Universal Studios Parent Company Declares Orlando Theme Park War

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While the rest of the world focused on Comcast Chair and CEO Brian Roberts statement regarding a return to growth in subscribers to their legacy cable network business, the Orlando Sentinel picked up on quotes from Roberts that signal the theme parks wars in Orlando are well and truly on.

Okay, no one is actually declaring a theme park war, but when Roberts spoke today in Las Vegas at a Citigroup event and said, “We’re doubling down on theme parks. We think that there is a lot of ‘there’ there in the theme-park business for many years to come and that we have a low market share — and only one way to go,” that’s a sign that in Comcast and Universal’s mind, it’s game on.

When Comcast bought NBC/Universal, they took on the theme parks with an eye to selling them at some point in the future. But after some small investments in the parks paid off with an sizable increase in cash flow, they were convinced to invest in the larger Harry Potter land, which has been an unqualified success for the resort. Since that point, Universal has been going full speed ahead with other expansions including: The Simpsons, Transformers, a huge new resort, and more.

While it’s true that Disney’s four Orlando parks are consistently leaders in attendance, but if they have a little dip in numbers and Universal has great numbers when the second Harry Potter land opens in Orlando, it’s possible that one or both Universal parks could leap ahead of Disney’s Animal Kingdom and/or Disney’s Hollywood Studios in attendance. If Universal Orlando’s growth is similar to what occurred in 2010-2011 when the first Harry Potter area opened, then the above scenario is likely.

The question on the minds of many Orlando theme park observers is when will Disney wake up to this challenge. It’s true that Disney has announced an major expansion for Disney’s Animal Kingdom with the Avatar project, and a slew of new night time entertainment options. This will no doubt add to the number of hours guests spend in DAK, but as Avatarland won’t open until 2016 at the earliest, that gives Universal two years to build their attendance and pass DAK’s yearly visitor count. That’s just one park, nothing has been announced for the very stagnant Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Given the length of time it take Disney to open new attractions these days, it might be well past 2017 before any growth is seen at that park too.

If Universal does pass one or two Disney World parks, it will be quite a shock to Disney’s shareholders who are used to being unchallenged at the top of the theme park heap. With the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal has shown it can challenge Disney in more ways than one. Why do you think Disney has, so far, left Universal’s growth mostly unchallenged? What do you think Disney should do in response?

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11 Responses to Universal Studios Parent Company Declares Orlando Theme Park War

  1. Mike KC says:

    First “Avatar” Land…..you have to ask yourself is avatar the right franchise??
    Did people really love the movie or was it so popular because the 3D was so brilliantly stunning?? and now that 3D movies come out every month has the novelty worn off? will people flock to see the new movie? even if they do i doubt there is the cult following that Potter has.

    The need to bring cars land and star wars to the studios and they need to do it yesterday!

    i hope who ever let the potter franchise slip through Disney’s Fingers no longer works for the company.

  2. Dan Heaton says:

    I love the way that Universal isn’t accepting conventional wisdom as a second-tier park and is taking a shot at Disney. I keep expecting Disney to finally dig in their heels and make their parks amazing again. EPCOT and the Hollywood Studios need help! There is so much potential there without a huge investment. They can re-use a lot of their space and make it something amazing. I feel like they better start now or risk having to play catch up for a long time.

  3. Jacob says:

    The only party to blame in letting Potter slip away is Disney Parks and Resorts as a whole. They would not budge on the condition they insist on when incorporating any outside IP (intellectual property). That condition is the ultimate final say on any creative element–attraction, landscaping, architecture, etc. J.K. Rowling would not release the final say and ultimate control over her IP to the Disney Imagineers. Universal allowed her to keep this control and as such she is able to come in a ultimately veto any component of the Potter land(s) if she deems them unworthy.

  4. Heather says:

    DHS needs Star Wars Land. It’s that simple. I say this as both a Disney World fan and Disney stockholder.

    • William R. Cousert says:

      Disney needs to dedicate a whole park to Star Wars and Indiana Jones, not just a Star Wars land.

  5. Pingback: Diagon Alley – Harry Potter Photo Update from Universal Orlando | The Disney Blog

  6. Geoff says:

    I understand that Disney has spent a lot of money on MK and Fantasyland, and it’s great. The park needed more space and I think that it accomplished the mission. I hope that Disney starts spending money on Epcot and DHS now, both those parks are underutilized. Epcot has an entire building empty and blocked off by badly landscaped planters. Journey Into Imagination is hardly that anymore, its a shadow of what it was and could be again. At least there’s hope, I think FastTrack is a good sign of things to come.
    With DAK, I’m still completely confused by Avatarland. Yes it needs something badly to draw people in. My last two trips we skipped it entirely. DHS needs more than just a coat of paint. How many buildings have the Hot Set sign on them? DHS should be the action blockbuster movie response to the public asking what’s Disney got for adults. How is the Star Wars trench run not a roller coaster? Or a door ride from Monsters Inc? We should be seeing Storm Troopers in the park every day.

    So much potential. I think the biggest problem is that Disney knows (or knew) that they could draw in crowds no matter what, or else the ticket price increase wouldn’t have happened like they have been. With the favorable exchange rates, foreign visitors have supplanted any losses they’ve seen from domestic visitors. Hopefully Universal on the upswing will be enough to turn loose those Imagineers a little bit more.

  7. Storm says:

    I know this horse is skeletal by now, but I can’t help but beat it again – the sooner they drop the, albeit ridiculous, cash and buy out the Marvel rights, the better!
    Yes, Cars and Monsters, and even Muppets needs some more emphasis. But, to add to Geoff’s thought, if there were stormtroopers AND Avengers in DHS every day, and the requisite rides (even redo Indiana Jones as an Avengers themed show – can you imagine?!), a lot of people would forget there was another park!
    And yeah, there’s still Harry Potter – the last 2 times I’ve gone to Orlando, we seriously considered dropping a day there just for that, as we’re big Potter fans, but we didn’t (even though the last trip was two weeks!). All the horror stories of poor cast member performance and to many people of larger stature left with sad and embarrassing memories due to the ride seats, and we choose to ride Star Tours and Midway Mania a few more times! A bad day in Disney is better than a good day in a lot of other places, but it’s better than a bad day anywhere. :-)

  8. Michael says:

    I think Disney is listening. I’ve read a couple of Disney Blogs and Disney has grown tired if the analysis to paralyses way of developing new attractions at the park. They have I feel the BEST franchises for theme parks (Star Wars and Marvel), now it’s just a matter or which parts and pieces of Star Wars to place in Orlando.
    There are still some questions to be answered as far as Star Wars goes. On the west coast Star Tours is constantly a highly sought after attraction, but in Orlando Star Tours is rarely as sought after as in Disneyland. I’m sure that fact has the imagineers perplexed and concerned with putting such a huge investment in Orlando.

    • John Frost says:

      Actually the biggest difference between west coast and east coast Star Tours is capacity. Everyone who wants to ride at DHS can do so in fewer hours than at DL

  9. Erin Elizabeth says:

    I agree.with Heather. DHS needs Star Wars Land. Also, I suspect Avatar land will appear in AK.

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