Disney, Comcast, and Fox Look for Theme Park Growth Overseas

Whether Disney's Iron Man 3 or Comcast's Despicable Me 2, the world could not get enough of big Hollywood movies in 2013. If these companies are correct, the world will also not be able to get enough of big Hollywood movie theme parks.

Jan 29, 2014 at 6:00PM

Hollywood movie theme parks are big business. That realization becomes immediately obvious when reviewing the full-year earnings results of Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS). In fiscal 2013, sales from Disney's parks and resorts division made up 31.27% of the entire company's $45 billion in revenue. Today, U.S. operations generate much of the revenue for Disney and other movie theme park owners. However, as is the case with many large American companies, it is the growth potential overseas that is of particular interest.

Of the Hollywood movie theme parks, Disney has had the greatest level of success internationally, albeit its results have been a bit mixed at some locations. Disneyland Paris is the single most-visited tourist attraction in all of Europe with about 15 million guests last year, yet it has now posted five straight annual losses from 2009-2013 thanks to the current economic environment throughout Europe. Hong Kong Disney Resort had issues as well when it first opened in 2005 but it has since become profitable in 2012. It is currently being expanded to accommodate more guests with additional rides, attractions, restaurants, and retail locations.


Hong Kong Disneyland. Source: Disney

Tokyo Disney Resort, on the other hand, has consistently been Disney's best performing international resort ever since Tokyo Disneyland opened in 1983 and the resort was expanded to include the Tokyo Disney Sea in 2001. Unlike all of the other resorts in the Disneyland system, however, Disney has no actual ownership stake in Tokyo Disney Resort. Instead Disney licenses its brand, characters, and other intellectual properties to resort owner Oriental Land Company. In return, Disney is provided with a strong stream of royalties and licensing payments.

The next addition to the Disneyland family will come in 2015 with the grand opening of the Shanghai Disney Resort. This resort is currently being constructed 18 miles from the People's Square (the financial and cultural center of China) and it is within a three-hour car drive for about 300 million Chinese residents. When it opens in 2015, this 963-acre resort will include the 287-acre Shanghai Disneyland park, two hotels totaling 1,200 rooms, and 800 thousand square feet of area for retail, dining, and entertainment establishments.

Universal Studios
Over the past four years, Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) NBCUniversal has had tremendous success at turning must-see film franchises into must-ride theme park attractions. Thanks in large part to the 2010 opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando Resort -- an entire area with Harry Potter-themed rides, buildings, food, and events straight out of the movies -- NBCUniversal's theme parks are now its fastest-growing division.


Hogwarts at Universal Studios Orlando
Source: WizardingWorldHarryPotter.com

While Comcast's theme park revenue primarily derives from its wholly owned Orlando and Hollywood parks, it is also a successful licensor of its brands to third-party theme park owner-operators. USJ Co., Ltd., for example, runs Universal Studios Japan (the most-visited park in the Universal Studios family). Another prime example is Universal Studios Singapore which is owned and operated by Sentosa Ltd. Pte. under license from NBCUniversal. 

The 2007 plans for the South Korean park could not have come at a worse time, though, with the global financial crisis receiving blame for pushing back the expected grand opening from 2012 to early 2014, and again to sometime in 2016. As of today, the construction of the $3.1 billion project (estimated cost in 2007) has yet to actually begin. When (or if) completed, Universal Studios South Korea hopes to attract a rather ambitious 15 million visitors annually (Universal Studios Japan had 9.7 million visitors in 2012).

While the fate of the South Korean park remains in limbo, international growth for the time being will come from expansions to existing parks. Universal Studios Japan will expand from nine areas to ten later this year with its own version of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Rumors also say that the Singapore park will receive a Harry Potter expansion.

Twentieth Century Fox World
Today Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOX) has exactly zero theme parks in operation. That will soon change when the company opens the gate to Twentieth Century Fox World in 2016. For Fox, though, the prospects of international growth were so appealing that the company bypassed the United States entirely. The grand opening of Fox's first theme park will instead take place in the beautiful Southeast Asian country of Malaysia.

The Genting Group -- a Malaysian conglomerate that also licenses, owns, and operates Universal Studios Singapore -- will invest the money to create Twentieth Century Fox World. Spread across 25 acres, this park will feature more than 25 rides and attractions based on Ice Age, Alien vs. Predator, Planet of the Apes, and other Twenty-First Century Fox film properties.

Fox's theme park will be located inside Resorts World Genting, one of the largest resort complexes in the entire world. At only an estimated $300 million price tag, Genting will convert an existing theme park rather than construct an entirely new theme park. This will give Fox World a rather significant head start in the race for tourist money. Instead of developing a major tourist destination from the ground up as other theme park owners have done, Twentieth Century Fox World comes ready-made in a resort with about 10,000 total hotel rooms, a casino, 170 dining and retail establishments, and 19.5 million visitors in 2009. That is quite an enviable position to be in when Fox World opens its gates in just two short years.

Amusing the world
Over the past few years, the industry's top players have invested billions in new parks and park expansions. Disney and Comcast have already enjoyed the fruits of their labor in the U.S. with higher attendance levels and increased guest spending at company-owned hotels, restaurants, and shops. They, along with Fox, are similarly poised to reap those rewards internationally in the coming years. The rest of the world cannot seem to get enough of big Hollywood movies. It appears the same is also true of big Hollywood movie theme parks.

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