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Robert Niles

Robert's interview with MiceAge's Al Lutz

Published: October 22, 2007 at 8:13 AM

I've got an interview with MiceAge creator and long-time Disney watcher Al Lutz up on Online Journalism Review. (That's the other site I edit, for the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, where I sometimes teach.)

Lutz talks about breaking the news on DCA, as well as other stories over the years.

It didn't make the cut for the OJR interview, but Lutz shared his take on why Disney didn't make the deal to get Harry Potter at Walt Disney World, leaving the deal for Universal Orlando to make. Lutz said that the deal, as proposed to Disney, was a 15 year license, with H.P. author J.K. Rowling given the exclusive right to opt out after those 15 years. If she did, that would have left Disney in position where it had to either tear down or entirely retheme its Potter development.

Presumably, Universal's in the same boat now. But I still think the deal makes sense for Universal.

As the market leader, Disney probably would not have been able to bring in enough additional visitors to make a Potter development to both pay for itself and provide the same sort of return on investment that Disney could get spending the money elsewhere. Heck, Disney World's parks are often maxed out on visitors as it is.

But Universal lags Disney significantly in attendance. Simply, Potter would have far more "bang for the buck" in those parks than they would in Disney's. So it is more likely that Universal would be able to get the necessary return on investment with Potter in just 15 years.

Anyway, there's more good stuff over on OJR, so I hope you take a look.

Replies (9)

Gareth H

Published: October 22, 2007 at 12:10 PM

So is that a serious response to Disney "Declining" the Harry Potter deal, or are they saving face because Universal have it?

Either way, its a great opportunity for Universal.

Anthony Murphy

Published: October 22, 2007 at 1:22 PM

Well I think Disney is a bit shy when it comes to deals like that. Anybody remember Ace Ventura? Goosebumps? I think Disney would like to forget about that as well!
Robert Niles

Published: October 22, 2007 at 2:06 PM

To clarify a bit, I think the numbers would work out the same for Disney and Universal if Disney could quanify the opportunity cost of keeping Potter away from its rivals. Unfortunately, accountants don't do that. So, absent that substantial benefit in the analysis, the remaining benefits of Potter at Disney (attendance, spending, etc.) do not overweigh the risks of losing the deal after 15 years, with the resulting loss of income, negative will, costs of rehabs/tear-downs, etc.
TH Creative

Published: October 22, 2007 at 5:09 PM

I really think that the implication that Ms. Rowling herself had a significant role in the negotiations related to theme parks is very overstated. She signed off on zillions of dollars worth of plastic-ware that was made in China. Real crap. Why get picky over theme parks? Hell, Potter already has had a theme park presence in an Australia -- where there was a walk-thru recreation of Diagnon Alley.

I have no doubts that Ms. Rowling has standards. Standards that shape her representatives have demands. But while Ms. Rowling may not have wanted Harry chugging a Coke in a TV commercial, sitting six inches from my keyboard is an 8 oz. bottle of Coke bearing a logo promoting the release of the movie 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.' Why on earth would association with soda be less tacky than presence in a theme park?

Further anecdotal evidence has been shown in the production of the films. While she was heavily involved with the first flick, it's known that she made only one trip to the set of the second.

Make no mistake, I have read all the books (big fan) and respect Ms. Rowling as an artist. But I have to approach ANY "inside info" related to this licensing negotiation, with a degree of skepticism.

Gareth H

Published: October 23, 2007 at 6:38 AM

With the recent "Outing" of Dumbledore, maybe Disney is breathing a huge sigh of relief.
After all, Disney regards itself as a true family park and unless WDW was located in Boston, I don't think the execs would would welcome Adam & Steve as much as they are willing to accpet Adam & Eve.

Universal must be rubbing their hands together with all this free publicity, just in time for its 2008 advertising campaign, which has the subtle introduction of Harry Potter.

Chris Wilkes

Published: October 23, 2007 at 8:38 AM

There is also a huge difference between signing off on merchandising that will be on and off shelves in a couple of months (movie specific soda/ snack wrappers and such)- and even toy and collectible lines that will come and go with each season... and signing off on exclusivity of what (apart from the books and movies themselves) will be the absolute defining monument and living embodiment of the HP series for at LEAST a decade and a half. Huge difference.
Robert OGrosky

Published: October 23, 2007 at 11:05 AM

I think disney made the right decision in not getting invloved in Harry Potter. They have there own products that they can use for theme park attractions or work with Lucas if outside help is needed. USF needs this much more, I would rather see disney get involved in some type of deal to add a Lord of the Rings/Hobbit attractions at the park rather than any thing to do with potter!!!
Bill Willin

Published: October 23, 2007 at 4:34 PM

In regards to Gareth H's comment, you obviously have never heard about WDW's "Gay Day" at the Magic Kingdom! I wouldn't think the Disney machine would worry twice about a character's choice.
Mostly Anonymous

Published: October 25, 2007 at 12:30 PM

I wonder if the success of Narnia for Disney had any influence on the decision.

If Disney wants to build a land with magical creatures and castles, wouldn't they prefer to use Narnia, now that it has been a success? Why build theme park attractions that will help sell books and DVDs that you don't profit from, when instead you could focus on your own product, which you are planning to turn into a whole series of movies.

Not that there seem to be any plans out there to build Narnia in one of the parks. But both Narnia and Harry Potter are in the same fantasy genre, and Universal's alignment with Harry Potter wasn't finalized until after Narnia was a success. So it just makes me wonder.

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