How Would Universal Buying Warner Bros. Affect Theme Parks?

September 17, 2022, 2:02 PM · The rumor mill is cranking up in Hollywood, as chatter gets louder that NBCUniversal might try to buy Warner Bros. Discovery. [See The Hollywood Reporter's Warner Bros. Discovery Has Bigger Problems Than Its DC Search.]

That acquisition could be a dream come true for theme park fans, as it would give Universal's theme parks new access to many Warner Bros. franchises, including a wide variety of horror IP for Halloween Horror Nights. But a takeover would not allow Universal to create attractions themed to what might be Warner Bros. crown jewels - DC and Looney Tunes.

Six Flags owns the theme park rights to DC and Looney Tunes, and that deal would not change with NBCUniversal buying Warner Bros. Discovery, just as Universal Orlando's deal with Marvel did not change when Disney bought Marvel. The only way for Universal to get access to DC and Looney Tunes would be to buy those rights from Six Flags, or to buy Six Flags in its entirety. But NBCUniversal would have to have bought Warner Bros. Discovery already to make that second option work. Six Flags' contract for the DC and Looney Tunes rights states that if an entertainment company buys Six Flags, the theme park rights to those characters revert to Warner Bros. [Who Really Owns the Theme Park Rights to the DC and Marvel Comic Characters?]

But what's the incentive for Universal's theme parks to go after DC? Universal Orlando already has the rights to Marvel and can keep them as long as the company wants. Disney has reached out to NBCUniversal multiple times to offer to acquire those rights for the Walt Disney World Resort, and NBCUniversal, in so many words, has told Disney to go jump into the Toon Lagoon.

Now if Universal had access to the DC rights, that might make the company willing to entertain an offer from Disney for the east coast Marvel rights. But unless Disney comes forward with something that Universal really needs, the Mouse House is going to have to offer to write a very, very large check to get NBCUniversal's attention.

And, no, the soon-to-expire theme park rights to The Simpsons are not compelling enough to get Universal to give up Marvel, especially if NBCUniversal gets Warner Bros. Discovery and can swap in whatever Hanna-Barbera franchise it wants into those spaces. It's not difficult to imagine Hollywood's Springfield becoming Bedrock, with the vehicles in The Simpsons Ride becoming the Flintstones' car. Or maybe a Willy Wonka land, if Universal does not wish to return to its Hanna-Barbera days.

So what could Universal's theme parks get if NBCUniversal acquires Warner Bros. Discovery? In addition to Hanna-Barbera and Willy Wonka, WBD controls Cartoon Network, which could deepen Universal's lineup of characters to populate future kids' lands.

Warner Bros. Discovery also controls New Line Cinema, which produced Austin Powers, Dumb and Dumber, Friday, The Mask, and Elf, as well as Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Final Destination, IT, and The Conjuring on the horror side.

A Warner Bros. deal probably does not give Universal the theme park rights to Middle-earth, which are now controlled by Embracer Group. ['The Lord of the Rings' Gets a New Owner - Theme Park Deals Next?] Warner Bros. Discovery owns HBO, however, which brings Game of Thrones into play for the fantasy space.

Other Warner Bros. franchises with potential theme park value include Mad Max, The Matrix, Blade Runner, and Beetlejuice, which has appeared recently under license at Universal's Halloween Horror Nights. Warner Bros. also owns the rights to the Wizarding World, which it has licensed to Universal, but NBCUniversal parent Comcast would save a bundle on those licensing fees if they were just going from one division of the company to another.

But the biggest opportunity for Universal's theme parks might be on the capital side. A Warner Bros. Discovery acquisition would give NBCUniversal ownership of the Warner Bros. studio lot - and Warner Bros. Studio Tour - next door to Universal Studios Hollywood. That immediately gives Universal a second gate in California for its theme park visitors. Eventually, Universal Parks leadership would need to make some hard decisions about how the Warner Bros. attraction would fit with its Universal Studios Hollywood neighbor next door, while NBCUniversal leadership considers how access to the Warner Bros. studio lot and its soundstages might allow Universal Studios to reallocate more of its current USH studio space for theme park operations.

Ultimately, if Comcast decides that NBCUniversal should bid for Warner Bros. Discovery once that opportunity opens in 2024, that decision will rest on the value of Warner Bros. Discovery's assets to NBCUniversal's studios, streaming, and linear networks, with theme parks an afterthought. But this deal would create immense opportunities - and potential challenges - for Universal Parks & Resorts.

You better believe that Universal Parks management is thinking about them right now. So it's understandable that forward-thinking theme park fans might want to consider them, too.

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Replies (17)

September 17, 2022 at 2:23 PM

First thought: No. Regulators not going to allow that to happen.

Second thought: Hmmm, Babylon 5 Starfury battle to replace The Simpsons Ride?

Third thought: I tawt I taw a puddy tat.

September 17, 2022 at 4:45 PM

RN: "Disney has reached out to NBCUniversal multiple times to offer to acquire those rights for the Walt Disney World Resort, and NBCUniversal, in so many words, has told Disney to go jump into the Toon Lagoon."

Me:: Is there a credible source to this "many times" report?

September 17, 2022 at 5:09 PM

Do we know when the DC license is up for renewal with Six Flags?

September 17, 2022 at 6:07 PM

In reply to Chad H, regulators would have no precedence to stop this purchase. Remember that it was just recently that Disney bought 20th Century Fox. Regulators would have no leg to stand on here. NOW, If Disney tried to buy WB then we could have an anti-trust situation on our hands with claims of a monopoly.
As of right now, correct me if I’m wrong, the list of major Hollywood studios are:
Warner Bros

There used to be a lot more out there like RKO, Orion, Columbia, UA, Keystone, Essanay and Miramax to name a few.
Some are here today and gone 20 years later.

September 17, 2022 at 9:35 PM

For years there have been rumors about what's going to kidz zone in USO. I've heard Illumination, Dreamworks, Mario, Pokemon, Nicktoons, Spongebob. That land has been outdated for 25 years, and it still hasn't seen a retheme because they keep pushing it to the next IP. Now we'll see rumors of Cartoon Network coming to the land until that eventually fizzles out. I'm worried we're stuck with the Kidz Zone curse until 2035 when they just decide to turn it into Super Silly Fun Land.

September 17, 2022 at 11:50 PM

I think this is actually a very strong possibility, it seems like these two companies need each other. First off WBD stock has tanked since their merger and the company has a lot of debt. With rising interest rates and a looming recession they may be in need of a huge mega-corporation with deep pockets like Comcast to come essentially bail them out.

For Comcast they finally get the breadth to really compete with Disney, or at least be a solid second place. DC Comics is obviously huge, then there is HBO which is actually doing well right now, CNN, Discovery etc. I think these are needed in order to save NBC Universal's flailing streaming service.

You brought up Six Flags having the exclusive theme park rights to WB/DC characters which brings up another question. Does Comcast have the money/are willing to spend the money to buy those back, is Six Flags desperate enough to sell them (it may be possible considering how Six Flags financial condition right now), or, like I said, with rising rates and a looming recession as well as Wall Street hating SF's management right now...does Comcast go full bore and buy Six Flags too? I think that is unlikely, but if the economy tanks and SF tanks, and Comcasts executives are agressive enough, it's not totally incomprehensible.

Personally I believe companies should buyout/merge only if it makes both companies better, and the vast majority of times its not a good idea, but this may be the rare case where it makes sense. Also it seems like Comcast/Universal have an extremely aggressive executive management team who may go for that.

September 18, 2022 at 12:43 AM

September 18, 2022 at 6:08 AM

>> In reply to Chad H, regulators would have no precedence to stop this purchase. Remember that it was just recently that Disney bought 20th Century Fox. Regulators would have no leg to stand on here.

I don’t think it works that way. You can’t just point to market consolidation happening in the past and presume the next one will be okay, in fact the opposite is the case - the more market consolodation that has occurred before, the more problematic the next one is.

September 18, 2022 at 6:44 AM

I used to work for NBCUniversal. The management at Comcast/NBCUniversal is very smart. They have discipline and will not make an ego-driven decision. They have the rare combination of understanding the challenges and cycles of the entertainment industry and Wall Street. The marriage of Universal/Warner Bros has been rumored for years. IF it ever happens, it will be because they have poured over every possible wrinkle and, despite any obstacles, it still makes "business" sense. They are willing to spend money if it will make them more money (look at Universal theme parks). But no company is perfect-- NBC has a major problem with its floundering news division right now (The Today Show is not the gorilla of morning TV anymore and that means they've lost millions and millions of revenue dollars). Comcast has been patient and has allowed the TV people space-- but watch-- for big changes to come.

September 18, 2022 at 12:54 PM

I'm uh... I'm not sure my rear end is prepared for the intensity of a Game of Thrones ride. Interpret however you wish.

September 18, 2022 at 12:58 PM

Normally, I'd be against these kinds of mergers and acquisitions for the anti-trust/monopoly reasons stated above. However, Discovery's ownership of WB has been nothing short of a disaster so far, so anyone would be better at this point.

I can't imagine in my wildest imaginings a scenario where The Simpsons Ride is replaced by a Hanna-Barbera property. HB used to have a presence at Universal until it was replaced by Nickelodeon because, outside of Scooby-Doo, those characters just didn't connect with modern kids anymore. Not to mention that the ride system Simpsons uses is over 30 years old and is starting to show its age. Whenever that contract expires, the building will likely be leveled and replaced entirely.

The only forseeable Warner Bros IP that would be used within the near-future would probably be Godzilla and even that would have a lot of red tape to clear.

September 18, 2022 at 11:36 PM

@James Trexen

WB doesn’t own Godzilla, it’s a Toho property. And if are referring to the Monsterverse movies, WB doesn’t own those either, they’re own by Legendary, WB just did the distribution.

September 19, 2022 at 10:20 AM

WB/Discovery is a complete debacle right now, and even if Universal was presented an opportunity to purchase the studio, they'd be foolish to overextend to take WB's mess. While such a move would given Universal access to a pretty deep library of IPs, the costs would outweigh any benefits.

I think Universal needs to continue to groom their existing IPs and develop new IPs internally. Personally, I would not touch WB with a 10-foot pole right now unless they can get their house in order following the Discovery merger.

September 19, 2022 at 2:58 PM

While acquiring WB/Discovery comes with a large degree of risk related to its debt, I can't see Roberts turning down the chance to turn his media empire into a Disney level IP powerhouse. Obtaining additional control over the Harry Potter franchise, a superhero counterpart to Disney's dominant film and TV franchise and a crap ton of cartoon characters both classic and current could catapult NBC Universal Warner Brother Discovery into another level while solving the company's issues with theme park licensing and streaming.

There's still some aspects to this potential deal that need to be worked out. The IP rights held by Six Flags would need to be purchased, though the company's shaky financial status should ease that transaction. And would this be a spinoff similar to the recent AT&T transaction? While that could make it easier to get approval, the struggles of WB Discovery might make Roberts pause. Anyhoo, this is long term speculation as the deal couldn't be completed until closer to the end of the decade even if it did come to fruition.

September 19, 2022 at 9:45 PM

Comcast won't buy all of WBD for two reasons. One is anti trust. They wouldn't be allowed to buy CNN, TNT/TBS, etc

Second, and most importantly, is the sum of parts is greater than the whole for WBD and its shareholders.

WBD EV is currently sitting around 80B. HBO (cable) and HBO Max (streaming) with all its huge IPs and close to 80M subscribers WW and 50M in the US would fetch 50B+ by itself in an open auction. WBE minus HB and DC would fetch in the realm of 30B+. HB + DC another 15-20B+. Discovery another 20B+ and so on.

A firesale bypasses regulatory concerns and allows everyone to bid big for a small piece (since they wouldn't have to worry too much about being blocked by the regulatory authorities). So, for example, Netflix could bid big for WBE since they would only be getting the franchises and library, not everything else. Comcast could bid big for HBO/HBO Max for the same reason. Apple could bid big for TNT/TBS. Amazon for CNN. And so on and on and on.

If they do sell then Zaslav and the board will strip the company and sell it for parts.

September 20, 2022 at 2:46 PM

How about a Game of Thrones themed hotel? Bring the whole family!

September 20, 2022 at 10:11 PM

^Only if they include an option to hold weddings there. What could possibly go wrong?

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