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Let's play 'Connect the Dots'*

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Published: August 13, 2012 at 2:30 PM

Here's a huge thank you to several Theme Park Insider readers, who shall not be named but who have helped me play "connect the dots" between several recent developments affecting the theme park industry.

Spider-Man, at Universal's Islands of Adventure
Wait a minute - Am I going to Disney World?

In case you missed it, Hollywood gossip says that new NBCUniversal owner Comcast is ready to make some changes at the top of Universal Studios. In the proposed shakeup, Universal Parks & Recreation CEO Tom Williams will move up the organizational chart, becoming a direct report to NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke. That's great news for theme park fans, as it would represent a strong statement by NBCUniversal about the value it's placing on theme parks within its business.

But the move that should get your attention is the one that would see current Universal Studios chief Ron Meyer move on to other duties in the company, clearing the way for DreamWorks CEO Stacy Snider to come back to run Universal. She'd be bringing her partner (and longtime Universal theme parks consultant) Steven Spielberg with her, of course.

But there's a snag.

You see, a few years ago, Snider and Spielberg signed a distribution deal with… the Walt Disney Studios. So Snider and Spielberg allegedly can't decamp for Universal without being released from that Disney contract first.

Now, if you're running Disney, what might Universal have that you'd really, really want, in exchange for letting Snider and Spielberg walk?

(Yeah, this would be a much bigger deal than Al Michaels for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit - the last time Disney and Universal swapped assets.)

If Disney were to get this property it covets, it would of course want to make sure it had assigned a top Imagineer to Orlando to oversee its introduction into the parks and resorts there, right?

And if Universal were to give up this asset to Disney, it would want to rush construction of a new thrill ride similar to a highly-popular one themed to this soon-to-be-lost asset, right?

And if you were Universal, you would want to hold back officially announcing this new ride, as well as the other major new development under construction in the same park, until you needed those announcements to "soften the blow" of giving up this prized asset, right?

Fascinating hypothetical, isn't it?

*Update: And now (Tuesday), Deadline New York is reporting that the Snider/Spielberg deal is dead, and the two are staying with DreamWorks and Disney. That blows up the picture, doesn't it?

Readers' Opinions

From David Brown on August 13, 2012 at 2:41 PM
Well Robert, you were ahead of the game on Harry Potter Phase 2 so you have a good track record. I'll be watching this space eagerly to see whether your hypothesising is on the money again...
From Anon Mouse on August 13, 2012 at 2:45 PM
It sounds more like a Dreamworks and Unversal merger than a re-organizational. Can they separate the persons from the product and leave the Dreamworks distribustion deal intact with Disney?
From Bob Liebe on August 13, 2012 at 2:54 PM
That is a very plausible hypothesis Robert! There are still many other possible reasons for the moves being made by both companies, but if you’re right, there would be a huge shake up in WDW and UOR in the next few years. Only time will tell. Orlando brace yourself!!! :-)
From James Rao on August 13, 2012 at 2:55 PM
Hulk, Stormforce, and the lamentable Fearfall can all be given an easy makeover to some new theme (Madagascar?). But Spider-Man would be a more difficult change. You can't just slap a new theme on such an immersive, narrative attraction. So, are you speculating that Spider-Man would close completely at IOA at least for a few years until a suitable replacement could be crafted? If so, then the park would suffer a HUGE blow. Harry Potter may be the top draw, but without Spidey, IOA is a vastly diminished experience.
From Bob Liebe on August 13, 2012 at 3:33 PM
If Disney gains the Marvel rights in Florida, then they could add a great land to DHS or possibly a 5th gate down the road and it would be a great addition to WDW. But what would be next for Universal? They would have to come up with something quick to replace Marvel Island, otherwise IOA would take a big hit. Storm Force, Hulk, and DR. Doom would be easy to switch over to a new theme, but Spiderman would take time, and the scenery would need to change too, which would lead to some serious downtime for that area in IOA. I had thought hypothetically before about a Hasbro Land possibly replacing Marvel in IOA. They could have Transformers, GI Joe, and Battleship (which Universal already owns), so it could have worked in well. But since Transformers is going in old SS 44 in USF, a Hasbro Land in IOA wouldn't make sense. So the other idea discussed on TPI before was DC comics taking over IOA. I think that this could be one of the best ideas for a replacement as long as Universal could get the rights from Six Flags. I know Universal Creative would do a great job with DC and utilize the characters and themes in more immersive way than ever before. It would be awesome to hop from a Marvel land at Disney to a DC Island at IOA all in the same vacation. It's a comic book nerd’s paradise!!! I would defiantly miss Marvel at IOA though! :-(
From Amanda Jenkins on August 13, 2012 at 4:23 PM
These next few years, I believe, are going to be quite interesting in terms of announcements. I can't wait to see how it all will unfold. And I completely agree with the above statements on your track record, Robert, for prediciting news
From Nick Markham on August 13, 2012 at 4:26 PM
James, if Universal really was struggling to re-theme Spiderman, they could very easily replace it with Transformers (it is basically the same ride and layout) and just make MARVEL Super Hero Island into a Sci-Fi City like in Singapore.
From 12.69.234.130 on August 13, 2012 at 4:28 PM
James...he's speculating that Spiderman will close in the near future and that its replacement has already been fastracked and is currently under construction...transformers.
I'd vote for a fast and furious race ride in IOA marvel area.
PS the true gold mine is Batman. Whichever one of these theme park giants gets their hands on that will have one of the biggest money makers ever.
From Dominick D on August 13, 2012 at 4:40 PM
Nick, Transformers has an ENTIRELY different layout then Spiderman.
From Sean Huckel on August 13, 2012 at 4:50 PM
Robert, interesting idea, but rushing to build Transformers just doesn't jive with it, IMO.

If they were going to be retheming MSHI any time soon, I figure they would be trying to shoe horn it into there instead of rushing to build it within 13 months.

From James Rao on August 13, 2012 at 5:10 PM
Nick, I wrote that statement based on the assertion Robert makes that Transformers is going in at Studios. Obviously two Transformers rides wouldn't be a good idea.
From Jonah Sirota on August 13, 2012 at 5:15 PM
Cool report, Robert! (although some of us were looking forward to hearing your thoughts on an EPCOT remake today ;)
I wonder, since this is a two-way negotiation, whether Universal would give up Spiderman in Orlando. It's just seems too important to IOA, not to mention that the Transformers ride is going to USF, not IOA. Perhaps they caved to Disney on Marvel in Orlando in general (paving the way for Avengers land at DHS), and gave up use of all non-Spidey Marvel stuff. Then (as someone has already mentioned) all they would need to do is change the Hulk, etc, to DC theming, and they will end up with... The most kick-ass six flags park ever!
But seriously, It still makes sense to, as you said, 'soften the blow,' of Marvel leaving Universal, that they would fast-track Transformers. But I think spiderman would be a huge loss for Universal, perhaps too huge. But I'm not looking at the intell you have...
From Robert Niles on August 13, 2012 at 5:29 PM
Sorry for the delay on Epcot. The Bistro de Paris and Cedar Point announcements forced me to push the Epcot piece back a day. It'll be up tomorrow.
From 208.88.192.64 on August 13, 2012 at 6:53 PM
A little birdie told a a month or so ago that a few Disney face character castmembers were already entering the early stages of training to be a few Marvel characters. I would take that information with a grain of salt, but at the same time I fully trust my source.
From Manny Barron on August 13, 2012 at 6:59 PM
This was really interesting and it all makes too much sense. All we have to do is wait for the official announcement on Transformers and everything else.

What is it with these delays in announcements? When is Universal going to detail its Wizarding World in Hollywood?....and now this very intriguing development out East.

From 24.26.54.199 on August 13, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Well who's to say Transformers is going into ss44? Universal hasn't actually announced anything for that space yet even though construction on the building itself has begun. Obviously if Universal were to lose the marvel characters from IOA, then Transformers could easily take over the Spider-Man attraction, and the idea of a Hasbro themed land would be interesting and very different. Like it was said earlier, they have the potential of using Battleship as well as G.I.Joe characters. Granted I would miss the marvel characters at IOA, but the change would be welcomed. At the same time, adding the Marvel characters to WDW would seem very hard as to where they could fit in aside from DHS which seems the most obvious, or possibly taking over the Imagination pavilion at Epcot would be interesting to think too.
From Carl Fox on August 14, 2012 at 1:19 AM
I 'm going on record as saying i don't think Spiderman will be going anywhere soon.

It makes no sense for Disney to have spiderman from universal as they make tons of money from the license (sony - film and Universal - character) they also sell the merchandise.

The character they would want the most if any is the Hulk to fit in with Avengers film

Now the biggest thing USO has over Disney is the Contract and that exclusive use clause.

What Disney should do is get that clause scrubbed and BOTH parks have the characters / Rides / Theming

Both parks could have there own Marvel agenda.

I can see disney doing Marvel weekends like the Star-wars weekends.

According to Stich Kingdom everything but TOT in DHS has had construction permits granted could that simply be next gen input or something else.

The move of the Imagineer is clearly for a new land/area and I think it could be Marvel

Disney is a lot about the Experience and Universal is about rides and thrills Disney needs to start building big thrill rides (ok thunder mountain/space mountain etc but there "old" classic but "old") we are seeing this with the new Snow white ride in Fantasyland Avengers/Marvel land steps away from Disney of old and moves it into the future they could build a winged coster based on the Chitauri and the buildings around be wrecked or it could be Iron Man.

what ever happens i hope it all does soon I'm looking to visit in late 2014 by that time WWOHP 2 and Fantasyland makeover should be complete we'll stay in the new USO hotel and at the Art of Animation but i'll not be happy if something is due 2015 etc (not bother at all for Aviator)


From 81.70.136.4 on August 14, 2012 at 7:03 AM
I think it's in character what Disney is doing all the time. After their own brands like the fab 5 and the hand drawn animation studios dwindled down because of bad management. They bought their competitors like Pixar and Marvel. They also want everything all the time. That's why Potter went to Uni and their licenses are executed poorly because they don't "get" franchises like Star Wars and Indy. They even wanted Oswald back and didn't do anything with it (money not so well spent). It's to Warren Spector's credit to put him in a video game.
So Disney wanting Marvel's theme park license is a no brainer. Universal going fast racking a substitute is also very likely because we never ever have seen an attraction being build this fast. It's a good substitute because everyone who has been on it says that it's even better then Spidy so Uni outdid themselves.
For the future of Marvel Island? The new projectors can easily go into the Transformers ride, like the vehicles. So noting is going to waist and costs are low. And that leaves a huge building for a new attraction at IOA. The rest of the rides can be re-themed easily. A DC one would be awesome and the 2 theme park titans would go head to head to get the best comic land. And I don't think Uni wants to do that, they know they have already won that one because EVERYTHING Disney will build will be held upon Spiderman and I don't think Disney will top that ride, but I'm sure the theming will be better (judging from the artwork for an Ironman building I've seen). Uni will go for another huge fantasy theme and it will be Lord of the Rings/The hobbit. These films are wonderful, have a huge fan base and make into exiting rides. The big empty Spidy building will get a kick ass attraction, I'm sure.
From Nick Markham on August 14, 2012 at 8:01 AM
James/Dominick - One could still replace the scenes in Spiderman with those from Transformers and still have a coherent ride. And James, yeah, two Transformers rides probably wouldn't be the best. :D
If they do put Transformers in USF and they already have Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, why not just tear down Spiderman and build something new that's innovative and more unique than HPFJ and TF?
From Sean Huckel on August 14, 2012 at 9:43 AM
Well, Snider and Speilberg are staying put at Dreamworks.
From Rob Pastor on August 14, 2012 at 9:49 AM
I think that this conjecture is too big a leap at this time. More information is needed to connect the dots. And they may well be pointing in a completely different direction.
From Derek Potter on August 14, 2012 at 10:10 AM
It was obvious this was coming way back when Disney got the goods. Was only a matter of time before they started putting it to good use and building something with it. Universal will be just fine to move on. Seriously, how many more mediocre superhero movies can be shoved down our throats before public fatigue sets in. Aside from the very good Batman movie series that's ending, it's been little more than the beating of a dead horse since the turn of the century.

There will always be a market for superheroes though, so it's a good move to give them life in the park where bad actors and screenwriters can't screw them up. Disney will have to outdo what Universal has had for the past 10 years though, otherwise it's a throwaway.

From 76.111.216.241 on August 16, 2012 at 7:36 PM
I think and it is just my uneducated opinion only, that if disney wanted to go after the rights of something Universal had, they should have gone after Harry Potter.

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