Theme parks have been a lucrative business for Walt Disney Co. (NYSE:DIS) and Universal Studios parent company Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ:CMCSA). And while each company has been expanding in Asia to further capitalize on theme-park profits, the U.S. theme-park business is still proving to be their most profitable. During the recent holiday season, Disney reported that parks on both coasts were making visitors wait outside the gates because the parks were at capacity. However, Disney and Universal aren't the only ones seeing that there's still plenty of room to grow in the theme-park business in the U.S., and one Chinese company may be the next big name in this industry.
The media company becoming a massive name in China
While Disney and Universal have been growing in Asia, one Chinese company has come along to make its own name in the media industry there. Dalian Wanda Group, commonly referred to as "Wanda" and led by one of China's richest men, Wang Jianlin, has made some aggressive moves in the Chinese media market. The company initially made a name for itself in the media industry by setting its sights on making the largest production studio in the world in the coastal city of Qingdao, on track to be completed in 2017.
Most recently, the company opened a theme park and entertainment complex in Wuhan, China (population over over 10 million). This $1.1 billion project in central China comes a year before Disney's coming Disney Resort Shanghai, and well ahead of what Universal Studios plans to be a new park near Beijing in 2018 or 2019.
Claimed to be the world's first indoor movie-themed park, the Wanda Movie Park opened on Dec. 20 amid much fanfare from the Chinese media. The park includes major attractions such as 3-D rides and one of the world's largest live acrobatic shows in a theater custom-built for the performance.
This movie park could be just the start of a massive expansion in China. Wanda management reportedly has plans to open 200 children's theme parks in China by 2020, at an estimated cost of over $32 billion. As a historically real estate-centered company, Wanda has plenty of land resources to make this plan a reality.
Why Disney and Comcast are really watching this company
Disney and Universal both have profited from their moves into Asia, which is why they're each planning for their first big move into Mainland China. Disneyland Hong Kong was a highlight for Disney's already growing theme-park segment in 2013, helping garner excitement for the coming Disney Resort in Shanghai. For Comcast's Universal Studios, success in Japan and Singapore have led to the company's plan for a new Universal theme park in Beijing in the next three to four years.
But Wanda is assuring that theme-park competition within mainland China will be fierce. One of the company's many projects has been the transformation of Wuxi into a "Culture Tourism City" in China, turning it into a much more modern and entertainment-oriented metropolis that Wang says will compete directly with Disney in Hong Kong and, soon, Shanghai. According to Wanda, the Wuxi Wanda Cultural Tourism City includes the Wanda Mall, a large stage show, a large outdoor theme park, a resort hotel cluster and a bar street.
As Disney and Universal prepare new parks in Mainland China, this will be a tough company to compete with.
However, it's not only within China that Wanda wants to compete; Wanda already has some U.S. presence. It is the Chinese media company that bought and now operates the AMC cinema chain. The company has also been rumored as wanting to make a similar attempt at purchasing a full Hollywood production studio.
Most importantly, the company has said that a U.S. theme park might be its next major target. While theme parks have been such a lucrative and growing portion of Disney's and Comcast's revenue in the past couple of years, both companies will be watching Wanda to see how it does in China and if it moves into the United States. For theme-park lovers and media investors alike, this will undoubtedly be an exciting few years.