Rumor SPOTLIGHT for November 27, 2013: How Disney lost the battle for 2017 by cancelling most of Star Wars Land

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Disney CEO Bob Iger was supposed to be publicly announcing Star Wars’s big arrival at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland and Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios right about now. Instead, he’s quietly put all plans on hold in Anaheim and outright pulled the plug on most of the Star Wars Land expansion here in Orlando.

If it seems like the world has gone topsy-turvy, particularly after our glowing review of Disney’s prospects for 2017 that Orlando Informer published two weeks ago, that’s because it has literally done so for the company; it turns out that most of Star Wars Land getting the axe is just the tip of Disney’s problems.

 

Billion dollars & counting

It all starts – and ends – with the company’s grandiose NextGen initiative at Disney World, a billion-dollar-plus program that has as its twin centerpieces the MyMagic+ system of advance ride, show, and restaurant reservations and the all-in-one MagicBands that function as park tickets, hotel room keys, and credit cards. Despite the huge push behind the system, it has seen delay after delay, thanks to a whole glut of glitches, bugs, and system crashes. The most recent plan was to have NextGen “largely” in place two months ago, when Disney’s fiscal year ended; now, everything has been indefinitely delayed, possibly ‘til this time next year or, even, on into early 2015.

Yeah... maybe not so much.
Yeah… maybe not so much. Source

The amount of damage this is starting to inflict on the company cannot be overstated. The program has been in development for at least the past five years, with the last two years starting to incur real costs as it continues to tie up more and more R&D dollars and man-hours. Disney’s financial types were counting on the initial roll-out this year to start to boost Disney World’s revenues in 2014, as guests are expected to spend more time on property and more money on souvenirs once every minute detail of their vacations have been planned months in advance and with wallet-less transactions making money out of sight, out of mind. The loss of that revenue is damning; the fact that even more now has to be spent on further patches and upgrades is downright disastrous. (And this is just for Orlando – forget about shipping NextGen to all of the other resorts all across the globe, as was expected to be happening in the very near future.)

This is so disastrous, in fact, that Bob Iger and all of Disney’s top executives reportedly flew out to Orlando earlier this month for a series of “tense” meetings on the subject. The bottom line, as is so important for a massive public corporation like Disney, is that a great deal of money needed to be saved from other sections of the theme park business – what is typically the most consistent and surefooted performer in all of Disney’s portfolio – in order to make up for the giant (and growing) shortfall. Upon their return to Burbank, the execs instituted a series of emergency, kneejerk measures to do just that, slashing projects left and right and temporarily reassigning Imagineers to work on the soon-to-open Shanghai Disneyland (which has a different budget, presumably due to its being mostly owned by the Chinese government) for at least the next three months. Should the financial situation continue to look dire and the global freeze on new theme park spending isn’t lifted, rumors suggest, layoffs at Walt Disney Imagineering would ensue.

Disney CEO Bob Iger.
Disney CEO Bob Iger. Source

While we have a rather solid idea of what this last-minute moratorium means for Disneyland Resort – Tomorrowland’s Star Wars overlay being put on hold by at least another year, California Adventure’s Monstropolis expansion (themed to Monsters, Inc.) being cancelled, and 2015’s 60th anniversary plans being all but gutted – we really have no clear idea as of yet what this will entail for Walt Disney World.

 

The freeze hits Walt Disney World

The current news making the rounds is that Star Wars Land at Hollywood Studios would have a severe reduction in the breadth and depth of the attractions slated to appear, with, perhaps, just one or two new rides or restaurants being trotted out, most likely after a similar delay. Pandora: The World of Avatar would also presumably be put on hold (after already seeing a whole host of its own delays over the past two years), although it’s exceedingly difficult to imagine the whole expansion would be permanently downsized or outright squashed. And with the transformation of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs already underway and New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom almost entirely complete, these projects may be immune from Iger’s newly-issued edict.

Seven Drawfs Mine Train, the final piece of New Fantasyland, will debut in 2014.
Seven Drawfs Mine Train, the final piece of New Fantasyland, will debut in 2014.

Even so, it’s hard to imagine a more catastrophic scenario for the world’s biggest theme park resort. During the Michael Eisner years, its operating budget was slashed and it earned the dubious distinction of being the first Disney location to have a whole park not only close, but be entirely abandoned (that would be River Country [and Discovery Island, in Bay Lake, to boot], for those playing along at home).

More recently, Universal Orlando has eclipsed Walt Disney World in terms of enthusiast goodwill and mainstream media coverage; the Wizarding World(s) of Harry Potter has proven to be a major success in both attendance records and theme park design, raising the bar substantially high for any Disney counter-attack. And just within the last year, Disney spent roughly a billion dollars in deploying a whole slew of new attractions and desperately-needed overhauls to its California Adventure park, revolving mostly around the addition of Cars Land, the only themed land to provide real competition to Universal’s Harry Potter. In contrast, the company spent the same amount of money at Disney World in installing turnstile-less park entrances and retrofitting nearly every last ride and parade viewing spot with FastPass+ access. The imbalance couldn’t be greater.

And the loss of the heart of Star Wars Land, possibly for the next decade – if not longer! – is a heavy, and quite possibly fatal, blow. An E-ticket speeder bike ride, a walk-through Millenium Falcon and Ewok village, and an “interactive Tatooine cantina restaurant show” all possibly being thrown to the curb is heart-breakingly depressing, not to mention mind-numbingly nonsensical – wouldn’t installing one of the planet’s most recognizable entertainment brands dramatically increase revenue, thereby helping to ameliorate the continuing damage done by NextGen?

The difference in worldviews between Disney and Universal couldn’t be more striking: the latter believes in getting attractions off the ground as fast as humanly possible, even if that means paying time-and-a-half for literally the entire life of the construction project (hello, Transformers, which now holds the world record for fastest turnaround time: 12 months), since new properties bring new guests and, thereby, more money into the parks. This just may be the slow and cautious Disney tortoising itself entirely out of the race.

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Healthy skepticism

The only conceivable silver lining in all of this is the possibility that the “facts” of this current report have gotten somehow mixed up or are out-and-out inaccurate; this is the rumor industry, after all, and information can – and often does – change on a daily basis.

If not, however, it’s hard to see how Universal won’t be the dominant force in the (Orlando) theme park business for the remainder of this decade, at the least.

 

DISCLAIMER FROM THE EDITOR

Please remember when viewing this post that a rumor is a piece of unverified information of uncertain origin; a statement whose veracity is not quickly or ever confirmed. So even though we try our best to present solid speculation, there’s no way to guarantee any rumor will come true (then it wouldn’t be a rumor anyway).

Thanks to Marc for researching the latest rumor buzz from sources across the Internet and condensing it down into a single post for us each and every week!

View all of our Rumor Round-Ups

 

[sws_author_bio user=”msunyata@yahoo.com” size=”105″ authorposts=”More OI posts by Marc” name_format=”About the author”] [/sws_author_bio]

Marc N. Kleinhenz Marc N. Kleinhenz’s first dream in life was to be an astronaut. His second was an Imagineer. While neither completely worked out, he now works exclusively for Orlando Informer as a writer, editor, and podcast co-host. He’s also written for 32 other sites (including Screen Rant, IGN, The Escapist, and California Informer [OI's sister site]), has had his fiction featured in several publications, and has even taught English in Japan. Imagineering school won’t be too far behind.

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52 Comments on "Rumor SPOTLIGHT for November 27, 2013: How Disney lost the battle for 2017 by cancelling most of Star Wars Land"

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Joshua Zeff
Guest

Universal will be the new king.

Amy Bethi Duggan
Guest

FAIL. Disney should be ashamed

Todd Losey
Guest

We want Star Wars land, give up magic band t

Total Orlando
Guest

A very sad outcome for Disney fans!

Stuart Nielsen
Guest

That much spent for so little return shows that they have much of a plan.

Steve Mitchell
Guest

Having just come back from Eurodisney you can see the cost savings…many less characters, no new rides, old rides breaking down more often 🙁

Justin Saltonstall
Guest

Yeah I can see how they thought magic band would generate more dollars because of a wallet less vacation. It definitely helps people spend more, but if it means taking the place of new rides that people actually care about because u can’t afford to build them, yikes. Not great thinking on Disney’s part. If you polled every guest at Disney what they’d rather have, magic band or Star Wars Land, what do u think they’d pick? Most would probably say, “what’s magic band again?” Lol

Melissa Crawford
Guest

Universal always trumps Disney to me.

Justin Saltonstall
Guest

I never thought Avatar Land was a great idea. It’s too forgettable and can’t match Potter in terms of fan base. And to think it will be pushed back even further is not good at all. By the time it’s built, it’ll probably be laughable in terms of popularity.

David Loyd-Hearn
Guest

Disney’s (lack of) leadership team has forgotten why people go to their resorts.

Matt Botelho
Guest

I still don’t see that much of a difference between the current program an magic+. When you stay on property you get your “key to the kingdom” that acts as your room key and credit card (if you wish). So all this money and problems to add fast passes and dining??? Doesn’t make sense.

Julie-Anne Hennessy
Guest

Well I’ve been here for 13 days now using the magic band and have not had one single problem, used it as room key, park tickets, dining plan, charged purchases to it etc and it’s been a god send. Well done Disney!! And if it puts Star Wars land back a bit then so be it. I love Universal too but still think they could take a leaf out of Disney’s book sometimes…for one, charging for an express pass is a huge no no!!

CaptainAction
Guest

See my above post about six or so higher about all the hotel benefits you could have had at Universal. The annual pass discount there get’s you all that for less than 2 rooms at a WDW value resort.
The express passes are free with the Universal Resorts.
Universal also has these things WDW has forgotten about which are called “New Rides and Attractions”, which are pretty cool.

OrlandoInformer.com
Guest

I’ve heard many positive reviews of MyMagic+, so I’m confident it has worked well for some guests. The issue here isn’t so much whether MyMagic+ should have happened at all, but whether a company infrastructure program should take priority over classic park improvements, like adding attractions. Ideally both would happen simultaneously, but if one has to take priority, many fans would argue that it should be new attractions.

Marc Kleinhenz
Guest

I’ve been up reading all night — the rumors just broke yesterday — and it looks as if none of the already-in-development projects at Disney World will be affected at all. This means Avatar Land as well as New Fantasyland and Disney Springs.

Rachel Mulieri
Guest
Precisely why my money now goes to Universal Orlando.Magic bands arent all that magical when the system can’t handle it.The fastpass system worked for years.It wasnt broke so I am not sure why they felt the need to “fix” it and I could deal with planning dining 6 months out, but now they want me to plan my park days and rides too and they tiered the FP system to boot. .Resort costs and ticket prices have continued to climb .It is for all these reasons we now spend our money at universal.I spent 1/2 of what I spent on… Read more »
Todd Losey
Guest

Thats my point they are putting everthing on hold for this program, Fans who buy the stuff go to the parks, want me attractions, proof as Universal did with Harry Potter etc. Harry Potter pretty much pump universal back to life, as Star Wars would do for Hollywood as Cars Land did for California Adventure.

Rachel Mulieri
Guest

If you stay onsite you get it FREE..Which is the perks for us people staying onsite,Otherwise the Universal resort hotels wouldnt be that enticing.It is the early entry and the free express pass that keep us onsite.If Disney could find a way to charge for FP they would too

CaptainAction
Guest
Universal Resorts aren’t that enticing except for fast pass and early hour? My family of 5 can stay in a 4-5 star resort, Portofino, in a 900 SQ FT SUITE, with 2 FULL BATHS, thanks to Loews First program, which is free. We ride a boat through a beautiful mile long canal to the front of the parks. Every check in we receive a free gift in our room like a fruit basket, or choc covered strawberries, or giant cookies and a pitcher of milk, etc. We tld them recently we were celebrating our oldest son’s graduation and they sent a… Read more »
Rudi Prusa
Guest

Day after tomorrow going and staying on to try out bands. Seems cheesy but I am excited to see how work. My expectations for fast pass are less than ideal as its already a mess with folks trying to go early – now no printed time and have to wait for early idiots clogging up “magic band entry area” will be a mess. I hope to be proven wrong. Ooh – And I want Ariel to say my name.

Gregory Wilson
Guest
The only way I can afford to go to Disney is on free tickets an bring only 60.00 for the day an split a meal with another person for only 14.65 if that an the drinks maybe 1-3 I play at smart I shopp arnd the Disney an universal by bringing in water bottles to keep me hydrated during the visit…but the prices I agree are climbing to where people with the big $ can go unlike us middle to lower class people have tried applying an gettin rejected due to credits based frm Disney especially which is very wrng….Disney… Read more »
Stuart Nielsen
Guest

True but I don’t think Disney gets it. Since its parks pretty much print money for them they don’t seem to grasp what Universal is doing. Take Diagon Alley for example. I’m from Canada, my family and I don’t go to Universal every year but we will in 2014 because my kids love Potter. That’s money they wouldn’t have seen until 2015 otherwise. We have no plans to visit Disney at all.

disneyguest
Guest

Wait….. is your only source for this article the Mice Age article from yesterday whose credibilty has already been questioned?   It seems like you are rewording all the details from that article and throwing in some of your assumptions. I know you put a disclaimer on this as a rumor, but please do let your readers know if you have any more information cooroborating the rumors in the Mice Age article.

Travis Thornton
Guest

If Disney wants to compete with universal the smartest move would be to bring in more Star Wars. Avatar is overrated and in my opinion isn’t worth being added to any park

Landon Tombstone Taylor
Guest
Landon Tombstone Taylor

Wow…the thing is…I wanted Disney to make this work. I favor Universal but the competition is good for both companies.

Jack Tamagni
Guest

I’m going to wear a Mehgic Band because I want low level crooks with skimmers that pick up RFID transmissions stealing my credit card info.. haha no thanks. Disney proved they couldn’t make these things fraud proof and IMO that turned too many people off. It’s true that nothing can be done with stolen fast passes or room keys but credit card numbers..now that’s a whole new ballgame. But that’s just my logical conclusion.

Jack Tamagni
Guest
Disney will always bring in more people than Universal because they have four parks, two water parks and lots of resorts. It’s simply a matter of space and Disney wins every time. Besides that the name Disney is constantly being crammed down peoples throats to the point of brainwashing. I do prefer Universal more than the Disney parks here in Florida and that has a lot to do with the rude, ungrateful CPs that they choose to staff their parks with. Universal just feels like home to me. It’s a place where I can just go and sit somewhere and… Read more »
KevyB
Guest
@Jack Tamagni – I have dealt with Disney and theme parks in general since all the Disney fansites appeared on the internet. And the one thing I found over and over and over is that Disney is like a cult with many people and they truly are brainwashed. That said, in the last five years or so, it’s been the first time I have EVER seen many Disney fans comment poorly on the Disney product. And many of those have finally allowed themselves to sample Universal and discovered that they were actually wrong about their product. This is MONUMENTAL. Just look… Read more »
Diane Judith Hewson
Guest

Plse remember why Disney built Magic Kingdom to start with.!A msgical place a fairytail.etc
To the nig bossrs at disney.keep it magical n loose star wars.thats not disney at all.

Justin Saltonstall
Guest

The main point that I want to get across is magic bands are an awesome addition but not at the expense of new attractions because NO ONE is traveling to Disney do they can use the magic band system. So, great decision sinking all that money into this? I’m not so sure. Universal has my vote on smarts right now.

Maureen Rowe Deal
Guest

I think it’s just a matter of time before Disney says “want more Fastpass+ attractions each day? Just add on the extra attraction feature for $xxxx more”

Suzanne Torrey
Guest

Love WDW and Universal, but with this mess on top of the revamping of the Guest Assistance Pass at Disney, I may spend the next trip entirely at Universal. Way to go, Disney: make it harder and more expensive!

Kim Guzma
Guest

This would be a real shame if true, because DHS desperately needs something, and I think Star Wars is the only thing that will come close to attracting the crowds that WWoHP does, but I also have to admit that this gives me a small, perverse amount of satisfaction, knowing that UOR is NOT doing what Disney is doing.

Darrel Buccilli
Guest

Why would they cancel plans for a star wars expansion, solely on some stupid my magic stunt? I wont use it even if it is implemented as I will not wear any kind of bracelet. I can’t stand anything on my arms.I wont even wear long sleeves.

Beverly Jane Ampy
Guest

I hope this isn’t true. I really didn’t want to wait on the Star Wars expansion. But by the time it’s built, my daughter will be able to ride all the rides with us, so I guess it’s not such a bad thing.

DougJenkins
Guest

Should be interesting.  Disney throwing money at projects that don’t bring more people into the parks, but not doing what it takes to keep up with Universal.  Only way they are going to get it is when and if revenues fall.

Kevin Strachan
Guest

I got banned from a Facebook page for disagreeing with a mod over this (lol) but I think Disney is more and more making all the wrong choices and universal is making the right ones, the mine train 3 plus years later still building it, avatar is MIA, star wars land is likely never happening, where as universal in a year has redone Simpsons, built transformers basically from the ground up, almost built Harry potter 2, anyone that thinks universal is no longer competition is fooling themselves

Amy Whitenight
Guest

I am sorry but my family did both universal and disney this year and universal far eclipses disney. Disney needs to update badly. Universals attractions are just more fun and technologically ahead.

JS
Guest

Goodness this is depressing! As a huge disney fan coming from Scotland 4 times in 2 years – we said we wouldn’t be back to disneyworld till 2017 ie when they had spent some money! It’s getting boring and the huge cost for us there is no pull! Hollywood studios is seriously lacking rides!!
We will however be staying in September at the cabana bay and be doing universal again!
Oh well will need to take the 13 hr fight to california for cars land!!

Michael Aaron Futterman
Guest
Michael Aaron Futterman

I agree Universal has done a much better job with making new attractions and making there guests feel more at home while Disney has started charging more money for everything

Cassy
Guest

Isn’t Universal the park that charges their onsite guests for parking? That is more of a ripoff than anything Disney has done.

OrlandoInformer
Guest

@Cassy Trust me, Disney covers their parking costs — they just hide it in the room price. So, in that sense, even people who aren’t driving have to pay for parking when staying on-site at Disney.

Melissa Crawford
Guest

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions.

Khaim Jack Cousineau
Guest

Must have cost a lot for the Star Wars franchise makes sense

Kevin Collins
Guest

I stayed inside Disney the past 2 years, with all the perks, including free parking at the parks. I have reservations at Universal’s new Cabana Bay Resort for Dec ’14. And they have the audacity to charge you for parking while you stay there?!?

TomT
Guest
Let me sum this up in one easy to read point. 1- “Magic Bands are working without glitches on our current stay”  = Yes, this is true. However, that’s ALL they ARE doing.. they are NOT increasing revenue!! T Of all the money spent on this whole “Next Gen” the best it’s doing is “working” to let guests into there hotel room, or into the parks or buy something (at best, when it’s working.)  But it’s NOT doing anything else.. it’s not bringing in more money, it’s not getting you to stay longer, it’s not getting you to buy more… Read more »
OrlandoInformer
Guest
I’d just like to remind everyone reading this article that it’s titled “Rumor SPOTLIGHT”, not “News”, and there are not one but two disclaimers at the end of the article. The propose of our weekly rumor column is to provide a window into what *might* be happening by collecting the latest speculation from sources across the internet (which we always link to). We take that speculation and condense it into one weekly post as a service to our readers, so you don’t have to spend hours tracking down all the sources yourself. We rarely ever claim to be the source… Read more »
Rich
Guest

If the Disney execs were truly concerned they might cut their ridiculous pay and transfer that revenue to companies that could fix NexGen instead of trying to do it all in house. One would think that Lilo would have taught them that lesson.

Monica Andacht
Guest

Got to Epcot test track fast pass at 9:20 when park opened only to find next available fast pass good to come back after 4pm. Guess all the fast plus people reserved time. We tried at hotel kiosk yesterday at 10 and nothing was available. Got her 15 min after park opened and almost out of fast passes. Will not be renewing my annual pass holder. Unless this billion dollar program actually works I don’t think we will be back.

Cynthia Price-larsen
Guest

I do prefer universal to Disney I have stayed at all on site properties at both parks will be back to visit in the fall staying at cabana then to hard rock haven’t been to Disney since 2008 love the express pas

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