1) Grassroots promotion
Universal's announcement that riders would be able to select their own on-ride soundtracks on Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit drew many comments from fans, and understandably so. Theme park attractions need more interactivity. Theme park fans of my generation (X) grew up with movies. But today's emerging theme park consumers grew up with video games. To reach those visitors, a park needs to offer rides that evoke a video game experience, ones that react and change as riders make choices and respond to cues.
That's why Disney's poured millions of dollars into its upcoming interactive Toy Story Mania rides, advancing what it started with its Buzz Lightyear shoot-'em-up rides a few years ago. Legoland just debuted its own video-game inspired dark ride. Roller coasters offer fewer opportunities for rider control than dark rides, but Universal's customized music soundtracks represent a solid first step.
But the real payoff from rider customization doesn't come at the beginning of the ride. No, it lies at ride's end. Universal also announced that Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit will feature on-ride video of riders, which those riders will be able to mix and e-mail to friends.
And, one presumes, eventually upload to YouTube.
People love roller coaster videos online. Unfortunately, almost all of them are bootleg, recorded in violation of parks' published safety policies. But parks occasionally do enable safe on-ride video recording, typically during press events for new coasters. With lipstick cameras on the rides, cut in with professionally recorded long shots of the coaster on the track, these ride videos impress even casual fans, and get folks excited about visiting the parks.
Our on-ride video of Busch Gardens Europse's Griffon, shot at the park's media day last spring, has been watched nearly half a million times on YouTube. Imagine thousands of 'Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit' riders posting their own legally and professionally-recorded videos to the Web, and the buzz that could create for Universal.
2) Crowd control
Of course, Universal's not going to have a problem attracting visitors to its Orlando resort next year. Remember, there's this little thing going in at the neighboring Islands of Adventure park called The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. So why spend the money on a new ride at Universal Studios Florida when Harry Potter's going to bring so many people to Universal Orlando anyway?
Simple: crowd control.
Remember, visitors to both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure park in the same parking structure at the Universal Orlando Resort. They then walk on a common pathway through the CityWalk entertainment complex before reaching the lagoon and splitting off into one of the two parks.
'Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit', by soaring 17 stories at Universal Studios Florida's entrance and flying through the CityWalk complex, will provide an impressive visual "weenie" to draw some folks over to the right, as so many visitors follow Harry Potter to Islands of Adventure, on the left.
If 'The Wizarding World' delivers the crush of customers that the Harry Potter franchise has delivered in books and movies, Universal's going to need something, anything, to siphon visitors away from what could otherwise be many-hours-long waits next summer in Islands of Adventure. A few readers have criticized Universal for placing 'Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit' so close to USF's entrance, and winding it through CityWalk. I think that this placement is essential in positioning the coaster as a viable alternative for people intimidated by the crowds swarming Harry Potter.
We'll see how 'Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit' turns out. Many times, theme park attractions look great in concept art, then fail to deliver once up and operating. But the design, features and placement of this roller coaster reflect smart, forward thinking from Universal Orlando.
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