Just when it seemed as if Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Hollywood Studios theme park couldn't get any more barren, the world's leading theme park operator announced the closure of another popular attraction over the weekend.
The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights -- the colorful array of music-synced Christmas lights that have dazzled nighttime guests for nearly two decades -- will go away after this holiday season's run. Illuminated decor that dances in sync with Christmas tunes in the park's Streets of America section may not seem like much of an attraction, but it's a big draw during a seasonally potent part of the park's operating calendar.
There's a good reason the festive nighttime presentation is going away. Disney Chief Operating Officer Thomas Staggs confirmed on Thursday that the company will begin breaking ground on Star Wars Land next year, and with all of the chatter suggesting that the 14-acre expansion will take place in that section of the park, it makes sense that the holiday attraction would go away.
However, it's going to make Disney World's least-visited theme park even less popular until new Star Wars and Pixar rides arrive -- and that's at least a couple of years away. Let's go over how Disney and rival Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSK) (NASDAQ:CMCSA) have fared in terms of annual attendance over the past five years.
|Universal Studios Florida||5,530,000||8,263,000||49.4%|
|Islands of Adventure||4,627,000||8,141,000||75.9%|
Seeing attendance play out over several years -- and we're going by the third-party annual estimates put out by Themed Entertainment Association, since Disney doesn't announce official tallies -- it becomes clear that only the parks that add major attractions experience dramatic spikes in turnstile clicks. The explosion in popularity at Comcast's Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure coincides with the addition of lavishly themed Harry Potter lands at both parks. Disney's Magic Kingdom -- the only Disney-owned park in Florida to post a double-digit spurt over the past five years -- had the New Fantasyland expansion make it even more magnetic.
If stagnant parks get penalized, what will happen at Disney's Hollywood Studios as it continues to shutter rides and attractions? The good news for the park, of course, is that it should experience the same kind of burst in attendance as Comcast's rival parks when Pixar Land and Star Wars Land opens. The bad news is that investors will have to wait. Disney hasn't provided any kind of opening for the two lands it unveiled last month, but it's unlikely that we see Pixar Land until 2017 and Star Wars Land until 2018, if not later.
Disney's Hollywood Studios is going to be a pretty special and busy place by 2019, but between now and then, Disney is going to continue to lose weeklong tourists to Comcast's fresher theme parks.
Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.