Walt Disney World's Star Wars Land is cancelled! No Monstropolis for Disney California Adventure! Cost overruns in the MyMagic+ project spell the end for Disney's theme park dominance - or do they?
Earlier this week, respected Disney fansite Micechat posted an article titled "Iger's Ire", which focused on the delays affecting the MyMagic+ roll-out at Walt Disney World. Disney has stated previously that it hoped to have completed a full roll-out of the system by now, equipping all of its guests with MagicBand wristbands, and ironing the bugs in its FastPass+ ride reservation system. It hasn't achieved that, and faces spending more money on modifications based on guest feedback before it can complete the deployment.
According to MiceChat, this led to a series of tense meetings in Orlando, with Disney CEO Bob Iger being incensed by the delays. As a result, he is claimed to have:
- Placed several projects at the Disneyland Resort on-hold - including the construction of a Star Wars Land for Disneyland, the "re-Imagineering" of several Fantasyland dark rides and Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid at DCA, and celebrations planned for Disneyland's 60th anniversary.
- Cancelled altogether a plan to build a Monsters, Inc.-themed Monstropolis land at Disney California Adventure.
- Kept plans to close the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage attraction altogether, although this will initially be communicated to guests as a mere "refurbishment".
There's no word in the MiceChat article on what's Iger's decision means for Walt Disney World projects, but its claim that "Iger has now told WDI to halt all work on all major projects planned for the American parks, Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland" hints at bad news for Avatar Land and Star Wars Land at Walt Disney World, and even for the already-announced Iron Man ride for Hong Kong Disneyland. Instead, the site claims, Imagineers have been reassigned to the Shanghai Disneyland project, which has a separate budget. But layoffs could follow, MiceChat says.
The reaction to the article by Disney fans has been somewhat hysterical. Some believe that Iger has lost the plot, others that Disney's days of theme park dominance are over. With owner Comcast commiting hundreds of millions of dollars every year to adding new E-Ticket attractions to Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood, is it just a matter of time before Disney loses its position as the undisputed number one in theme parks?
In short: Disney is DOOMED because it has overspent on a massive IT project instead of building amazing new rides like the folks over at Universal.
Wait just a minute...
MiceChat's narrative is a compelling one. Faced with the sudden knowledge that MyMagic+ is behind schedule, over-budget and not bringing in the promised profits, Bob Iger throws his toys out of the pram and cancels virtually all capital expenditure at Disney's parks. Everyone suffers, including the very-profitable Disneyland Resort, which is barely involved in the MyMagic+ program at present. All of the exciting plans that Disney fans have been salivating over for months are off the table.
But wait...none of the projects listed as put "on hold" or "cancelled" by MiceChat have been publicly confirmed by Disney. Yes, there have been hints at a Star Wars Land for Disneyland, but that's all they've been: hints. It's perfectly feasible that some or all of them will not go ahead, but that could be the result of a normal decision-making process rather than a knee-jerk reaction to the MyMagic+ program's issues.
Long-time Disney correspondent Jim Hill appears to take this view in this Twitter rant: "Look, that Micechat article got a number of things right (EX: My Disney Experience / MagicBands is more than a year behind schedule at this point. That's why Disney Parks & Resorts was forced to come up with "Limited Time Magic" at the last minute in 2012 to cover the fact that their big promotional item for 2013 just wasn't going to be ready in time). But as for the rest of that article, it's like the people over at MiceAge shouted "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Are some projects being put on hold and/or being cancelled at Imagineering? Yes. But here's the thing: Projects are ALWAYS being cancelled or put on hold at WDI. That article lumped a lot of very separate decisions together and then tried to sell them as one massive disaster. Which really isn't what's going on right now at 1401."
Was it ever likely that all of those projects were going to be greenlighted? No. So don't be surprised to see some of them cancelled.
Again, MiceChat's story of Bob Iger's rage and subsequent trashing of Imagineering's plans is pretty compelling. But does it really stack up?
Bob Iger has shown a willingness to take big bets in the past: The Avengers, the billion-dollar DCA rebuild, the LucasFilm acquisition. This suggests that if he thinks that new attractions are needed to maintain or improve the performance of Disney's parks, he'll fund them. Certainly, Iger didn't rush out and cancel The Avengers 2 after The Lone Ranger flopped at the box office.
The issues and delays with MyMagic+ have been known about for some time, and it's unlikely that they were somehow completely concealed from Disney's CEO until mere days ago. Did Iger really authorise the announcement of further details of Avatar Land and Hong Kong Disneyland's Iron Man Experience, blissfully unaware that his company was pouring money into a delayed project elsewhere?
Jim Hill again: "Is Iger pissed about the delay / cost overruns with My Magic + ? Yes. Is Disney's CEO a wee bit concerned about his legacy right now? Absolutely. But does that mean that every single project that was in the works for Disneyland & WDW has now been placed on hold or cancelled outright? Nope."
The real impact of MyMagic+
Disney has spent billions of dollars on MyMagic+ - money that could, theoretically, have been invested elsewhere. To many, the problems with the program won't come as a surprise - how many other major IT projects, involving the integration of multiple legacy systems, have been similarly problematic?
Could MyMagic+ be an expensive failure? Possibly. We've certainly questioned the logic of parts of it, particularly FastPass+. But will it bring down Disney's global theme park empire? Of course not. The company is too big and too profitable to allow that to happen.
Similarly, is Universal's performance improving as a result of Comcast's investment? Absolutely. But is it about to surpass Disney in popularity? Not so fast. Universal is now a much stronger number two - good news for everybody - but the gap with Disney will take decades to close, if it's even possible.
Disney's shareholders may be unhappy with MyMagic+, although the final impact of the program will not be clear for some years. But Disney is not stupid enough to let it drag an entire theme park empire down with it.