Disney pushing to retain spot as theme park king
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Disney pushing to retain spot as theme park king

The Walt Disney Company spent five decades as the de-facto king of the theme park world, with competitors like Time Warner and Viacom failing to find success in the sector. But 2010 saw a new challenger enter the arena: Universal Studios and Harry Potter. The addition of a wizarding-world attraction based on J.K. Rowling’s phenomenally successful series of books – and the films they inspired – meant that Disney had a serious rival for the first time.

Disney’s share price has risen 10% in 2017 so far

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SOURCE: Yahoo Finance

In its first full year of operations, Universal’s Wizarding World increased footfall to its park by 66%. It set a new standard for theme park innovation and put – for the first time in history – Disney on the back foot. Theme park designer Gary Goddard said that “things have really reversed: Disney used to lead. Now Disney’s following Universal. In doing so they’re going to try to top it.”

Disney is in a great position to reverse this situation. Walt Disney himself pretty much invented the concept of a modern day theme park as a fully realised world, ripe with pre-existing intellectual property. Margaret King, director of the Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis, which researches the sector, said of Uncle Walt’s bright idea:

“Nobody really knew what he was talking about. The closest he could come was to say that he was going to try to sort of cast his films in 3D form, so it was a movie you could walk around in.”

Disney’s theme park expansion year-by-year

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SOURCE: Bloomberg

Theme parks have always been important to Disney, but they are becoming more so. The company makes the biggest chunk of its revenue from subscription based TV services, like ESPN, and the ‘cord-cutting’ epidemic caused by services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video is hitting the business hard. Theme parks are the company’s most likely route to continued growth.

Perhaps the greatest weapon in Disney’s arsenal is its enormous range of well-loved creative properties, including the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Pixar, and Star Wars. The newest addition to Disney’s theme parks is directly lifted from this arsenal: Pandora, a realization of the world depicted in the highest grossing movie of all time, James Cameron’s Avatar.

With Avatar sequels in the works, Disney is hoping to capitalize on the most commercially successful idea in the history of cinema. Add to that Disney’s incredible pedigree in the sector, and Universal Studios should be concerned.

Disclosure

Dominion holds The Walt Disney Company in its Global Trends Luxury Fund. 


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