updated 11/8/2007 8:46:48 PM ET 2007-11-09T01:46:48

Net profit rose 12 percent at The Walt Disney Co. in the fourth quarter, led by growth at its ESPN cable channel, more visitors at theme parks, and increased sales of consumer products, the media conglomerate reported Thursday.

Disney reported net income of $877 million, or 44 cents per share, for the quarter ended Sept. 29, compared with $782 million, or 36 cents per share, for the year-ago period.

Earnings benefited from a 2 cents per share gain related to prior-year income tax matters. Without the one-time item, earnings for the quarter were 42 cents per share.

Revenue grew to $8.93 billion from $8.65 billion in the same period last year.

Analysts at Thomson Financial had anticipated earnings of 41 cents per share on revenue of $8.98 billion.

“We’ve delivered another year of outstanding financial results, powered by across-the-board creative strength,” Robert Iger, Disney’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The only lagger in the quarter was Disney’s film studio, which saw a 21 percent decrease in operating profit and a 24 percent drop in revenue.

The studio suffered from unfavorable comparisons with last year’s fourth quarter, which included revenue from “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”

Disney, which owns the ABC network, said it has contingency plans in place in the event of a prolonged strike by the Writers Guild of America.

The plans include cutting costs and increasing movies, holiday programming and reality shows, Iger said.

“We would hope that we’ll be able to find a way to settle this difference and settle the strike before there’s damage done to the business or, by the way, to the community that we operate in,” Iger told analysts in a conference call.

“There is a trickle-down effect that this has on more than just people directly associated with producing these shows. Southern California is going to feel it first and hard, and I think that’s just a shame,” he said.

Attendance at Disney’s domestic theme parks grew 5 percent in the quarter, mostly at the Walt Disney World complex in Florida. Guest spending grew 2 percent, said Thomas Staggs, Disney’s chief financial officer.

“Thus far, our businesses remain strong, and we have not seen indications of a downturn in the economy,” Staggs said.

Profits at Disney’s consumer products division increased 10 percent on strong sales of merchandise related to the Pixar movie “Cars” and other items.

The company said it would increase its capital spending as it ramps up its video game unit.

Looking ahead to 2008, Staggs said bookings at Disney’s domestic theme parks were in the “mid-single digits” ahead of last year.

Advertising pricing at ABC was running double digits ahead of the prices secured before the season launched. The demand for advertising on Disney’s cable networks also looked strong, Staggs said.

For the full fiscal year, Disney reported net income of $4.69 billion, or $2.25 per share, compared with $3.37 billion, or $1.64 per share, for fiscal 2006.

Revenue increased to $35.51 billion from $33.75 billion.

Analysts had been looking for annual net income of $1.92 per share on revenue of $35.63 billion.

Shares of Disney rose 13 cents to $33.63 Thursday. After the results were released, the shares were down 42 cents in extended trading.

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