The Walt Disney Co. is the 800-pound gorilla (or mouse ) of the theme park industry, but with the most popular attraction in the world right now and a deal that will bring in several more animated characters with genuine international appeal, NBCUniversal is mounting the biggest challenge in years. And soon, like many other Hollywood showdowns, this one will move to China.
This past week, NBCUniversal, a unit of Comcast Corp., acquired DreamWorks Animation, the studio started by former Disney exec Jeffrey Katzenberg, for $3.8 billion. That gives Universal the rights to the “Shrek” franchise — the highest-grossing animated film series ever — as well as “Kung Fu Panda,” “Madagascar” and plenty more characters that are kid-tested, parent-approved and commercially proved.
Universal’s theme parks have always been little brothers to those of Disney, which invented them, but the gap is closing lately. Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, based on the “Harry Potter” franchise, is now one of the most popular theme park attractions ever. It recently opened at Universal Studios Hollywood — the home front — to huge numbers and is expected to bring upwards of 1 million visitors to Los Angeles. And Universal’s total theme park revenue is up 27% from last year to $3.3 billion.
Now Universal can add the likes of Shrek and Po, the “Kung Fu Panda” — and an A-list movie star in China — to a recently bolstered collection of characters with plenty of appeal to park rangers of all ages, especially in the fastest-growing area for theme parks, Asia. Read More