What is Disney's secret new project?

August 8, 2019, 1:05 PM · Last week, Disney quietly added a new event to its D23 Expo schedule. A "Secret Walt Disney Company Project" presentation showed up for 1:30-2:30pm on Saturday, August 24 on Stage 28, with the tag line, "Will be announced Aug. 22!"

What the heck is this?

Of course, fans are guessing everything from a Disney-owned airline (not gonna happen) to a new theme park (we'll get to that). This announcement took a lot of insiders by surprise — there just hadn't been any chatter about a new project in the works that wasn't already on the jam-packed D23 Expo schedule.

The lack of leaks about this project, whatever it is, suggests that this is something whose development remains deep inside the company at this point. Outside contractors almost certainly have not been brought in yet, nor have people inside the company at levels low enough that they'd risk an unauthorized leak been brought on board.

That also suggests that the project probably remains vaporware at this stage, as there are very few projects that Disney could undertake that would not involve a large team effort to develop and bring to market. Checking the U.S. Trademark database reveals no unexplained trademark applications from Disney this year, so there's no clue to be read there.

So what could it be? Some people have suggested that it could have something to do with CEO Bob Iger's replacement, but a CEO search for a leader who has said that he's eventually going to leave is hardly a secret project. No, I'm guessing that this is something else, unrelated to Disney's management lineup.

It seems to me that the obvious place to start deducing what this secret project is should be to look at the gaps in what Disney already has on the table. Disney already has a movie studio, broadcast and cable networks, and a new direct-to-consumer streaming service. It has theme parks, a cruise line, a timeshare business and hotels. It has publishing and music labels, branded credit cards, and a massive presence in consumer merchandise.

What Disney does not have — and its top competitors do — is a network to deliver its digital content to the home. Universal is part of Comcast and Warner Bros. is now part of AT&T. An announcement that Disney is getting into the ISP, satellite or cable business would represent a giant challenge to those competitors. Doing that would require a massive capital expenditure from Disney, but just an announcement likely would be enough to drive down Comcast's and AT&T's stock prices, which would make Disney brass happy.

I can't imagine Disney wanting to get involved in the cable business after launching Disney+, nor do I see it taking on the expense and political hassle to lay fiber around the country to deliver Internet connectivity that way. But doing a deal with SpaceX to launch some satellites? That's not inconceivable. Having a Disney-owned way for people to get an affordable Internet connection to watch Disney+ is absolutely in the company's interest. Without one, Disney is effectively driving customers to its rivals at Comcast and AT&T to buy the Internet access they need to watch Disney+.

Okay, let's say Disney isn't going that big on this project. What other opportunities exist that Disney is not already taking?

As a family-targeted media company that aspires to be a lifestyle brand and whose leadership absolutely understands the zeitgeist, the biggest media product opportunity right now for Disney is... to create its own social media network. Disney has flirted with this product before, with Club Penguin and the old Go network, but the public is starving for a Facebook alternative right now. A family-friendly alternative from Disney could grab huge market share pretty much immediately. And a Disney-managed social network could drive a ton of new traffic to Disney's own media properties and websites, too.

If we really just want to speculate about a new theme park, okay, let's do that. But the lack of ay advance information about this secret project tells me that if Disney really wants to build a new gate, it remains years behind Universal Orlando's Epic Universe project, which is already under construction. A new park announcement this month would look too much like a desperate reaction to what Universal just announced. Especially after Universal brought in Florida's governor to effectively endorse the project.

Could this be another international development, then? If this secret project has anything to do with theme parks, that's what I would guess.

But at this point, your guess is as good as anyone's outside the company. So let's hear 'em in the comments.

Replies (37)

August 8, 2019 at 1:30 PM

Whatever it is, you can be sure there will be a lot of people complaining about it.

August 8, 2019 at 1:46 PM

My money is on the overriding theme for WDW50. Disney has pretty much announced all of the additions to the parks/resorts leading up to what is likely to be another 18-month celebration, much like DL's 50th. Adding a clone of MMRR at DL could be an indication of another "attraction gifting" initiative by Disney to make WDW50 a world-wide event across all Disney properties just like what happened in 2006.

My other thought would be more specific details, pricing, and an opening date for the Star Wars Hotel to piggyback on the official opening of Galaxy's Edge at DHS just 5 days later. While the Star Wars Hotel is not a "secret", many of the details have been withheld and are just speculation at this point.

One other possibility could be the long-rumored makeover of the Imagination Pavilion at EPCOT. For being a boring, stock flat ride, Emotional Whirlwind has been seeing some pretty significant lines (between 30-60 minutes), so that might have given Imagineers the leverage to finally green-light the transformation of the Imagination Pavilion around Inside Out. EPCOT is receiving a DCA-level amount of attention right now, and it wouldn't surprise me if Disney pumps more money into the park that probably has the most growth potential because of its size and wider appeal with the addition of popular IPs like Guardians, Frozen, Nemo, and Ratatouille.

August 8, 2019 at 1:46 PM

The loosely rumoured changes to FP+ at WDW ?

Something has got to happen with the new rides at 3 out of 4 of the parks. I can't believe they will leave MK as tier-less once Tron opens, so maybe they will implement a new system ??

August 8, 2019 at 1:56 PM

>>I can't imagine Disney wanting to get involved in the cable business after launching Disney+, nor do I see it taking on the expense and political hassle to lay fiber around the country to deliver Internet connectivity that way.

Let's not forget that Disney had an opportunity to get into the ISP/PayTV industry - It almost bought Sky in the UK, until it was outbid by... Comcast - owners of Universal.

The US market isn't the only way for Disney to get into the Telco business. There's plenty of infrastructre providers worldwide that can give Disney a bit of muscle in negociations with Comcast's Cable business.

August 8, 2019 at 3:19 PM

I'll go with the social media idea. I don't personally use any social media, including (especially?) Facebook. But I don't like the things I read about FB, so providing an alternative would be fantastic.

People don't really want to use FB. It's just a habit that they can't break, and too many people are too dependent on it.

I don't see this project having anything to do with theme parks.

Maybe they're going to expand the Wide World of Sports baseball stadium and lure the Tampa Bay Rays to Orlando? No. Wouldn't think so, either.

August 8, 2019 at 3:52 PM

Let's swing for the fences and say that Disney is going to announce that the old River Country site, Discovery Island, and portions of Bay Lake are going to be developed as Florida DisneySea!

And they're going to expand the monorail to service the new park and Wilderness Lodge!

August 8, 2019 at 4:09 PM

More theme parks around the world doesn't sound likely. Most of them, who are Disney owned, don't do so great. When they bought the Paris resort it came with a ton of depth and it isn't making money.
Getting into the ISP, satellite or cable business would be insanely expensive. How many depth can a company have?
They probably buy something that is successful because we haven't seen anything original from Disney in a very long time. Maybe they buy a game studio/publisher. EA would be a perfect fit as they are known to release full priced games with as much costly DLC to have a fun time as Disney does with it's parks. EA also ruined the Star Wars license as well as Disney ruined the movies, with good looking but bad games.

August 8, 2019 at 4:14 PM

There's no way Disney is going to try at social media. That would be a disaster. If Google can't succeed in that industry there's no way Disney could. My bet is on an announcement concerning Hollywoodland at DCA, and or the mystery E ticket that's missing from Marvel land at DCA..

August 8, 2019 at 5:57 PM

Tim, that River Country site is already home to the upcoming Disney's Reflections Resort. OT, where do you assert such nonsense as the world's theme parks especially Disney's not making money??? Did you miss the part of that Q3 results call about the billions in revenue and profit? Regardless, still doubt this bbn particular secret project is theme park related though I wish it were....

August 8, 2019 at 6:08 PM

The timing of the announcement about this announcement just looks bad. Clearly a reaction to the huge "Epic Universe" project, this announcement better be pretty darned big and impactful!

Live characters to interact with in Galaxy's Edge? Dancers back in the DCA "Lion King?" The long-awaited return of large strollers and loose ice to the parks? More Booze??

August 9, 2019 at 4:48 AM

Disneyland Australia!

August 9, 2019 at 4:56 AM

All I will say on the matter is, I haven't the foggiest but I marvel at the fertility of Robert's creative mind. Top drawer article!

August 9, 2019 at 6:12 AM

Im surprised nobody has mentioned a 3rd gate in Disneyland. Its the only place where there is both the demand and the need for a new Disney park.

August 9, 2019 at 7:33 AM

Does Disneyland have the space for a third gate?

August 9, 2019 at 8:17 AM

I think the relative failure of Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland will prevent major additions to that resort for some time. It's strange to me that, for all the reasons people threw out there as to why it didn't draw as expected, almost no one mentioned that nobody wanted to go out of their way to see something at what's widely considered the "inferior" Disney resort when it's opening at the "superior" (and cheaper to reach for most) resort two months later. DHS is already completely untenable for day visitors with 60-120 minute waits for almost every attraction all day long, I can't imagine what it's going to be like in a few weeks.

So TL;DR, I doubt a third gate ever happens in Anaheim, certainly not in this decade. Fifth gate in Orlando would be more likely, but I don't think this announcement has anything to do with P&R. If it did, it wouldn't come before the dedicated P&R panel on Sunday. Just my two cents.

August 9, 2019 at 8:49 AM

It won't be Disney Parks related because there is already a dedicated session for that. This secret project session takes place in one of the relatively smaller spaces at the convention center. My bet is on something minor and self-serving. Ideas are another regional D23 Expo (similar to Japan); Freeform-related project announcement; Advertising for a new brand partnership collection; Disney.com website redesign...

August 9, 2019 at 10:25 AM

It's obviously not a 3rd gate in California, because any announcement that a new park was coming would have to clear the hurdles of the Anaheim City Council first (big projects in Orlando are easier to keep under wraps and more likely to gain local approval). Disney already has egg on their face from when they announced the changes to Downtown Disney along with another hotel only to see the City Council lay the smackdown because of a minor mixup in the address of the new parking garage. Disney would look even more foolish if they announced a new theme park (or water park) without an ironclad guarantee that the city would approve it.

@evanweston - I think your "inferior/superior" comment is a matter of opinion. Certainly for those on the east coast, it's cheaper to visit WDW, but I definitely enjoyed our three (3) days at Disneyland last week more than the 4 days we spent at WDW back in 2017. I personally think that DL is the superior resort in terms of ease of visit and attraction density. Almost every major attraction in WDW has a superior analog in California, and DL's lack of FP+ is a HUGE advantage in my book.

August 9, 2019 at 9:33 AM

I could see an interactive experience that incorporates the new streaming service and the parks, with an app. Give folks a way to lord their love of Disney over others by letting them rack up points or achievements with the ability to watch my favorites wherever I am. Give me access to exclusive deals and offers for merchandise experiences at the parks and resorts. Stream special insider experiences happening at the parks live!

Let people feel like they are always wrapped in Disney by embracing the devices they already own.

August 9, 2019 at 9:45 AM

My guess would be an announcement about Brightline/Virgin Rail running to the Disney FL property from Orlando Airport, with construction commencing immediately and timed to open with the new track under construction to enable service down the east coast.

Maybe Disney is buying the entire system and guaranteeing a stop on International Drive as the mechanism to make the deal possible politically.

August 9, 2019 at 9:58 AM

Remember a little more than 50 years ago, when a secret Disney project started floating around...

Everyone knows the stories of Walt secretly started buying land to create his new project to be later known as Walt Disney World.

This new secret project is probably related to the 50th anniversary and a cute marketing way of starting the festivities.

Everyone needs to lower their expectations because many will be disappointed. ;-)

August 9, 2019 at 10:03 AM

@Russell, I agree, I prefer Disneyland to Walt Disney World. I'm an Orlando local and I try to make a trip out to Anaheim at least once every 18 months or so because I enjoy DL so much. In fact, I'm going in two weeks, mostly so I can see Galaxy's Edge with reasonable crowds rather than attempting to tackle it in the madness that is 2019 DHS. But I think the dominant perception among the public is that WDW is the superior resort. It's way bigger, more prevalent in the culture, and easier to access for most people.

August 9, 2019 at 10:03 AM

@ Russell

Well it was obvious to some people that Galaxys Edge would be an instant and massive success and those people were obviously wrong.

August 9, 2019 at 10:29 AM

@Daniel - Why are they wrong? Galaxy's Edge is certainly not a failure. It just hasn't generated the wall to wall crowds and driving attendance increases many observers projected, which is mostly be design. The fact that they are constantly selling out of popular merchandise, have fully-booked expensive experiences, and a line for what will ultimately be the second-tier attraction in the land that is among the longest in the park is all evidence that Galaxy's Edge is far from a failure. People were jumping all over Disney that trying to visit Galaxy's Edge was going to be a nightmare, but now that guest are able to move around and be able to enjoy it with reasonable wait times and without crushing crowds, people are complaining? Come on - Do you think Universal would rather have the 8+ hour lines on a new roller coaster they can barely operate at half capacity with tons of frustrated guests or have a reliable, repeatable, people eater of a ride and surrounding land where people are dropping thousands of dollars per day on merch?

Let's not forget that Universal was similarly criticized for clamping down on APs and jacking ticket prices way up when it debuted WWoHP at USH. The park was not nearly as crowded as people projected, and was followed by rapid adjustments in AP blackouts by Universal to drive more growth. A few years later, and the land continues to drive attendance, and has fueled a rapid expansion around the park.

DL's Galaxy's Edge has seen a similar trend to USH's WWoHP, and Disney has made some minor modifications to try to drive more AP visits (though not nearly as extreme as what USH did in 2016). However, I think the park will see an explosion of crowds once the lower tier AP blackouts end in a couple of weeks, and DHS's version will likely see intense crowds from opening day, and almost definitely when RotR opens in December.

This notion that Galaxy's Edge has not been a "success" is pure folly by equating "success" solely with attendance, which is incredibly short-sighted.

August 9, 2019 at 11:31 AM

The two days (8/19 and 8/20) between the Deluxe AP blockout ending and the start of school in California are going to be Hell on Earth at Disneyland. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. I'm a bit trepidatious about my own trip coming up on 8/27, though I'm hopeful a Tuesday with school in session and D23 in the rearview will be considerably more comfortable.

August 9, 2019 at 4:41 PM

@ Daniel, Galaxy's Edge IS a success. As mentioned by Russell, the merchandise numbers, the experience reservations, etc. all add up to people enjoying the land (which, is still missing it's signature attractions). Look at the wait times for the Cantina.

When people are in the park....they go to Galaxy's Edge.

If Galaxy's Edge were its own individual park, that required a separate admission....then one could potentially argue a point. But it's a land within DL. (It's not like DL is packed and Galaxy's Edge is empty.)

There has to be context.

August 10, 2019 at 3:45 AM

I think Disney should develop its own themed cafe/store chain. So it is a Disney Cafe/Store that serves themed food and drinks with character greetings and it is more upscale. Think Hard Rock Cafe. But each restaurant could be themed to a different IP.

Disney already run restaurants in their parks and hotels so it wouldn't be too much extra work to turn that business into a chain. They already have the restaurant designs, themed food development, staff training and sourcing.

August 10, 2019 at 12:27 PM

Doubt the "secret Walt Disney Company project" involves theme parks so fully prepared to be underwhelmed by this announcement. About only other possibility that would get me excited would be to announce the resurrection of Walt Disney hinself as the successor to CEO Bob Iger!

August 11, 2019 at 4:56 AM

No on has mentioned the re naming and development of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. They have added 2 new lands and still not changed the name.

August 11, 2019 at 10:03 AM

Hollywood Studios is not going to be renamed. The company mulled the idea for a while then couldn't find a better name and announced that the name is going to stay.

August 12, 2019 at 12:15 PM

Maybe they are buying the marvel theme park rights from universal, so they can put more marvel in future world.

August 12, 2019 at 6:48 PM

@Russel and Jay

Wow its embarassing at this point to call Galaxys Edge a success when it has been widely reported to have not met Disneys expectations and clearly has not brought massive crowds that so many people were claiming. I even saw an artice in the mainstream media that rarely covers theme parks about it. Hey dont take my word for it just do a simple internet search.

August 13, 2019 at 8:39 AM

Where have you read that it has not met Disney's expectations? Disney met their earnings forecast for the quarter where Galaxy's Edge opened despite reporting lower attendance (honestly, I was a bit surprised that Iger was so negative about this even though the division still met revenue estimates). The press regarding Galaxy's Edge (and yes, I've seen/heard the reports from non-theme park media, including goofy morning drive-time radio shows) talking about the lower than expected attendance does paint a picture of "failure" because of the lack of suffocating crowds many expected. It doesn't help the picture when Disney prepared guests for the possibility of being denied access to the land with the establishment of the "Boarding Groups" system that was only needed for the very first day. However, a lot of the "outsiders" don't understand that the lower than anticipated crowds (at least from those outside and casual observers of the industry) are by design, and have created experiences for the guests that chose to visit DL this summer (like me) that is a very positive one instead of one dominated by long waits and intense crowds (which is what I predict will happen at DHS). The demand for Star Wars is definitely there, and while Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland may not be packed with people shoulder to shoulder as some feared, it's more than holding its own despite its current limitations with RotR not open and a majority of APs waiting for summer blackouts to end. The regular media doesn't understand those nuances, and simply gravitate towards the "Galaxy's Edge is a Ghost-town" click-bait of our 24/7 news cycle.

If you want to believe the coverage from media outlets that don't know the difference between DL and WDW, then go right ahead. I'll tell you from personal experience that Galaxy's Edge is an incredible achievement even without its top attraction, and there are plenty of crowds jamming DL this summer.

August 13, 2019 at 8:39 PM

My guess is that they`ll announce everything happening at WDW`s 50th celebration. I heard a rumor a while back, about a new nighttime parade. Still hoping...

August 13, 2019 at 9:50 PM

@Russell

Um heres one. Wasnt hard to find...

http://www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/201907/6891/

August 14, 2019 at 7:51 AM

Yes, and if you read what Iger actually said in the earnings call that detailed the division's status, he notes that attendance declined while revenue increased. Is that so difficult to understand?

Success/failure is not solely measured by clicks on a turnstile. There's also the consideration that Galaxy's Edge is not yet the land that was initially anticipated in the eyes of Disney and many fans, so to declare that it is not an overwhelming success is rather premature. Throw in the extreme measures Disney took to deliberately limit crowds while still increasing YoY revenue, and I don't think anyone with half a brain and understanding of what's really going on could deem Galaxy's Edge a failure.

I will grant you that the dire predictions of 8-hour lines wrapping through the park and people camping out hours ahead of park opening just to ensure a chance to glimpse the new land during its first few months of operation were a little bit "Chicken Little". However, the overall financial outlook and prospects for Galaxy's Edge once DHS's version opens and DL AP blackouts end in a couple of weeks are quite strong.

If you want to draw a direct comparison, take a look at PtWoA. That land debuted at DAK with long lines and intense crowds that resulted in a sizable bump in attendance for the park and WDW as a whole. However, when you look at revenue generated as a direct effect of that installation, there was very little impact on the resort as a whole. While Disney initially struggled with the availability of certain SKUs (mostly Banshees), they never had to limit guest purchasing or shift remaining inventory to ensure certain retail locations would have availability like they have with Galaxy's Edge. Disney did little in the way to limit/manage crowds flocking to experience Avatar even though that land debuted with what became the top new theme park attraction of the year, and which is still one of the best attractions in the world 2 years later. FoP regularly saw 3-4 hour lines throughout 2017, and still draws lines in excess of 2 hours on the busiest of days (Na'Vi River Journey, even with the artificial demand created by being a Tier 1 FP, only rarely sees lines in excess of an hour these days in a park with just a handful of actual "rides"). While DAK increased its YoY attendance over 10%, the year after saw visits go flat when you dig into the numbers from summer 2018 through the end of that calendar year, indicating that the landmark addition may not have the lasting impact some expected.

On the other hand, Galaxy's Edge opened at Disneyland with a carefully managed plan to minimize over-crowding and maximize revenue through admission/AP price increases and a blackout calendar that explicitly kept a majority of SoCal residents, the lifeblood of the resort's fanbase, at home. With their actions, Disney essentially proclaimed that they didn't want the 8-hour lines and extended waits for guests just to enter Galaxy's Edge like what Universal saw for the original IOA's WWoHP back in 2010. They wanted the guests that paid increased costs to visit to be able to access and enjoy the land with minimal waits and crowds, and their plan has absolutely succeeded. Now you could say that perhaps Disney's plan succeeded a bit too well as the park never had to resort to the planned "Boarding Groups" system, but the revenue generated since the addition of Galaxy's Edge clearly demonstrates that the new land is a bankable asset that will only continue to grow as APs waiting for blackouts to end and guests waiting for DHS's version to open (along with the premier attraction, RotR) will continue to feed the company's coffers for the foreseeable future.

If you want to look at the situation with blinders on and cite attendance as the ONLY gauge for success, sure, you could say that Galaxy's Edge has not been as successful as many would have expected. However, I doubt Disney shareholders and executives are crying about the near record revenue generated by a land where guests are deliberately having their access limited through pricing controls and other techniques.

August 14, 2019 at 11:34 AM

I never mentioned what Iger said or that revenue decreased or that GE was a total failure. You essentially "poisoned the well" so that you could verify your own position and didn't consider anything I actually said or the article cited. All I said and the cited article is that GE had "not met Disneys expectations and clearly has not brought massive crowds that so many people were claiming." That is a fact like it or not, and further evident by the price incentives given in the middle of summer and reported staffing cuts.

August 14, 2019 at 11:51 AM

How do you know what Disney expectations were/are? Do you work for Disney, or have some insight beyond what they announce in earnings reports? They planned for the worst by upping prices and putting procedures in place to manage the possibility of suffocating crowds, but their revenue was pretty close to their targets for the quarter. Who's to say that this dip in summer attendance was in fact deliberate and expected so long as revenue was maintained/increased?

You can cite price incentives and staffing cuts, while I can cite merchandise shortages and near-record revenues. None of these by themselves provide a complete gauge for "success". In the end, only the people inside Disney's boardroom know whether Galaxy's Edge has been successful so far based on their standards. The definition of "success" to the rest of us is still up to interpretation here, but if nothing else, I think it's worth taking a step back and seeing how the rest of the year plays out before making any definitive declarations regarding the success or failure of Galaxy's Edge.

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