Is it too late for Harry Potter to become a profitable franchise for Universal Orlando?
Possibly the most eagerly anticipated theme park expansion of 2010, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
, set to debut at Universal’s Islands of Adventure
, will more than likely attract millions of fanatics of the boy wizard over the next year.
The addition of the Potter themed land, based around Hogwarts and the surrounding area, represents Universal’s first major expansion of their Islands of Adventure theme park which opened in 1999. Whilst the attractions are all set to be of the same high standard set around the rest of the park many industry experts have questioned just how long guests will remain spellbound by a series of movies nearing its end.
Of course, these concerns are all valid, just ask Mattel, the company who own the rights to produce the Harry Potter based toys. After the release of the first movie in the series, Harry Potter and the
Philosophers (that was the UK book title) Sorcerer's Stone, Mattel couldn’t get the Potter toys on the shelves fast enough, selling around $160m worth in 2001 alone. However, the year following the release of the second instalment, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the value of sales was estimated to be around $130m according to The Economist, a fall of $30m.
Similar trends were seen in the release of the Harry Potter video games, all of which have been developed by Electronic Arts. Since the release of the original game all sales of the Potter-based games have declined. Seemingly even the most budding magicians, witches and of course wizards can get too much Harry Potter magic.
It has to be said that it isn’t all downward spirals for the billion Dollar franchise, book sales, for example, have increased over time, with J.K Rowling’s seventh instalment of the series ‘The Deathly Hallows’ being the best selling of them all. The same can also be said of the movies, more and more people seem to become fans of this tale of courage, integrity and friendship as Warner Brothers premiere’s each new movie. This has to be primarily attributed to the promotion of the books and movies as for all ages. No longer are these best-selling novels regarded as simple children’s stories, they’re aimed not only at the young but the young at heart.
Theme parks are a whole different ball game as we know. If you ask many kids these days if they’ve ever seen an episode of classic Sci-Fi series ‘The Twilight Zone’ they’ll most likely give you a confusing stare, not knowing exactly what you’re talking about. Despite this ‘The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror’ at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is arguably Walt Disney World’s most popular and most loved attraction. At the same time when ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ appeared at the same park it was at the height of its popularity, yet visitors didn’t take to the attraction and the interactive quiz lost popularity along with the show it takes its name from.
There are of course other movie franchises in theme parks. As much as I hate to use the same park as an example over and over I have to go back to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The movie park as hosted the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular since opening and Star Tours for over a decade. Both attractions have passed the test of time and are still favourites today. Yes, both are in need of some changes but the main thing is the theme based around two huge movie franchises still holds strong, even though the last Star Wars movie was released several years ago.
So, franchises can last for a considerable number of years in a theme park. As long as the theme is backed up by quality attractions then I’d bet that any half decent movie series could last over a decade in the park. Having a big name movie franchise at one of your theme parks is great for drawing crowds but what will keep them coming back are great rides and shows, regardless of the theme. If something is good people will ride it over and over again, even if the movie it’s based around is a little passed its sell-by-date.
Universal are taking precautionary and notably smart steps when it comes to ensuring the Potter theme stands the test of time. Rather than going down normal routes to revenue Universal are adopting a more unique approach. The Wizarding World will offer more than just rides and shows, unique products such as Butterbeer taken from the books will be sold in outlets around the land. This product and many more will be unique to the Potter themed land and it’s likely to be much more profitable than the traditional Potter products sold outside of the theme parks gates.
If I was asked to say now if The Wizarding World would be a success I’d say yes. The plans look simply amazing and if the rides and shows are kept up to scratch then Universal will have no problem selling millions of tickets for years to come just to people who want to experience some magic outside of Walt Disney World. However, if Universal is expecting to make a ton from merchandise as they do at many other themed areas, most notably Marvel Superhero Island, they may be in for a shock. Mattel’s figures don’t lie, there’s seemingly only so much Potter stuff one would-be wizard can have and that’s something Universal will have to deal with in years to come.
Apologies if this is a double post but I wasn't logged in :
I think that this analysis helps explain some of the decisions that Universal had made regarding the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Certainly Universal took a long, hard look at the sales data for all ancillary Potter merchandise and licensees before investing in Wizarding World.
I am very interested in how this turns out. If this land came 3 years ago, I don't think anybody would question what a great move this is. However, we do know that at some point, we're gonna get to the end of the movies, and the question is going to be is "Is Harry Potter just a fad of a generation, or is it going to be a cultural icon that lasts for a long time?"
I believe this is the reason for the whole "Disney Vault" thing.
I said this when the announcement came down that they were building Wizarding World, and my opinion hasn't changed. I think that Harry Potter the franchise has peaked. Many of the fans were kids who were wild for everything that had to do with those books and movies, and they have grown up/moved on...etc. The Harry Potter pandemonium of five years ago simply won't happen again because that's what pop culture is. Things come and they go...they become wildly popular and then they become passe. To HP's credit, he's been around for a long time, and he still has the ability to draw a crowd. Like most other things in pop culture though, he's a victim of overexposure, media frenzy, and mass commercial saturation. He will never sell as much merchandise as he once did, and he will never get the attention that he once did.
Mr. Owen writes: However, if Universal is expecting to make a ton from merchandise as they do at many other themed areas, most notably Marvel Superhero Island, they may be in for a shock. Mattel’s figures don’t lie, there’s seemingly only so much Potter stuff one would-be wizard can have and that’s something Universal will have to deal with in years to come.
I wouldn't base any measurement of consumer interest on the video games. The problem with the Harry Potter video games is the same problem with any movie-based game. The developers only have a year or so to turn them out, which results in a half-finished, uninspired product. Look at the reviews for the Harry Potter video games and you'll see: They're all pretty bad.
Just to clear up any confusion the response to TH's comment was mine. Just forgot to log-in.
Mr. Owen Writes: But in five or ten years time children will be flocking to Marvel Super-Hero Island and whilst they are there they will likely buy a t-shirt or similar product related to the latest Marvel character to be portrayed in a movie. Can you see the same amount of popularity for generic products for a movie franchise that ended several years ago?
D. Potter writes: "Having spent the last paragraph knocking Harry Potter around, I'll now say this. The theme park is a funny place. It's where once popular TV/Movie characters can go to find new life. When's the last Mickey Mouse movie you saw. In fact, when's the last anything you saw with any of the classic Disney characters in it. Seen a new Popeye or Dudley Do Right cartoon lately? How about those Peanuts... anything from them since the 1970's? Has Scooby Doo or Dr Seuss made any appearances except for in underperforming movies."
TH, Star Wars has to be one of the most commercially successful series of movies ever. Lord of the Rings was massive when the movies were released, but demand for the merchandise since Return of the King hit the screens has been considerably less.
In my opinion, the theme park experience is a completely different experience than that of viewing a film or reading a book. A good theme park ride or attraction is an interactive, immersive experience that can create a devoted following (or not)based entirely on the unique ride experience. The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, two of the most popular themed rides in history, aren't based on a specific book or film. One spawned a popular series of films itself. The other did not, but the film didn't hurt the ride experience.
Wizarding World will do fine. Jurassic Park is right next door, and that franchise was well past its peak when IOA opened. I think the biggest concern is not the popularity of the brand, but the fact that Universal is only offering one new attraction. Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff are simple re-themes, so if the Forbidden Journey ride isn't absolutely amazing, people are going to be disappointed. And according to most insiders, it's far from absolutely amazing. On the other hand, tourists who aren't familiar with the park will think everything is new.
the debate of whether HP will stand the test of time is pretty useless. Theme parks are laden top to bottom with expired shelf dates and aging franchises. HP will bring in huge numbers for atleast the first year to year and a half and will continue to satisfy well after that. This is simply an expansion to an already fantastic park, not a completly stand alone park. When all is said and done HP will have done exactly what it was built to do; open huge and bolster an already fantastic park for the next decade atleast. Both men in black movies suck, the simpsons hasnt been funny in ten years, and dont get me started on the horrible mummy frachise, yet i dare anyone to tell me that those arent the best three attractions at universal studios. HP fans are going to drink this up like peppermint schnapps.
You make some great points, Luis. However, I think we are all underestimating the tremendous cultural phenomenon that is J.K. Rowling's magical creation. This franchise is not simply a
Mr. Owens writes: TH, Star Wars has to be one of the most commercially successful series of movies ever.
FYI - the
(Meandering off topic)
I understand the world, and America especially, is all about what is the newest and greatest but we are talking about a very strong brand that has become a phenomenon. This is no different than any of the Disney movies through the years that theme many rides and areas of their parks. Snow White is 70 years old or something like that. But yet she remains a part of the park and part of the princess theme. Harry Potter wasn't just a passing fad. I wasn't a big fan, but I did see the movies. And I also know that that story is a significant part of the lives of my over 20 nieces and nephews who have all grown up reading the books and watching the movies. They will be going to the park for years to come sharing their memories and experiences with friends and eventually their own children.
The difference? The toys and video games were mediocre.
Mr. Counsil, if any organizayion is capable of designing a marquee, gate-crashing worthy theme park attraction that could meet and/or surpass such sky-high expectations, it would be Universal Creative. Period.
I don't doubt it, but I think people's expectations are still way too high. I am rarely disappointed with Universal's creations - even the much-maligned (by yours truly)
The enjoyment barometer for me will no doubt be this :
All other points aside, I am certain that Harry Potter will be a long term success.
Good point Dave.
If the IOA land stays true to the movies then they'll do fine. What impresses me about the movies is not the confusing and pointless plots or the wooden dialog and journeyman acting, but the lush sets, the lighting, and all-round visual theming. If they can reproduce the feel of the ancient-looking stone passageways of Hogwarts, the Dickensy cobblestones of Diagon Alley and the misty, Scottish-highlandy outdoors then I would go there just to experience the atmosphere.
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