DIS » Topics » ACCOUNTING POLICIES AND ESTIMATES

This excerpt taken from the DIS 10-K filed Dec 7, 2005.
ACCOUNTING POLICIES AND ESTIMATES

      We believe that the application of the following accounting policies, which are important to our financial position and results of operations, requires significant judgments and estimates on the part of management. For a summary of our significant accounting policies, including the accounting policies discussed below, see Note 2 to the Consolidated Financial Statements.

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Film and Television Revenues and Costs

      We expense the cost of film and television production and participations as well as certain multi-year sports rights over the applicable product life cycle based upon the ratio of the current period’s gross revenues to the estimated remaining total gross revenues or on a straight-line basis, as appropriate. These estimates are calculated on an individual production basis for film and television and on an individual contract basis for sports rights. Estimates of total gross revenues can change significantly due to a variety of factors, including advertising rates, the level of market acceptance of the production and trends in consumer behavior.

      For film productions, estimated remaining gross revenue from all sources includes revenue that will be earned within ten years of the date of the initial theatrical release. For television series, we include revenues that will be earned within ten years of the delivery of the first episode, or if still in production, five years from the date of delivery of the most recent episode, if later. For acquired film libraries, remaining revenues include amounts to be earned for up to twenty years from the date of acquisition.

      Television network and station rights for theatrical movies, series and other programs are charged to expense based on the number of times the program is expected to be shown. Estimates of usage of television network and station programming can change based on competition and audience acceptance. Accordingly, revenue estimates and planned usage are reviewed periodically and are revised if necessary. A change in revenue projections or planned usage could have an impact on our results of operations.

      Costs of film and television productions and programming costs for our television and cable networks are subject to valuation adjustments pursuant to applicable accounting rules. The net realizable value of the television broadcast program licenses and rights are reviewed using a daypart methodology. A daypart is defined as an aggregation of programs broadcast during a particular time of day or programs of a similar type. The Company’s dayparts are: early morning, daytime, late night, primetime, news, children and sports (includes network and cable). The net realizable values of other cable programming assets are reviewed on an aggregated basis for each cable channel. Estimated values are based upon assumptions about future demand and market conditions. If actual demand or market conditions are less favorable than our projections, film, television and programming cost write-downs may be required.

Revenue Recognition

      The Company has revenue recognition policies for its various operating segments, which are appropriate to the circumstances of each business. See Note 2 to the Consolidated Financial Statements for a summary of these revenue recognition policies.

      We record reductions to revenues for estimated future returns of merchandise, primarily home video, DVD and software products, and for customer programs and sales incentives. These estimates are based upon historical return experience, current economic trends and projections of customer demand for and acceptance of our products. If we underestimate the level of returns in a particular period, we may record less revenue in later periods when returns exceed the predicted amount. Conversely, if we overestimate the level of returns for a period, we may have additional revenue in later periods when returns are less than predicted.

      Revenues from advance theme park ticket sales are recognized when the tickets are used. For non-expiring, multi-day tickets and tickets sold through bulk distribution channels, we recognize revenue based on estimated usage patterns which are derived from historical usage patterns. A change in these estimated usage patterns could have an impact on the timing of revenue recognition.

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Pension and Postretirement Benefit Plan Actuarial Assumptions

      The Company’s pension and postretirement medical benefit obligations and related costs are calculated using actuarial concepts, within the framework of Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 87 Employer’s Accounting for Pensions and Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 106, Employer’s Accounting for Postretirement Benefits Other than Pensions, respectively. Two critical assumptions, the discount rate and the expected return on plan assets, are important elements of expense and/or liability measurement. We evaluate these critical assumptions annually. Other assumptions include the healthcare cost trend rate and employee demographic factors such as retirement patterns, mortality, turnover and rate of compensation increase.

      The discount rate enables us to state expected future cash payments for benefits as a present value on the measurement date. The guideline for setting this rate is a high-quality long-term corporate bond rate. A lower discount rate increases the present value of benefit obligations and increases pension expense. We decreased our discount rate to 5.25% in 2005 from 6.30% in 2004 to reflect market interest rate conditions at our June 30, 2005 measurement date. The assumed discount rate for pension plans reflects the market rates for high-quality corporate bonds currently available. The Company’s discount rate was determined by considering the average of pension yield curves constructed of a large population of high quality corporate bonds. The resulting discount rate reflects the matching of plan liability cash flows to the yield curves. A one percent decrease in the assumed discount rate would increase total net periodic pension and postretirement medical expense for fiscal 2006 by $167 million and would increase the projected benefit obligation at October 1, 2005 by $1.1 billion, respectively. A one percent increase in the assumed discount rate would decrease these amounts by $139 million and $919 million, respectively.

      To determine the expected long-term rate of return on the plan assets, we consider the current and expected asset allocation, as well as historical and expected returns on each plan asset class. A lower expected rate of return on pension plan assets will increase pension expense. Our long-term expected return on plan assets was 7.50% in both 2005 and 2004, respectively. A one percent change in the long-term return on pension plan asset assumption would impact fiscal 2006 annual pension and postretirement medical expense by approximately $36 million. See Note 8 to the Consolidated Financial Statements.

Goodwill, Intangible Assets, Long-lived Assets and Investments

      Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 142, Goodwill and Other Intangible Assets (SFAS 142) requires that goodwill and other intangible assets be tested for impairment on an annual basis. We completed our impairment testing as of October 1, 2005 and determined that there were no impairment losses related to goodwill and other intangible assets prior to the implementation of Emerging Issues Task Force Topic D-108, Use of the Residual Method to Value Acquired Assets Other than Goodwill (EITF D-108), as described under “Accounting Changes” below. In assessing the recoverability of goodwill and other intangible assets, market values and projections regarding estimated future cash flows and other factors are used to determine the fair value of the respective assets. If these estimates or related projections change in the future, we may be required to record impairment charges for these assets.

      SFAS 142 requires the Company to compare the fair value of each reporting unit to its carrying amount on an annual basis to determine if there is potential goodwill impairment. If the fair value of a reporting unit is less than its carrying value, an impairment loss is recorded to the extent that the fair value of the goodwill within the reporting unit is less than the carrying value of its goodwill. For purposes of performing the impairment test for goodwill as required by SFAS 142 we established the following reporting units: Cable Networks, Television Broadcasting, Radio, Studio Entertainment, Consumer Products and Parks and Resorts.

      To determine the fair value of our reporting units, we generally use a present value technique (discounted cash flow) corroborated by market multiples when available and as appropriate, except

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for the Television Network, a business within the Television Broadcasting reporting unit. The Television Broadcasting reporting unit includes the Television Network and the owned and operated television stations. These businesses have been grouped together because their respective cash flows are dependent on one another. For purposes of our impairment test, we used a revenue multiple to value the Television Network. We did not use a present value technique or a market multiple approach to value the Television Network as a present value technique would not capture the full fair value of the Television Network and there is little comparable market data available due to the scarcity of television networks. We applied what we believe to be the most appropriate valuation methodology for each of the reporting units. If we had established different reporting units or utilized different valuation methodologies, the impairment test results could differ.

      SFAS 142 requires the Company to compare the fair value of an indefinite-lived intangible asset to its carrying amount. If the carrying amount of an indefinite-lived intangible asset exceeds its fair value, an impairment loss is recognized. Fair values for goodwill and other indefinite-lived intangible assets are determined based on discounted cash flows, market multiples or appraised values as appropriate.

      The Company has cost and equity investments. The fair value of these investments is dependent on the performance of the investee companies, as well as volatility inherent in the external markets for these investments. In assessing potential impairment for these investments, we consider these factors as well as forecasted financial performance of our investees. If these forecasts are not met, impairment charges may be required.

Contingencies and Litigation

      We are currently involved in certain legal proceedings and, as required, have accrued estimates of the probable and estimable losses for the resolution of these claims. These estimates have been developed in consultation with outside counsel and are based upon an analysis of potential results, assuming a combination of litigation and settlement strategies. It is possible, however, that future results of operations for any particular quarterly or annual period could be materially affected by changes in our assumptions or the effectiveness of our strategies related to these proceedings. See Note 13 to the Consolidated Financial Statements for more detailed information on litigation exposure.

Income Tax Audits

      As a matter of course, the Company is regularly audited by federal, state and foreign tax authorities. From time to time, these audits result in proposed assessments. During the fourth quarter of fiscal 2005, the Company reached settlements with the Internal Revenue Service regarding all assessments proposed with respect to its federal income tax returns for 1996 through 2000, and a settlement with the California Franchise Tax Board regarding assessments proposed with respect to its state tax returns for 1994 through 2003. These favorable settlements resulted in the Company releasing $102 million in tax reserves which are no longer required with respect to these matters. During the fourth quarter of fiscal 2004, the Company reached a settlement with the Internal Revenue Service regarding all assessments proposed with respect to its federal income tax returns for 1993 through 1995. The favorable settlement resulted in the Company releasing $120 million in tax reserves that are no longer required with respect to these matters. During the fourth quarter of fiscal 2003, the Company favorably resolved certain state income tax audit issues and released $56 million of related tax reserves.

Stock Option Compensation Expense

      Compensation expense for stock options is estimated on the grant date using a Black-Scholes option-pricing model. The weighted average assumptions used in the Black-Scholes model were 4.75, 6.0 and 6.0 years for the expected term and 27%, 40% and 40% for the expected volatility for fiscal years 2005, 2004 and 2003, respectively. Future expense amounts for any particular quarterly or annual period could be affected by changes in our assumptions or changes in market conditions.

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      In connection with the adoption of SFAS 123R (see Note 2 to the Consolidated Financial Statements), the Company reviewed and updated, among other things, its forfeiture, expected term and volatility assumptions. The weighted average expected option term for 2005 reflects the application of the simplified method set out in SEC Staff Accounting Bulletin No. 107 (SAB 107), which was issued in March 2005. The simplified method defines the life as the average of the contractual term of the options and the weighted average vesting period for all option tranches.

      Estimated volatility for fiscal 2005 also reflects the application of SAB 107 interpretive guidance and, accordingly, incorporates historical and implied share-price volatility, with implied volatility derived from exchange traded options on the Company’s common stock and other traded financial instruments, such as the Company’s convertible debt. Volatility for 2004 and 2003 was estimated based upon historical share-price volatility. See Note 10 to the Consolidated Financial Statements for more detailed information.

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