can even have production issues and still get 94% of the initial price. At worst, with production issues and a franchise fatigue, they still make back 82% of the initial deal price ($3.3 billion in adjusted dollars).
Still, I can hear you, “Entertainment Strategy Guy, just give us a single number! Tell us the average!”
In scenario modeling, the “expected value” is the closest thing you get to an overall “average”. To give that to you, though, I need some probabilities. These scenarios aren’t equally likely. It’s more likely that Lucasfilm has production issues then it is they ramp up to 14 films per year. It’s also more unlikely that “Star Wars is Star Wars” at the box office, as opposed to franchise fatigue or just general underperformance.
So here is how I would rate the probabilities of each scenario. And to simplify things, I gave each scenario it’s own name to make it easier to refer to. And it’s more fun. So how likely are each scenario?Here’s the thing: I don’t have great rationale for the production side of the equation. I had started with MCU-style at 20%, but given the vague post-Solo rumors, Lucasfilm put the spin-off movies on hold. That makes me think they will strive for the one film per year rate. For the performance, I think the odds that franchise fatigue truly sets in is about as likely the high case where Star Wars defies box office gravity forever, especially if Lucasfilm determinedly releases 1 film per year. (Remember, before this, Lucasfilm had a 15 and then 10 year gap in films.)
I used my judgment for these probabilities, but I could tweak them if I found better data to make the forecasts. So with the probabilities of our two inputs, we could calculate the probability of each scenario.
The odds of “Gangbusters”, the scenario where “Star Wars is Star Wars” at the box office while moving to two films per year is only 2%. That makes sense; each is unlikely. On the other hand, the idea that franchise fatigue sets in and they have production issues (“Worst Case”) is 5%, which feels right.
In the downside, in “Burn Out” or “Sub-Optimal” Disney doesn’t make their money back. On the other hand, Lucasfilm makes money in the “Base Case”, “Make Money”, “Make More Money” and really cashes in with “Gangbusters”. They also make money in “Missed Opportunity”, though it contains a good lesson that production issues can really leave money on the table.
With our probabilities and the returns, we can now calculate the “expected value” of Star Wars movie revenue going forward. To take this all the way back to the introduction from yesterday, I can’t tell I “know” how well the films will perform from here on out. (Again, that quote.) But I can tell you this is what I expect just the movie portion of the deal to be worth, in financial terms: $4.3 billion in 2012 dollars from 2015-2028. In other words, I expect the movie net profits, after costs and talent participation, just the movie revenue, without toy merchandise sales either, to account for 106.8% of the value of this deal through 2028. In just one line of business, Disney made its money back.
It does strike me that my “base case” scenario is fairly close to the expected value (only off by about $40 million, or less than 1%. So was it a waste to build all the scenarios? No. Those numbers represent two different things, though it does give me confidence in using the base case in an “average total model” when I finish all the lines of business.
Overall performance isn’t the only thing we can learn from this model. The great thing about a scenario model like this is we can learn some things from it (assuming our math is right, the data is accurate and representative and our assumptions are reliable):
“Franchise blockbusters” have a low downside.
This was a conclusion from “Part III”, but bears repeating. Blockbusters based off preexisting movie series can usually put up something of an opening weekend and make some money. This doesn’t apply to brand new blockbusters, who can lose a whole lot more when they completely flop (I’m looking at you, John Carter of Mars and The Lone Ranger. I wonder what studio made those?)
For franchises—movies in a series based off preexisting IP, for lack of a better definition—the downside really is limited. For Lucasfilm, you can see why they’ll keep making Star Wars films: it’s a low downside risk. (If you’re a Star Wars fan upset at Disney making so many films, well this is your explanation.)
We can quantify this per film with our “expected value” chart as well. Here is the net profits from the green light model per comparable level. Now we can multiple these by expected probabilities:For a franchise blockbuster, like Star Wars or Marvel or Harry Potter, the studio can expect $392 million in expected revenue if it performs like past films. Now they will hardly ever get exactly that, but in a portfolio of films this is what they can expect to earn. (For Star Wars fans who think Disney is driving the franchise into the ground, this is your financial explanation of why.)
2020 is a big year for the model
I put most of Star Wars: Episodes 9’s revenue in this year because it will come out in December of 2019, so Disney won’t collect the cash until 2020. Combined with an Indiana Jones 5—if it stays on track—then the total revenue in 2020 is $2.7 billion. That’s a big year. Combined with a 2019 or 2020 release of a new TV series and Lucasfilm has a lot going on.
The time value of money starts to have a strong effect.
The time value of money has a real effect. Take the $2.7 billion in 2020 dollars. Well, discounted back to 2012 dollars, it’s only worth $1.6 billion.
Assuming Rian Johnson’s first new Star Wars movie comes out in 2021 (the year after Indiana Jones or the Christmas of 2020), if you booked all the profit and loss the next year (2022), well you would only earn $0.50 on every dollar in 2012 dollar terms. Again, not that Disney wouldn’t collect each dollar, but if you’re evaluating the deal in 2012 terms, ten years down the line a dollar is only worth half in 2022 what it was worth in 2012 when discounted at 8%. The easiest way to understand the time value of money (for me) is to multiply the money earned by the discounted rate, as shown here:
That’s why literally more than half the value of this deal in terms of movie revenue was baked in when the first four films came out, again when evaluating in 2012 terms. Essentially, huge box office returns from the first three films locked in 63% of the adjusted price. A huge Episode 9 and big Indiana Jones 5 (which I assume in half of the scenarios) yields another 23% of the initial price. By 2028, if the series performs on blockbuster average, the last seven movies only make 20% of the initial price of the deal. Here is how that looks by scenario:
In terms of our initial question, it basically says that Disney would have to do a lot wrong with the franchise to NOT make money at this point. It’s possible, just much less likely.
Cautions & Criticisms
I’m not perfect, so naturally I can look at my model and give some critiques. Let’s keep these in mind so we don’t take this model as 100% gospel truth.
Be ready to update your priors…especially with small sample size.
If it seems like everyone is over-reacting to Solo’s disappointing box office, well I disagree. Essentially, I think Solo: A Star Wars Story caused a lot of people, myself included to “adjust their priors” to use Bayesian/Nate Silver-ish talk. We assumed Star Wars films didn’t have flop potential when they clearly did. Solo: A Star Wars Story changed my preconceived floor of box office performance for this franchise. I changed my whole model based off that event. That’s worth the conversation.
And it should provide a warning. Do I have other prior assumptions I haven’t captured in this model? I tried to call out as much as possible, but it’s always the concern. Off the top of my head, a big potential swing in value is the probabilities assigned to each scenario. If instead of my probabilities you just assigned an equal likelihood, then Disney would earn $4.6 billion, or 115% of the initial price.
(Of course, there is always the fact that my model might not match the actual performance. I did a little searching for research on other projections of Star Wars revenue/profits and I’ve found a range of numbers. So again, I went with my best judgement.)
This current expected value isn’t the expected value at the time this deal was signed.
Don’t mistake the current estimate of value ($4.3 billion in 2012 dollars, 106% of initial price) for the expected value at the time this deal was closed.
In 2012, at the time Disney signed this deal, a new trilogy could make over $5 billion in total box office, or it could have made “only” a billion dollars. Or somewhere in between. That’s immensely reasonable. Now, Lucasfilm and Kathleen Kennedy hired the right director for The Force Awakens and that didn’t happen.
Evaluating the deal midstream, we get to look back with hindsight and look forward with our forecasts. But that doesn’t mean the performance for the last five years was guaranteed by any means.
Is “franchise blockbusters” the right data set?
This is the toughest part of the process and I’ve seen really smart people make really big mistakes when it comes to finding the right data set of movies. So I could see quibbles with my data set of “franchise blockbusters”. The worry is I biased the data set positively for Star Wars.
As I wrote before, my notable omissions were Jurassic Park, Star Trek, Fast and Furious, and James Bond. The last two I have no qualms leaving out since they don’t have the kid appeal of Star Wars or Marvel. Same with Star Trek overall. The toughest was Jurassic Park, which would mean Jurassic World, so it’s one movie, but a “super-hit”. Again, I’m fine with this, but I’m monitoring those franchises for future data analysis. (If you’re curious, if we had added all the omitted franchises, it would have pulled down the average for hits and super-hits.)
There is no “terminal value”.
In other words, why did I stop modeling at 2028? Short answer: uncertainty. After ten years, models lose almost all their predictive value.
But won’t these films keep being made on into the future? Don’t I need to account for that? Yes. And I will, when I put it all together. I plan to do that for this deal, but not until the last step when I do it for all the business lines at one time.
Please, can I see the unadjusted gross profits?
Sure, since you asked nicely. Again, I don’t think we should lead with this because they are misleading. The raw numbers just look better because they look bigger. (I’m losing clicks I know by not leading with this in the headline. But fine, here they are: First, the total revenue from 2013-2028, unadjusted:Do you learn as much? Again, I don’t think so because I think our brains translate that money into current price/value and not the true scaled price. But again it looks huge.
What is the current value of Star Wars movie revenue?
That’s a good question. First, I’m going to give you the unadjusted revenue for the next ten years. To show you how it can mislead you:
I put the expected value below it. So you could look at this and say, “Look, Lucasfilm is still worth $4.2 billion! In just movies!” But again, let’s discount for the time value of money. But instead of discounting to 2012, we need to discount it to the current value.
In this case, we see the revenue is “only” worth $2.5 billion for the next ten years. Still really not bad, but not as well as the initial deal did. Again, a lot of that is drive by the fact that most scenarios only have one or two “super-hits” whereas Disney came out and delivered three of those in a row.
Where do we go from here?
Back to the analogy. We just finished admiring a gorgeous view of financial prosperity. And we learned some things. But now we need to walk back down the hill.
The movies portion has long been the centerpiece of this deal from a financial standpoint. At least, that’s what I expected when I started on the model and remain convinced by after all this work.
But Disney is so much more than just movies. Toys. TV. Theme parks. Our walk down this hill to arrive at our final conclusion needs to analyze each of those lines of business. And I’ll do that next.