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5 Reasons Why It’s Time for Universal to Make a Big Splash Once Again

The IP Wars Will Wait for No One

 disneyabc, Flickr

Image: disneyabc, Flickr (license)

If Bob Iger’s legacy could be summed up in two letters — and, honestly, it probably should be — those two letters would be IP. 

The concept of intellectual property has been the singular focus of Iger’s term as the Walt Disney Company’s CEO, acquiring Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and now 20th Century Fox’s Film holdings. Once the 20th Century Fox deal is officially completed and processed, Disney will own the rights to seven of the top 10 highest grossing films of all time, and 10 of the top 15 (all unadjusted for inflation). In eight of the last 10 years, the highest grossing movie of the year is now owned by Disney. 

Simply put, Disney now owns most of the ideas that one could conceivably wish to adapt into theme park attractions or lands.

If Universal wants to stay in this fight, it needs to pony up either for the full theme park rights to these properties in perpetuity, or for full ownership of the properties themselves.

The company’s decades-old decision to license Marvel, for example, not only has benefitted Universal by allowing them to create The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk roller coaster, but it also denied Disney the ability to use its eventual ownership of Marvel to steal market share in Florida. Canny deals like that one, which lock down beloved characters in perpetuity, are the kinds of moves Universal needs to make to compete with Disney long term.

Universal is Cool Again

 dkelly1126, Flickr

Image: dkelly1126, Flickr (license)

But the single most important reason Universal needs to make a big splash is far broader than any of those above. 

Universal is cool now. 

When you tell someone you visited Universal Orlando, they’ll inevitably gasp and ask you how great the Harry Potter attractions were. To a person, the envious inquisitors want to learn every detail about the Hogwarts Express, Gringotts, the Leaky Cauldron, and Honeydukes. The energy is palpable.

That’s something you can’t pay for. The “cool” factor is something that cannot be described. It simply exists, and once you have it, you must fiercely protect it.

For a long time, Universal was decidedly un-cool. Perhaps in its Nickelodeon heyday, there was a mystique to the property, but that changed long ago as it morphed into a classier version of a regional amusement park. But now, with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter nearly a decade old, that reputation has changed.

It’s time for Universal to take another shot at upending the theme park hierarchy. It’s time for Universal to dream big. It worked once before, but between corporate changeover and a hefty reinvention project centered on the support facilities of the resort, the momentum stalled. Now is the time to recapture it.

Remember, Universal: Star Wars is coming. And with a snap of its fingers, it can make half of your market share disappear. 

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