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‘Star Wars’ debuted at record $528 million worldwide, Iger says

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“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” probably took about $528 million in box-office sales worldwide in its record weekend debut, more than Walt Disney Co. anticipated, Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger said.

At that level, the first live-action “Star Wars” film in a decade beats the previous global record by about $3 million — “Jurassic World” reached $524.9 million earlier this year. As of Sunday, Disney estimated the worldwide total at $517 million.

“It’s bigger than big — it’s bigger than we thought it would be yesterday,” Iger said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg TV’s Stephanie Ruhle and David Westin. “And China has yet to open.”

The new “Star Wars” film will nourish Disney’s studio, theme-park and merchandise businesses for years. Since acquiring creator Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012, Burbank, California- based Disney has expanded the merchandise lines, produced new TV shows and mapped plans for themed lands at parks in California and Florida. And the studio has as many as five more “Star Wars” films in the works.

Using his most optimistic estimates, Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne figures Disney could earn $1.35 billion from “The Force Awakens.” That forecast assumes $2.25 billion in worldwide ticket sales and almost $1 billion more from home entertainment, TV and merchandise royalties. He put the film’s production budget at $200 million, a sum that doesn’t include many millions more for marketing and distribution.

While “Star Wars” has shattered records, other parts of Disney’s businesses have raised concerns among investors. Recent subscriber losses at ESPN, which remains the dominant sports outlet in American and is Disney’s most profitable channel, have contributed to two meltdowns in media stocks since August, because they cast light on the magnitude of the number of consumers who are dropping traditional TV packages for cheaper online alternatives.

“I thought it was an overreaction,” Iger said of the August selloff, which was triggered by his comments about ESPN’s moderate subscriber losses.

“It’s clear that television is experiencing some disruptive forces,” the CEO said, adding there’s more disruption ahead with more and more ways to watch video than just TV. Still, “ESPN is something of great value in a disrupted market.”

Disney rose 1.4 percent to $109.21 before the markets opened. Through Friday, they’d gained 14 percent, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 2.6 percent.

The latest “Star Wars” also shattered records domestically. Market researcher Rentrak Corp. estimated Sunday that the movie collected $238 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales, topping the $208.8 million hauled in by Universal Studios’ “Jurassic World.” Iger said the actual number may reach $247 million.

Credit Suisse analyst Omar Sheikh estimated that “The Force Awakens” and four additional “Star Wars” pictures scheduled through 2019 could generate $7.8 billion in total revenue and $4.2 billion in profit for Disney.

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