The cold, hard facts behind theme parks' decisions
One of the "insider" facts about theme parks that people with experience know is that wait times are as much a function of attractions' capacities as they are their popularity. Rides that can't handle very many people per hour will have long waits, even if relatively few people line up to go on them. And rides with massive hourly capacities might not have much wait at all, even though as thousands of guests walk into their queues.
That's why insiders don't make judgments on a ride's popularity solely by its wait time. You need to know its capacity in order to make a true, "apples to apples" comparison with other rides and shows.
The issue of capacity lies at the heart of my Orange County Register column this week, Why Disney created 'Frozen – Live at the Hyperion'. With 2,000 people packing every performance and Fastpasses for the shows disappearing early in the day, Disney's new Frozen show in California Adventure looks like a hit. As it should be. It's a fun show, filled with visual delights.
But from an operational perspective, big theater shows that only play a few times a day aren't the crowd-soaking workhorses that theme park need to keep lines from backing up all over the park. As popular as the new Frozen show appears to be, it will accommodate only the equivalent of about 667 visitors per hour of park operation — not much better than some carnival spinner rides. Ultimately, that 2,000-guest show capacity is done in by the fact that the production won't play more than five times a day.
For truly high hourly capacities, cycle time is everything. The more units you move in an hour (whether they be roller coaster trains, boats, or shows), the more people you put through. Ultimately, the number of people per unit isn't as important as the number of units you move. That's a lesson I learned driving Tom Sawyer Island rafts at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, as I explained in my blog post, Drowning under short-term thinking. (Which, BTW, is one of the many stories about working at Walt Disney World that are included in my book, Stories from a Theme Park Insider. /plug )
So, to answer the question implicitly asked in the headline of my Register column... why did Disney create 'Frozen – Live at the Hyperion', if it wasn't to draw in massive numbers of visitors every hour?
Disney needed a Frozen-themed attraction that drew more people per hour than the Anna and Elsa meet-and-greet and that also would draw more people to the resort than the sing-along show it pulled together quickly in the old Muppets theater. Switching from Aladdin to Frozen allowed Disney to better justify staging that big, expensive musical show, as it would support a franchise that's still selling tons of merchandise and building anticipation for a sequel. And Disney still could do it for less than the price of building a new, higher-capacity Frozen-themed attraction from scratch.
Either way you get to the end result, every decision in theme park business pretty much comes down to the math.
Every new attraction draws big crowds...in the beginning. It's the continued popularity and staying power that should be the true indication of a successful attraction. IMO this Frozen show will not continue to draw crowds like Aladdin did.
Frozen is packing them in right now because it's a new show but I don't think this show will have legs. In a few months after all the APs have seen it, then the lines for FP will die down and there will start to be a few empty seats in the theater. By late 2017, the theater will be only half to 2/3 full for most performances. The show is way too long for a theme park, the projection effects are fine once but don't reward repeat viewings, Frozen hasn't become a time-honored classic that fans will want to experience over and over again, and there is Frozen-fatigue among a good portion of Disney fandom.
Tony: The low capacity and less showings per day means repeat viewings isn't needed to pack the theater. Unique viewing will be hard enough. Fastpasses run out within the first hour of DCA's opening. People can't get enough of Frozen. The more the better. "Nobody will see Frozen because everyone has seen it."
Tony: Last time I checked they were still making little girls aged five go ten ... The princess target demographic will be around at the end of 2017 ... And beyond.
Frozen wil absolutely not have the staying power that Aladdin did. Aladdin was popular among seniors, adults, young adults, teens, and children. The same can't be said about Frozen... The only demographic group that I can see Frozen appealing to is Tweens and children. Just give it about a year and the hype around the show will significantly die down.
I was very surprised that Disney decided to open Frozen at only three shows per day given the demand for the attraction. Usually, you start a brand new attraction off at maximum capacity and then scale it back as demand tapers, not start at medium capacity and increase it later. At best, the show's daily capacity is going to be roughly equivalent to that of the Fantasyland dark rides, but with only three shows it is closer to the daily capacity of the Astro Orbitor.
Aladdin lasted fourteen years, and was still packing in enthusiastic crowds. Ditching that wonderful show just to support a franchise is a disservice to the fans. I mean the Disney parks fans, not the relatively small demographic of Frozen-obssessed young girls (who are notorious for losing interest and quickly jumping on the next bandwagon).
I get it that Disney wants to cash in on it's success on the movie . And I'm sure sales expect merchandise to continue to sell because of it. I understand they are pushing "experiences" out into the park for the short term to still the hunger of the guests. But what for it's future? In the past it took years, even decades so build rides on movies and the renewed love for a then clasic movie could be refound trough merchandising in the parks and re-releases of the movies in cinema or on blue-ray.
Personally, I don't think Frozen's gonna become irrelevant anytime soon. Rather, I think it's going to age like fine wine. Lion King was just as overexposed as Frozen was when it first came out. And just like Frozen, we were getting really sick of it. But now, not only is Lion King still extremely popular, but it's considered by almost everyone to be one of the greatest Disney films of all time; some even go as far as to call it one of the greatest animated films of all time in general. Disney has a natural talent for keeping their animated movies relevant. Look at Smow White, for example! That movie came out in 1937 and is still relevant today (Hell, Disney just made a new roller coaster based on it which ended up drawing huge crowds). The only other movies that came out in the 30s that are still relevant today, which can still be instantly recognized by anyone no matter how old or how young they are, are Wizard of Oz, King Kong and the classic Universal monster movies (namely Frankenstein and Dracula). And the only reason why Snow White is held in such high regard is because it was the first animated movie. Other than that, it was pretty average. I've yet to see a Top 10 Greatest Disney Films list that includes Snow White.
Sylvain: Much as the 'Disney Park fans' like to think that they are a major demographic I suspect they are quite a small part of the overall marketing mix at Disneyland. Theme parks can't make decisions based on their 'fans' but on the wider demographic of all their visitors. At the moment Frozen is big. Whether it will last 14 years is anybody's guess but anyone who votes against one of the biggest grossing franchises of recent years is going somewhat out on a limb in my opinion.
Only having three shows per day will certainly help to keep the theater full. I don't think the demographic of 5-10 year old girls is large enough to keep the theater full over the long term. Aladdin packed them in because it appealed to every demographic.
There will always be little girls but they'll be primarily interested in whatever is the latest Disney princess. The Frozen meet and greet is already much less popular nowadays and often has no wait later in the day.
Don't forget GONE WITH THE WIND. But the theme park potential for that property may be limited to a "Escape The Burning Of Atlanta" attraction. Maybe guests could exit through a shop selling Scarlett O'Hara dresses and Rhett Butler suits and uniforms...
The thing about Disneyland or Disneyworld is that it's never finished, it's always moving forward, changing to support new adventures and theming. The Aladdin show was fantastically executed. A Broadway style show within a theme park that actually gave life to an ACTUAL Broadway show under the same name.
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