Universal's owner buys DreamWorks Animation*

April 26, 2016, 9:24 PM · *Update [April 28]: The deal is done. NBCUniversal will acquire DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 billion, Comcast announced Thursday morning.

* * *

Universal Studios' owner, Comcast, is in talks to acquire DreamWorks Animation. The deal would be worth $3 billion and give DreamWorks Animation a stable home after several years of being shopped on the market.

DreamWorks Animation, which is run by former Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, offers a deep line-up of successful franchises, some of which have appeared already in Universal theme parks. DreamWorks Animation was spun off from DreamWorks SKG into a separate company in 2004.

The theme park rights to DreamWorks Animation franchises are split among multiple theme park companies around the world. Universal owns the rights to Shrek at all of its parks - in the United States, Japan and Singapore. Universal also owns the rights to Madagascar in Singapore, although those rights belonged to SeaWorld in the United States up until last year. DreamWorks Animation will have an entire section in the new Motiongate Dubai theme park opening this October in the United Arab Emirates. In addition, you can find DreamWorks Animation attractions at DreamWorld in Australia and Beto Carrero World in Brazil.

After Shrek, DreamWorks Animation's top-grossing franchises are Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon, any of which could pair well with Universal's Despicable Me should Universal wish to expand the presence of animation franchises in its U.S. parks — provided, of course, that DreamWorks Animation's existing license deals would allow Universal to proceed with developing those attractions. (Ask Disney fans pining for Marvel attractions at Disney World about that.) In addition, DreamWorks Animation now owns the licensing rights to several other franchises, including Jay Ward's Rocky and Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right characters that appear at Universal Orlando, as well as Underdog, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials.

Throw in the Nintendo rights that Universal recently acquired, and if Comcast completes this deal, Universal could have a wealth of intellectual property to fill that third theme park it now has the land to develop in Orlando.

Replies (30)

April 26, 2016 at 11:04 PM · Or Comcast could just take the $3 billion and use it to build a third gate full of original attractions. I know, crazy idea.

I have the feeling we're going to see lots more 3D/4D attractions. Unfortunately.

April 26, 2016 at 11:56 PM · @Sylvain Comeau Get used to it, it's the future and not a bad thing. Unlike Disney Universal still prodices a ton of high end AA's like in Diagon alley. Never have I been so close up to an AA and felt it was so alive, it even looks at you and the one at the exchange even can be talked to. The new Kong ride will have some huge and amazing AA's in the rides besides movie parts.
Disney has at the moment many movie based rides in prodiction like Soarin over the world (imho the worst tech demo ever), Soarin over Avatar, a boat ride and 2 Star Wars rides that both are sceen based.

Madagascar in Singapore is a non screen boat ride filled with AA's so it's not sure if the new rides will be screen based. It all depends on the story they want to tell.

April 27, 2016 at 12:51 AM · Dreamworks attractions are coming to Merlin parks such as Gardaland, Italy (Kung Fu Panda) and Heide Park, Germany (How to train your dragon)
April 27, 2016 at 3:11 AM · The only really property that is worthy of anything to the theme parks is Shrek (which universal already have rites too) - How to train your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda. So 3 billion for those two is obviously not just for the theme parks.
April 27, 2016 at 4:03 AM · Not sure how this will affect a third gate in Orlando, but considering their current trajectories, I think it won't be long before Universal is more popular than Disney in Orlando, outside of Magic Kingdom. The only reason the other 3 parks have the numbers they do is because of Park Hoppers (in my opinion). I mean, who would really choose to spend a day at Hollywood Studios over a day at Universal Studios?

When combined with the recent news about Disney's cost cutting moves within the company's structure, I feel it's only a matter of time before Disney wakes up one morning and wonders what the heck just happened? But that's how it's going.

April 27, 2016 at 5:40 AM · Dreamworks Animation also owns Classic Media, which has the Jay Ward cartoons, Voltron, Rankin-Bass holiday specials, Vegitales, Felix the Cat, etc. That's almost enough to start your own kids cartoon channel...
April 27, 2016 at 6:48 AM · To Sylvian's comment about using the money to build original attractions. If you remember Universal tried that when Islands of adventure opened, which was considered a huge flop. If you go to the section of the park where those original attractions and theming are, you'll find it dilapidated, with half of it ripped out (Where Hogsmead is located now) It's way to risky for Universal to chance more original ideas that may or may not hit with park guest. At the end of the day Universal might build some original theming, but it will use existing IP to draw guest to its parks.

As for people having issues with screens in park attractions, I can agree with you to a certain extent. Parks already have extremely limited space to build their attractions. As a guest you don't want to stand in hour lines just to ride a 2 minute ride. So to give guest more bang for their buck, they implement screen technology to extend the ride experience. Transformers for example is a 3 level building, basement which holds the maintenance areas and elevator mechanisms, 2nd floor holding mostly a queue and a small amount of ride track, and the 3rd level hosting the entire track and theming. This attraction utilizes every square inch, utilizing giant screens, props, and special effects to draw us into the action. I bet most people don't know that you are brought up a high speed elevator to a second level.

Screen based rides are the future, it's up to the park operator to add the right amount of real life theming and props to tell the story.

April 27, 2016 at 7:18 AM · Gabriel Schroll I agree, Universal is definitely on top right now and I love it. I have always enjoyed their park more. The only people that still think Disney is the better park is the fanboys who probably couldn't even give you a legit reason why its better.

Hollywood studios is their best park in terms of attractions, but it isn't a whole day park. Disney is catered towards children, and that's a good thing for them. However, Universal caters to everyone and I think that's where they are going to come out on top in the years to come.

April 27, 2016 at 7:51 AM · The DreamWorks Animation purchase will have less bang for the buck than the Marvel, LucasFilms, and Pixar purchases. Katzenberg is selling because he just can't make DreamWorks work. Many titles became flops. This is his golden parachute so he can move on and do other things. Or he will be installed as the VP as the Executive in charge of the DreamWorks Animation division until it is absorbed into Universal.

The good thing for Universal's theme parks is there no more hindrance of putting in beloved animated characters into its parks. DreamWorks does have a good supply of theme park ready properties. The only thing holding them back is the lack of sequels to fuel them. Shrek is overdue for another sequel. Not so sure if anyone cares for Madagascar for its most recent sequel (Penguins of Madagascar) has underperformed by 50% than Madagascar 3.

Like Disney, Universal should acquire than merely licensing IP. That's the best way forward. Disney reached a creative rut and can no longer produce it's own animated movies so it bought out Pixar. Universal can buy its creativity too.

April 27, 2016 at 8:41 AM · This is fantastic news. Would love to see How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda in the Universal parks.
April 27, 2016 at 9:24 AM · Disney screwed up by letting Steve Burke leave. Burke should be Disney CEO today, not Bob Iger.
April 27, 2016 at 9:51 AM · Comcast has all the money in the world 3 billion isn't going to stop them from building a 3rd park.

And DreamWorks has a great supply of popular IP, but has always been pretty mediocre at leveraging it. Comcast won't have that problem.

April 27, 2016 at 10:08 AM · If you go to the section of the park where those original attractions and theming are, you'll find it dilapidated, with half of it ripped out (Where Hogsmead is located now)

What is with this ridiculous, untrue comments! Clearly from someone who hasn't visited the park recently, nor with their eyes open.

Very little of the original theme of Islands of Adventure was ripped out and none of the attractions were. Dueling Dragons got a new theme. The Lost Continent still exists today.

But even more ridiculous is the fact that nothing in Universal's Islands of Adventure looks dilapidated! Ever since the addition of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter the entire park has been undergoing regular refurbishments and looks fantastic!

April 27, 2016 at 1:56 PM · My sentiments exactly, Gabriel!

Every year Disney looks to be further and further out of touch with their constituency!

April 27, 2016 at 2:18 PM · If Comcast ends up making this purchase and Universal is able to secure theme park rights for the DreamWorks properties this could be huge for the parks. As much as I like Universal, they have always struggled with having properties that maintain long term appeal to the younger demographic. Despicable Me works somewhat, but that's about all they've got right now. Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda in particular would be excellent additions to the parks and would be a great way to replace some of the aging attractions (such as Woody Woodpecker's KidZone or Seuss Landing) with a more relevant IP. I'd certainly rather see a DreamWorks attraction than the Secret Life of Pets or Jimmy Fallon rides they're currently working on.
April 29, 2016 at 7:18 PM · Get used to screen-based rides? I'm already used to it, because there are already too many of them at Universal. I like them, but not every new ride should be a variation on Spider-Man. Time to give us something different.

As for AAs, all the AAs in Diagon Alley are exactly the same. Disney has the greatest quality and variety of AAs by far.

And I don't agree that screen-based rides are "the future." They are part of the present, but technology can also help create better AAs, more realistic environments, sets which interact with the ride vehicle, etc. Tech is not all about screens.

April 27, 2016 at 6:21 PM · I'm not sure how I feel about this. Seems like it's more of a purchase to get creative control over the established franchises like Shrek because looking forward, DreamWorks' slate of animated features looks pretty awful and most of their recent movies have failed at the box office. But, if it gives them more to work with for Gate 3, I say go for it.

Maybe those rumors of Katzenberg being groomed by Disney are true, much to my chagrin. To all the folks who think Iger is doing a lousy job of running the parks, trust me, you do not want ole Jeff behind the wheel.

April 27, 2016 at 6:42 PM · As much as I promised myself that I would never betray Disney and visit USO, I have to admit that I caved in last summer and did. Last summer, I spent 8 days in Orlando, and spent 3 of those days at USO. This was my first time at USO and I must say that I was quite impressed by what the resort had to offer. I liked Universal so much, that IOA is now my second favorite park in Orlando, second to MK. I hate to admit it, but it seems that Universal is taking quite a few steps forward, while Disney is taking a few steps backwards. I just wish that Universal would cut cut ties with their reliance on screen based rides like Despicable me, Transformers, and Spider Man. On the other hand, in order for Disney to preserve their legacy, Iger needs to either retire on schedule or the board needs to fire him because at the rate Universal is moving,Disney could be overtaken within the next 10 years. And these budget cuts aren't helping Disney either. #FireIger.
April 27, 2016 at 7:46 PM · Re-Disneyobsession.

Don't worry,You haven't betrayed Disney. I visit Universal just as often as I do Disney and Disney is still my favorite of the two. :)

But yeah, I think this is a smart move by Universal. The biggest reason why (in my opinion) Disney has always been better is because they appeal to people of all ages, while Universal has mostly been geared towards teens and young adults. I love Spider-Man and Mummy as much as the next guy, but we often forget that there's a lot of people out there who physically can't or simply don't want to go on rides like those, and not all of them are kids.

Disney has given us a couple of really great thrill rides (Test Track, TOT) as well as a ton of great family-friendly rides (POTC, Haunted Mansion). Universal has given us a lot of amazing thrill rides, but they don't really have that many family-friendly rides. And, while some of their attempts have been good, most of them were really terrible. So Universal really needs this.

Also, I am one of the people who thinks that Universal needs to focus less on screen-based rides, but I think How To Train Your Dragon really needs to be turned into one. Those flying scenes are really impressive and I'd love to experience them for myself!

April 27, 2016 at 8:27 PM · Jeff Katzenberg has been selling DreamWorks experience to anyone who wants to buy. Royal Caribbean cruise line as well as Sands Cotai Central resort in Macau have them. Kung Fu Panda 3 also has a deal with Chimelong Guangzhou Resort.

DreamWorks Animation is clearly struggling to make ends meet. Universal is probably the best answer.

April 28, 2016 at 7:30 AM · $3.8 Billion!!! Don't know if they overpaid. The stock was valued at $2.8 Billion.
April 28, 2016 at 11:32 AM · Jeffrey Katzenberg is giving up his leadership role at Dreamworks Animation. This goes right back into speculation that he could be the next one lined up for the top job at Disney.

Another IP that hasn't been mentioned is DinoTrux. That IP is off the charts with little boys, even though it is all on NetFlix. I have friends whose kids are way into DinoTrux and haven't seen a single episode.

April 28, 2016 at 11:54 AM · If you think Dr. Seuss and Seuss Landing is not relevant then you obviously don't have kids.
April 28, 2016 at 12:15 PM · They definitely overpaid.
April 28, 2016 at 7:20 PM · What about DreamWorks buying Winx Club plan. i mean DreamWorks need to compete with Disney on the girl stuff, since Disney has Disney Princess
April 28, 2016 at 7:20 PM · What about DreamWorks buying Winx Club plan. i mean DreamWorks need to compete with Disney on the girl stuff, since Disney has Disney Princess
April 28, 2016 at 9:04 PM · Maybe as a next mov, they buy Sea World Orlando and completely redo it sans the water park theming. Sea World has been hurting and the location is more valuable than the current park. I'd hate to lose all the good things Sea World does, though many would disagree with me, enough that many would see it as a positive. If they wait until they start building their 3rd park, it could be a dirt cheap buy.

That rebuild, their new property, a (private for profit?) light rail system right through I-drive connecting through the convention center, and a few billion dollars could make them the king of the Orlando parks over the next 10 years. Disney's long term fight to keep everybody locked to their parks could be their downfall.

April 28, 2016 at 9:20 PM · Great move by Universal Studios. No they didnt overpay cause they will make a bunch up by the merchandising rights of the movies not only from their theme parks but others that currently have dreamworks i.p rides and attractions in their Parks plus the movie rights and library
April 28, 2016 at 10:13 PM · Motivated seller: DreamWorks animation. Interested buyer:Comcast.
Universal studios needs to appeal to a younger demographic and this purchase will help them greatly in this regard. Getting the theme park rights was good but not enough.

I agree with the previous anonymous post that this is also about merchandising appeal as well. After all why is there cars land but nothing based on the incredibles yet?

Besides look at the other possible potential targets for Comcast:

Sony Pictures animation (Smurfs, Hotel Transylvania, Cloudy with a chance of meatballs) one of few bright spots for Sony pictures recently. They would be very reluctant to part with that.

Blue Sky Studios (Rio, Ice Age) owned by Fox which is part of News Corp. Not happening.

Time Warner perhaps? (D.C.comics & Looney tunes) Comcast had to abandon a recent bid for Time Warner cable due to anti trust concerns. Buying Time Warner would even be more difficult. Mind you if they had succeeded buying the cable divsion,buying the rest would have been almost inevitable.

Finally even the DreamWorks animated films that disappointed at the box office(turbo, over the hedge, etc) would translate well into theme park attractions so no I don't think that Comcast overpaid.

April 29, 2016 at 11:52 AM · According to some of you guys, they should be buying up the freakin' world...

Aside from their franchises, Dreamworks has had several flops in recent years. And Universal already owns the theme park rights to Shrek -- and they never did that much with it. Basically, they just paid nearly $4 billion for Kung Fu Panda and a bunch of animators. For that money, they could put together 20 animation studios.

And no, they're not going to spend $100 million to create a ride based on a movie that flopped and that no one remembers.

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