In a recent interview with The New York Times, Universal Parks and Resorts Chairman Tom Williams commented on Universal Orlando’s unprecedented growth spurt. “We’re going to keep our foot on the pedal as far as it will go… Any chance we get to pour the gas directly into the carburetor, we’ll do that, too.”
Williams has definitely seen the ups and downs of Universal Orlando Resort, as he’s been there since the beginning when Universal Studios Florida had a rocky opening in 1990. Since then, the resort has had its ups and downs, from the opening of Islands of Adventure to Harry Potter becoming a huge success in both parks.
During that time, Universal Orlando has changed partial ownership several times, from Seagrams to Vivendi to Rank and more. A theme park is a vulnerable business considering when the economy takes a dive, parks are often the first to suffer, as people cut down on spending. When Comcast bought out NBC Universal, most analysts (including me) assumed that they would sell their stake in Universal’s theme parks to another company considering they were more focused on the movies and television content.
Not only were we wrong, we were dead wrong. Comcast has invested billions into the parks where previous investors decided to play it far more conservative. As a result of Comcast’s cash injection, Universal Hollywood is getting a $1.6 billion expansion, a new park in Beijing and Universal Orlando is getting a new water park, a new hotel and several new attractions.
What struck me as interesting (and this wasn’t exactly an announcement) was the article mentioned attractions based on “Fast and Furious,” “The Tonight Show” and Nintendo to be in the works, as well as previously known ones like King Kong opening at Islands of Adventure opening in 2016.
My educated guess is Nintendo will take over an entire land at Islands of Adventure, most likely replacing Toon Lagoon, which features fairly dated comic book strip characters that kids can no longer relate to. Nintendo is also the only known franchise opening at the resort that requires a licensing fee. Kong, “The Tonight Show” and “Fast and Furious” represent franchises already owned by Universal.
Which is a sharp contrast from their previous business philosophy. I did an article here at Theme Park University on how much of Universal Orlando is owned by Universal and the answer? Not much. More than half of the attractions and intellectual properties (IPs) are licensed out to other companies like Dreamworks, Marvel and Paramount.
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular seemed to mark a turning point for the park using their own IPs in favor of a licensed one. This was also a no-brainer considering Despicable Me 2 was the highest grossing picture in Universal Studios history until Jurassic World. However with “The Tonight Show,” “Fast and Furious” and King Kong all lined up, it seems that the strategy for new attractions might be to avoid those pesky licensing fees and stick within their own IPs moving forward. Your thoughts?
Images Copyright: Theme Park University, Universal Studios