At least I can always say "I told you so."
Anders Bylund recently wrote about the new show coming to Disney's
Disney doesn't own American Idol. This isn't like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, the Disney-owned quiz show phenomenon that the company temporarily turned into a participatory in-park attraction at the same park where American Idol is going in. However, Disney knows a hot trend when it sees it. Audiences love to see live performances that may amount to life-altering experiences. But how did it beat Six Flags
I ask that because I suggested that the regional amusement-park chain follow this kind path last year after it acquired a 40% stake in Dick Clark Productions. If you're not familiar with Clark's televised properties beyond the signature New Year's Rockin' Eve countdowns, the company is also responsible for the American Music Awards and Golden Globe Awards programs, as well as the popular summertime So You Think You Can Dance show.
Six Flags did flesh out a few of the possibilities. It could have rebranded its Thursday-night concert series under the American Music Awards banner. It could have held special events in cahoots with So You Think You Can Dance. It could also have shaved a little overhead off its live entertainment budget by transforming enclosed stages into movie screens showing highlights from its award shows or classic Bloopers and American Bandstand performances.
I thought that would be just the beginning. As I wrote at the time:
So You Think You Can Dance should be more than just a special event. The summertime hit on News Corp.'s
Fox TV network should be a show performed a few times daily at each park. Imagine plucking unlikely dancers from the audience during the pre-show and teaching them some dance moves backstage. Meanwhile, Six Flags dancers and audience members who wanted to strut their stuff would get a chance on stage before the freshly trained dancers came out for the finale. (NYSE: NWS)
And, as I also suggested:
The American Music Awards show could get a grassroots makeover at the theme-park level. Just slap on the local city at the end of the AMA brand, and create either a battle of the bands -- or vocalists, to keep it simple -- and make it a sticky series for the summertime. Selling compilation CDs -- either physically or through digital-distribution outlets such as Apple's
iTunes -- of the top performers would be a great way to rally the local community and generate some good local media buzz. (Nasdaq: AAPL)
Sounds a lot like what Disney will be doing later this year, doesn't it?
Doing the Mickey Mouse Club March in February
I'm obviously not suggesting that Disney ripped me off. Disney has been one step ahead of the industry -- and me -- for decades. No, this is more about Six Flags nabbing a piece of a great entertainment medium and not taking it to the next obvious level, as Disney will do with its own stake this year.
You will probably argue that Six Flags didn't have time to incorporate the Dick Clark properties last year. The acquisition was announced in June, several weeks into the 2007 operating season. These things, understandably, take time. It would have been nice to beat Disney to the punch in offering a new level of interactive musical entertainment, but Six Flags has to shutter most of its properties during the offseason. I get that.
However, it's 2008 now. Most of the Six Flags parks don't have their entertainment calendars posted on the company website, but a year-round operator such as Six Flags Magic Mountain in California does.
The weekly summer concert series didn't take to the American Music Awards brand. At least not yet. There's a Dance Fest scheduled for early June, but the description details the interactive event as an exhibition -- not a competition -- with no tie-in for So You Think You Can Dance.
Should I wait until the summer starts before I turn critical? I could, but if I'm right, it would be too late.
Six Flags is taking a lot of welcome strides under the new management team that took over two seasons ago. The parks are cleaner and more family-friendly. Guests are spending more money once they get through the turnstiles.
Outside the park, things are getting even better. Six Flags has a slicker website up than it did a few years ago. It's also starting to offer guests the opportunity to view, share, and purchase their park photographer-shot digital snapshots online.
Still, Disney has managed to score against the competition again. Six Flags and Cedar Fair
The regional parks can't afford to do something like that. They need to market to the locals. What's more, regular shows that turn neighbors into potential stars would actually be a better fit at a Six Flags or Cedar Fair property than at a massive Disney theme park.
Both Six Flags and Cedar Fair are at a critical point in their corporate lives. This will be the third season since Mark Shapiro took the helm at Six Flags. It's the third year since Cedar Fair acquired the Paramount Parks chain from CBS
Expectations are high. Even if the regional chains aren't susceptible to Disney's global tourist pull, they can't afford to miss out on the low-lying fruit on the local endearment trees.
For more amusement:
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys taking his family on coaster treks over the summer. He did his part by hitting Six Flags Great Adventure and Six Flags Great Escape two summers ago. He does own shares in Disney and Six Flags, and units in Cedar Fair. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.