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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