Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: August 5, 2004 at 1:36 AM
Euro Disney is reporting a 3% decrease in revenue last quarter and is warning of increased losses in upcoming quarters. Even scarier, Disney is apparently having problems in its quest to restructure its debt and has extended the deadline to save Euro Disney from bankruptcy.
Walt Disney World has had a slower-than-expected summer, and hotel discounts were offered soon after the season started. Independence Day weekend was far below expected numbers at most, if not all, WDW parks. Now the parks are bringing back the Play 4 Days park hoppers for locals, a measure that has normally been used to get locals into the parks in the slow months between Spring Break and summer. Furthermore, Annual Passholders are finding their August blackout days have vanished and they can visit the parks whenever they please.
The Disneyland Resort has had a horrible summer. The Tower of Terror did NOTHING for attendance at the beleaguered California Adventure park. Disneyland, a park which usually weathers any storm, is having a summer worse than any it has seen in over two decades. Independence Day was worse here than in Orlando, and plans to jack up the prices of Annual Passes unraveled quickly.
What's going on?
It would be easy to use the word many Disney fans have used the last few years: cheapness. It certainly has a lot to do with it. Euro Disney's problems intensified when they built Walt Disney Studios Paris, a park meant to turn Disneyland Paris into a "resort." Except they didn't bother making it a park anyone would "resort" to visiting. As most of us know, the same thing happened when Disneyland became the Disneyland RESORT.
But what about WDW? Actually, WDW was the FIRST Disney resort to suffer from ill-advised expansion. Animal Kingdom burst onto the scene in 1998 and people flocked to it. But they flocked away from Epcot and Disney/MGM Studios to do so. This was especially shocking because Epcot had always had a rabid following and the initial excitement over the Tower of Terror had died down enough for Disney to open Fantasmic in the park that year.
Smartly, Disney was already in the process of adding major attractions to all three parks for the following year: Test Track at Epcot, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Disney/MGM and the Asia land at AK. 1999 was still a down year for WDW, but the new additions made 2000 a banner year.
The newfound Disney cheapness has hurt them since then. With three parks that need major help and Disney refusing to pony up the money needed to make them work, things have gotten worse and worse for the parks. Cheap fixes like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, One Man's Dream, the Millenium Celebration, Dino-Rama were the equivalent of repairing an amputation with a styptic pencil.
So are the parks actually going to do something to stop the bleeding? Sorta. In 2005, Epcot is the only one getting an actual E-Ticket, with their Soarin' clone. Disneyland will get a solid D-Ticket with their Buzz Lightyear clone and Space Mountain might actually reopen in 2006. Disney/MGM will get a clone of a show, albeit a show that is supposed to be amazing. DCA, the American park that needs the most work, will get... NOTHING. AK, the park that needs a lot of work also, will get... a walking dinosaur! WDSP, the park that needs more help than any theme park in the WORLD, will get... NOTHING.
So the trend continues. Of course, Disneyland will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2005 (and throughout 2006) and probably won't need much help. In fact, all parks will benefit from DL's Anniversary, as all are in on the celebration.
Fortunately the celebration is a lengthy one, as AK's Expedition Everest should make it in time for the tail end of the party. Strange things are going on in DCA also, as their Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is scheduled to close this month. This means three buildings in a row in the Hollywood area - Superstar Limo and the Hollywood and Vine eatery both closed permanently earlier in the year - will all be vacant in after summer. Coincidence? Hmmm.
Disneyland's problems are really being focused on by TDA also. Matt Ouimet, the head of the Disneyland Resort, has actually asked for even more money for the park. He believes the proposed Finding Nemo overlay for the Submarine Lagoon won't be enough and the park needs a major E-Ticket, something they haven't had for almost a decade. He is suggesting a major NEW attraction using the ride system from Tokyo DisneySea's 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. While water isn't necessary for this ride, it is definitely an improvement over resuscitating the slow-loading Subs.
Which brings us to Michael Eisner's legacy. We all know what has happened to the parks since Eisner brought on Paul Pressler to milk every cent out of them. But Eisner has two years left on his contract, if he isn't booted before then, and the next two years are going to be very busy at the parks. Eisner will head out after a 2005 that should be the parks' most successful. The new Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, Soarin' and Everest should be huge crowd-pleasers, and that many major rides in about a year will surely be noticed. Especially if DCA gets something other than a Rock 'n' Roller Coaster clone in those newly empty buildings, and gets it quickly.
But that doesn't change the fact that DCA and AK will still be half-sized parks when he steps down. Or the fact that WDSP will still be a third-size park. Or the fact that another show, no matter how exciting, will help Disney/MGM for long. Or the fact that the other parks still need major help.
The most important fact is that Eisner will not be remembered for the movies Disney has produced. He will not be remembered for the Oscars Miramax has won. He will not be remembered for the television shows Buena Vista creates or those that air on their networks. He WILL be remembered for driving away Pixar and Jeffrey Katzenberg, the two biggest names in animation nowadays.
The only way Eisner can counteract being remembered for these defections is to start throwing major money at the theme parks. Eisner made his name bringing the parks to glory in the 90s, and he can do it again in 2006. It's his choice...