One of the two rides that Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal Orlando was hoping would woo guests this summer has finally opened. After weeks of technical rehearsals to mixed guest reviews and plenty of downtime, Skull Island: Reign of Kong officially opened on Wednesday morning.
NBC's Today morning show was broadcasting live from the attraction, a fitting platform to introduce the country to the new attraction since it's also owned by Comcast. We still don't know if the mechanical breakdowns that have plagued the attraction will continue and we'll have to wait to see if the attraction has been able to improve its experience after compiling weeks of rider feedback.
The important thing is that Skull Island: Reign of Kong is finally open. Comcast can stop tagging its local TV commercials, radio spots, and billboards for the King Kong-themed ride with "Coming Soon" disclaimers. Did it happen too late to save the peak summer travel season?
Slipping on a banana peel
Comcast probably figured it would get the better of nearby rival Disney (NYSE:DIS) this summer. Skull Island: Reign of Kong would be the first new ride to open at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure since 2009's debut of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was timed to coincide with Universal Pictures' Kong: Skull Island, originally slated to hit theaters later this year.
However, The film got bumped to a theatrical release date for next March and the ride missed the early June window to greet the first wave of summertime guests to its growing resort.
July 13 is obviously still technically summer. However, with area schools set to kick off the new school year on Aug. 15, Skull Island: Reign of Kong will have just a month of peak crowds to entertain this summer.
You wouldn't like me when I'm angry
It gets worse. The park closed its signature The Incredible Hulk Coaster in early September last year. It was to be completely retracked, keeping the same layout but incorporating a new queue area and storyline.
It didn't seem like a major refurbishment, and the park pitching a June reopening seemed conservative. It wasn't. June became summer, and summer became late summer.
The ride has been testing vehicles on the track in recent weeks, but the only passengers have been water ballast dummies. The coaster has yet to take on park employees, much less day guests willing to give it a go during technical rehearsals.
The reopen should live up to its "late summer" promise, but who knows how much vacation time will be left for families by the time the updated roller coaster opens. And this comes at a time when three of the adjacent Universal Studios Florida attractions are closed, making room for a pair of new experiences that will open in 2017 and 2018.
This should have been a defining summer for Universal Orlando. Universal Studios Florida has had momentum in recent years, notching 9.6 million attendance in 2015 (a 73% increase from 2009) to the Magic Kingdom's 20.5 million (a 19% boost from 2009). Universal Orlando was the only one of the three major theme park operators in the area to post year-over-year attendance growth during the March quarter, and the new Kong ride and updated Hulk coaster -- if they had officially opened in June -- would have probably sparked an uptick during Comcast's recently concluded June quarter.
Disney, meanwhile, had its shares of setbacks. It had to replace a nightly lake show at Disney's Animal Kingdom and Frozen Ever After -- Epcot's Frozen-themed boat ride -- has been marred by breakdowns since opening late last month, but at least it was available to guests in June.
Theme parks are starting to move the needle for Comcast, topping $1 billion in revenue during the first quarter, accounting for 15% of NBCUniversal's total revenue. More importantly, theme parks accounted for 23% of NBCUniversal's operating cash flow. This may not seem like much in light of the $18.7 billion that all of Comcast recorded in revenue for the quarter, but NBCUniversal -- and its theme parks -- will become more important as Comcast's cable television stronghold grows more susceptible to cord-cutters.
Theme parks is a dynamic segment that's growing briskly for Comcast. It better hope that two delayed rides this summer don't hurt in the long run.