Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: March 30, 2005 at 8:25 PM
NBC UNIVERSAL'S PARKS
Who knows? Nostradumbass sure doesn't. Universal sure isn't helping as it is once again ignoring Islands of Adventure, and is only adding Fear Factor Live to the Studios parks. Normally that is a sign of a weak year, but the Orlando parks have been improving every year, and that includes IOA, which hasn't gotten a new ride since 2000. With Soarin' the only new Orlando attraction to create any excitement, there isn't any reason IOA and USF can't compete with Disney/MGM Studios with its new stunt show, SeaWorld Orlando with its new dolphin show and Animal Kingdom with its new nothing. Especially if this bogus 50th Anniversary celebration on the East Coast takes off. If WDW hotels are full throughout summer, then that means outlying hotels will fill up also. People that stay outside WDW are more likely to check out the non-Disney parks. Heck, people inside WDW are becoming more and more likely to check out the non-Disney parks.
But let's look at history. The parks most likely to weather hardships in the area are SeaWorld, MK and IOA. The others have all been up and down and back up. Which means if Universal has a problem, it will be over at USF. Still, the combination of an improved Shrek experience, a new show based on a series extremely popular with kids and Revenge of the Mummy still falling within its novelty phase should make it a more attractive destination than the ailing AK, if not the moldy D/MGM.
Furthermore, Universal Orlando is basically a perfect size for its position in the area. If WDW does extremely well this summer, UO's lower pass prices will look extremely inexpensive when compared to a non-discounted Disney vacation. How many people will pay for an extra day of the still-pathetic AK, when they can get two good parks for not much more? If WDW can't get people to open their wallets for a full week, then a long weekend inside UO is certainly an option for cashapped families. Now if they can only get the two parks on an alternating attraction-building schedule!
Universal Studios Hollywood is a whole 'nother story. The park usually falls apart when they don't introduce a new major attraction. Will Fear Factor Live be major enough? Actually, it might be major enough for the locals, who haven't had a repeat-worthy show in years. With every show being a little different, people might be more likely to buy the super-cheap Annual Passes, which will probably be part of the Buy A Day, Get the Year Free deals for most of the year (the current promotion ends in May, but will probably return after summer). Universal is also promising to greatly improve the hit USH coaster Revenge of the Mummy with new effects, more story and more scares, which should be easy to advertise to the cynical LA market.
Furthermore, much of Southern California may decide to stay away from Disneyland this summer since they know the place will be a madhouse. Locals are very knowledgeable about attendance flows at DL, which is why the park is full of them on Friday nights but free of them on Saturdays. (AP blackout dates help, but many APs are blackout free and people still stay away.) I would not be surprised to see every SoCal park, including problem parks like Knotts and Six Flags Magic Mountain, with improved attendance this year as the massive SoCal population steers clear of DL's 50th Anniversary. (Not to mention that most won't bother until Space Mountain opens in late summer anyhow.)
Then there's the massive influx of tourists this year, slobbering to check out DL on its big birthday. When out-of-towners come into town, what's usually on every itinerary? Disneyland, then Universal! (Yeah, Disneyland gets way better attendance numbers, but most tourists will do that park for two days and USH for one.) Seriously. When I lived in SoCal, EVERY SINGLE relative that came to visit - and I've got a million of them - listed both parks on their must-do lists. USH has a very high recognition factor. Everyone knows about USH because of the backlot tram tour. EVERYONE. Ask someone in the midwest about USH and the first thing out of that person's mouth is usually something about the trams. Ask someone in the midwest about WDW and more often than not that person thinks WDW is a single park that's just like Disneyland. It's not because USH is so fantastic; it's because Hollywood is so fantastic, at least to most Americans. The real Hollywood is fairly nasty, but Universal's Hollywood is the Hollywood all of us recognize. USH is going to be jampacked with funny accents this year.
So Nostradumbass sees bluish skies in Universal's American future, at least in 2005. What about overseas? Well, Universal sold their stake in the problematic Port Aventura. So all they have left is Universal Studios Japan until future maybe resorts open like those proposed in Germany and mainland China. USJ's 2005 is hard to predict, with Asia having so many economic problems lately, so Nostradumbass isn't even going to bother. Why should he? The theme park division of NBC Universal is nothing like Disney's theme park division, which made 25% of that company's revenue last year. When the parks were part of Vivendi Universal, they made up less than one percent of that company. While NBC Universal isn't as large as Vivendi Universal, NBC Universal is just a tiny portion of the ginormous General Electric. With a mere 50% ownership of the fairly profitable UO, 100% ownership of the slightly profitable USH and about 33% ownership of USJ, NBC Universal is not that worried about park profits. What NBC Universal IS interested in is whether they should be even bothering. The newish company doesn't seem to be in too much of a rush to sell, as they are trying out new angles of symmetry that they have never been capable of before. The Universal parks should continue doing well, so Nostradumbass doesn't see the parks being sold off for at least a couple years.
Those are Nostradumbass's two pennies... give him yours.