Disney (NYSE: DIS) stunned park fans by announcing that it's canceling Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party this year, its annual premium-priced event that takes place across three dozen nights at its Magic Kingdom theme park in Florida. All eyes are now turning to Disney World rival Universal Orlando to see what it plans to do with its more intense Halloween Horror Nights event.
Let's not assume that Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA) Universal Orlando will follow Disney's lead. Halloween Horror Nights is still likely to happen this year, even if the optics aren't kind with COVID-19 cases soaring in Florida. Let's go over some of the reasons why Comcast is going to try everything it can to get its signature seasonal event off the ground in 2020.
1. Starting dates matter
It's never too early for Halloween if you're Disney. Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party was set to start on Aug. 13 this year, four weeks before Comcast's rival event kicks off its 2020 run. It only makes sense that Disney World would be the first to cancel its event.
It's worth noting that Disneyland in California has its own Halloween event. Its Oogie Boogie Bash is smaller in scale than its Disney World production, but it has yet to be officially canceled, partly because it has historically started in mid-September.
2. The limitations aren't the same
A lot of the things that make people pay as much as $135 a ticket for Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party just aren't feasible in the new normal. Disney has temporarily canceled all fireworks, parades, and meet-and-greet experiences, three cornerstones for its Halloween-themed soiree.
Without those three elements, what would Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party be? No one is paying three figures for trick-or-treat stations and experiencing the same rides they can check out during the day. The party should be back next year, as long as the climate is safe for fireworks, parades, and personal character interactions.
Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights is a different kind of beast. There are no parades or fireworks. Live shows are already taking place at Comcast's theme parks in Florida with social distancing measures, so that's good to go. There will be special precautions to take on tackling the 10 or so soundstage scare mazes that make up the heart of the event. The open-air scare zones will also require some distance between the patrons and performers. It won't be ideal, but it's certainly more feasible in the normal than Disney World's seasonal event.
3. Universal needs this more than Disney
Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is a big money maker for the House of Mouse, but there are so many other things happening at Disney World to grease its coffers. It's alive with festivals throughout the year and several early morning and late night premium events at the parks. Halloween Horror Nights is the major upcharge event at Universal Orlando. It would be a big financial hit for Comcast if it has to forgo the ticket sales, concessions, lodging packages, premium tours, and expedited queue passes it sells for the nearly two-month event.
This also isn't a decision about just the money it would not make. Its priciest annual passes include a complimentary ticket to Halloween Horror Nights every year. Universal Orlando has already temporarily eliminated the valet parking perk that comes with those passes, and shorter summertime hours than usual are also eating into the pass benefit of access to expedited queues after 4 p.m. every day. If it has to nix Halloween Horror Nights too, it will probably have to refund some of the money it has already collected for those annual passes.
This is also a big milestone for the event, as Halloween Horror Nights turns 30 this year. COVID-19 will naturally trump 30 birthday candles to blow out, but it's one more reason why Comcast is likely to bend the event to make it work with the current safeguards than blow it off completely until 2021.
Disney and Comcast are media stocks with a lot more to their businesses than theme parks, and they can both survive even with shuttered gated attractions. However, Comcast's reputation has more riding on Halloween Horror Nights as a successful annual rite than Disney has for any of its seasonal events. If Florida coronavirus cases continue to spike, the cancelation will be inevitable, but for now expect Halloween Horror Nights to remain on track to happen in three months.