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Monday Mouse Watch: Will MGM's upcoming name change really allow the Universal Orlando Resort to nudge Disney out of the spotlight?

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Monday Mouse Watch: Will MGM's upcoming name change really allow the Universal Orlando Resort to nudge Disney out of the spotlight?

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What's in a name?

Well, as Universal learned the hard way back in 1998, when it decided to rename its recently expanded resort "Universal Studios Escape" and thus confused hundreds of thousands of tourists ... Sometimes picking the wrong name for your theme park and/or resort can prove to be disastrous.


Copyright 1999 Universal Studios Escape

Which is why it was kind of intriguing to learn late last month that Universal Studios Orlando reps were out there surveying up a storm. Not to find out what theme park goers actually thought of the names that Universal had chosen for its two Central Florida parks. But -- rather -- to learn about what Central Florida tourists thought of the new moniker that the Mouse had chosen for Disney-MGM.

To be specific, the folks at Universal wanted to know if theme park goers felt that Disney-MGM's new name was confusing (i.e. Where would you expect to find "Disney's Hollywood Studios" ? In Hollywood, California or in Orlando, Florida ?) as well as what their expectations for the soon-to-be-renamed theme park might be (i.e. What would you expect to find at a "Disney's Hollywood Studios" that you might not find at a "Disney-MGM Studios" ?). They even went so far as to quiz people about which proposed name they liked best for WDW's studio theme park (i.e. "Disney's Hollywood Studios," "Disney's Orlando Studios," "Walt Disney Studios" or "Disney-Pixar Studios").

"And why would Universal be doing something like this ?," you ask. To borrow an analogy from Steven Spielberg's 1976 classic, "Jaws," Universal sensed that there was blood in the water.

To explain: The executives who run the Universal Studios Orlando resort genuinely believe that the renaming of Disney-MGM Studios theme park will confuse a certain number of tourists. And Universal intends to take advantage of this confusion by launching a bold new promotional campaign for their resort in 2008.

To date, the Universal Orlando Resort hasn't quite settled on which new tagline it wants to use. Among the finalists are:

  • "Universal Orlando Resort: The Blockbuster Capital of the World"
  • "Universal Orlando Resort: The Feature Attraction"

But Universal is determined to do whatever it has to in order to grab would-be theme park visitors' attention & nudge Disney out of the spotlight. Perhaps even going so far as to hire Academy Award-winner Morgan Freeman to serve as the new face & voice of their resort.

One of the ideas that's currently on the table involves Freeman starring in an eye-popping series of commercials, which -- through the magic of digital effects -- Morgan would be inserted into memorable scenes from "Spider-Man," "The Hulk," "Jurassic Park," "Men in Black" as well as the "Harry Potter" films.

Speaking of Harry ... Even though "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" isn't expected to open at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure 'til 2009, look to the Universal Orlando Resort to begin playing up the fact that J. K. Rowling's characters (as well as the characters from "The Simpsons") will soon be appearing in their Central Florida theme parks. Look for many of Universal's TV commercials for 2008 to be peppered with brief clips from "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," and "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."


Copyright 2007 NBC / Universal

FYI: You may have noticed that -- in the early concept art of the Hogsmeade Village section of "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" -- that this section of Island of Adventure's newest "land" is blanketed with snow. Well, there's a reason for that. You see, Universal is hoping to turn IOA's "Harry Potter" -themed section into a way to challenge Disney World's dominance when it comes to Christmas in Central Florida. Picture -- if you will -- a yearly "Holidays at Hogwarts" promotion at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. With carolers strolling through the streets of Hogsmeade and a traditional English Christmas feast being served nightly in the Great Hall at Hogwarts Castle.

Of course, what's kind of ironic about all this is that Disney is well aware of all the survey work that Universal has been doing lately. And Mouse House officials think that it's silly that Universal Orlando Resort executives seem to believe that any Central Florida tourists will be confused by Disney-MGM's upcoming name change.

As one unnamed MGM manager explained it to me:

"It's not like we're actually going to be closing the park while we rename the place. It's all going to happen overnight. When the Studios closes on January 6, 2008, it will officially cease being called Disney-MGM and then become Disney's Hollywood Studios. There'll be absolutely no interruption in operations. So I don't understand when exactly it is that Universal thinks that WDW guests are going to start to get confused by this name change."

This same manager also asked that I please clarify some of the information that has been put out on the Web to date about the Studios upcoming Halloween hard ticket event. Which is now tentatively scheduled to get underway in late October of 2009, with a weeklong series of parties being held after-hours at that theme park.

"We're not going to do anything nearly as scary or gross as Universal's Halloween Horror Nights. To be honest, given that the Studios Halloween event is being built around Jack Skellington and the 'Nightmare Before Christmas' characters, it'll be more eerie and silly than anything.

People need to understand that the real reason that we're prepping a second after-hours Halloween event for the Disney World Resort isn't because we want to do something like Universal. To be honest, we're just doing this because of the pent-up demand, because 'Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party' sells out every year. Particularly during that week just before Halloween.

If we offer a second after-hours hard ticket event that's Halloween-themed, we'll then be able to meet that demand. Give those folks who weren't able to get into 'Mickey's Not-So-Scary' another place on property where they can then go and party with their friends & family.


 Copyright 2007 Hong Kong Disneyland

So this isn't really about Disney trying to out-gross Universal. But -- rather -- the Disney World Resort just looking for new ways to meet the seasonal demands of our guests. And if this Halloween event at the Studios proves to be successful ... Well, we'll then do what we did with 'Mickey's Not-So-Scary' and 'Mickey's Very Merry.' Which is add a few new dates every year. Maybe even offer people a combo package, so that -- if they book a room at one of our on-property resorts during the months of September and October -- we'll then offer them the opportunity to buy tickets to both the Magic Kingdom's Halloween party as well as the Studios Halloween party.

But as for the Disney's Hollywood Studios Halloween event being our way of challenging Universal's supremacy when it comes to that holiday ... Yeah, maybe there's a little of that going on with this new hard ticket. But to be honest, this is mostly because 'Mickey's Not-So-Scary' always sells out during that last week of October. We're just trying to do something to meet that pent-up demand. Give the people who are staying on property and who are looking to attend an after-hours Halloween party during their Disney World vacation another alternative to chose from.

But please put the word out. The 'Twilight Zone Tower of Terror' with its new 5th Dimension drop sequence -- think 'Up, up and Away!' -- is about as scary as this new after-hours event at the Studios is ever going to get."

Now what's kind of bizarre about all this is -- even as the Walt Disney World Resort is trying to create a brand-new, on-property, after-hours Halloween event that will deliberately not be as scary as Halloween Horror Nights -- Universal is reportedly looking into creating its own new family-friendly event that -- come 2009 -- would then challenge "Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party."

As the story goes, once Phase One of "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" opens in 2009 (FYI: That phase of the project will probably only include Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade Village. Phase Two -- featuring the Forbidden Forest and that Weasley-family-flying-car attraction -- isn't expected to come on line 'til sometime in early 2010), this new "land" will then allow Universal to offer yet another after-hours seasonal event, " Halloween at Hogwarts." So while Mom & Dad are next door at Universal Studios Florida getting the snot scared out of them at Halloween Horror Nights, their youngsters can be trick-or-treating in a deliberately scare-free environment over at IOA.

So all in all, it looks like an interesting couple of years for anyone who's heading down to Central Florida. With Universal looking to take advantage of the confusion that it thinks will arise from MGM's name change. So that the Universal Orlando Resort will then be able to reposition itself as the place where "... the biggest movies become the biggest rides." Where you can "... experience the greatest blockbusters of all time in ways that you've never imagined."

Whereas Disney's response is basically (to borrow a phrase from Alfred E. Newman) "What, me worry?" They're so confident that the Disney's Hollywood Studio upcoming name change will be a non-issue (More importantly, that once "Toy Story Mania" opens, that this new state-of-the-art shooter attraction will give WDW guests a compelling new reason to come visit the studio theme park) that they're not even bothering to prepare a response to Universal's new ad campaign. These folks are just concentrating on making sure that this name change does go as smoothly as possible come January 6th. Then -- once those new Pixar-themed rides & shows are up and running at Disney's Hollywood Studios -- they'll turn their attention toward getting that new after-hours Halloween hard ticket event up out of the ground.


Copyright 2007 NBC / Universal

So what do you folks think? Will Disney-MGM's name change -- as well as those new "Simpsons" and "Harry Potter" -themed attractions that will be coming on line at the Universal Orlando Resort over the next two years -- really be the opportunity that Universal execs seem to think that it is? Will this momentary bit of confusion really be enough to allow them to reposition their resort, convince Central Florida tourists to give Universal another try? Or is Disney forever going to be dominant in the Orlando tourism market?

Your thoughts?

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  • PingBack from http://halloween.xx7h.com/2007/11/19/monday-mouse-watch-will-mgms-upcoming-name-change-really-allow-the-universal-orlando-resort-to-nudge-disney-out-of-the-spotlight/

  • Am i the only one that thinks this is slightly hysterical? For one, I don't think anyone will care about Harry Potter by the time 2009 comes around. But most importantly, Universal seem to be hoping that they can steal a few people from Disney's third or fourth important park on property (depending on where you rank Animal Kingdon in importance). Wouldn't that be like the Yankees trying to gloat because they beat a team of highschoolers?

    Personally I dont think the name change will confuse anyone. What are Universal hoping? that people will be at Disney World and will see signs saying Disney's Hollywood Studios and think "wow, i wish we could go there, but it's on the other coast" or that they will be driving on the access roads and see the sign saying Disney's Hollywood Studios and think "Wow, that road leads all the way to the West Coast?"

    How stupid are these people? oh wait, nevermind, these are the same people opening up a Harry Potter section of a park 3 years after the Harry Potter buzz died with the last book; nevermind.

  • It seems like Disney had a hard time deciding what to rename MGM. All the Disney lovers who won't give Universal a chance are sure going to disappoint their kids when they make them go to Disney and pretend Potter at IOA doesn't exist.

  • I have been going to Orlando with my family nearly every year since I was five.  Now my wife and I go about every other year, and I've never had an incling to go to Universal, but I will admit that I am interested to see what they do with the Simpsons.  It's been one of my favorite TV shows for a while and couple that with what has to be one of the most impressive new attractions in any theme park anywhere (WWOHP), it's going to be hard to keep me away.

  • For what it's worth, I think Hulk and Spider Man at Universal are AMAZING attractions. I just wouldn't bother even visiting the Harry Potter section.

    As for the dissapointing of the kids, I really am not sure thats going to happen. I firmly believe that by the time this section of the park opens, most kids will have completely moved on from Harry Potter and be onto the next craze; whatever that may be.

    It would be like if they had opened a Transformers park 5 years after the original animated movie when the cartoons and most the fanbase had stopped caring (as they killed everyone off in the movie and G2 never stood a chance). The kids of the day who loved them moved on to the next thing (in most cases a Commdore 64) never looking back and so weren't bothered about Transforms agian for another decade when they became retro nostalgia (hence why i have a 20th anniversary Optimus Prime on my desk).

    By the time the park opens, Harry Potter will be "so 4 years ago; we care about ??? now"

  • Universal sucks and always has.....

    And on another note..."Holiday at Hogwarts"?????  Why can't the word Christmas be used in naming events and celebrations at all of the theme parks???

    Are there any other celebrations that are celebrated at the parks besides  Christmas....????  I didn't think so?

    Holiday just sounds so bland and generic

  • This appears to be another reaction by Universal Studios to do whatever they can to gain more market share. I'll guarantee that GE is still pushing to make more money here, so the corporate suits at Universal Studios have to look for ways to try to bump up attendance. I think that is part of the reason why Spielberg and Geffen are looking to move Dreamworks to NBC Universal. Not only is Spielberg comfortable there, but the theme park potential exists for Transformers and other DW movies (excpet for the animated features, since there at Paramount/Viacom for the next 10 years or so).

  • I'm sorry, but the idea that interest in Harry Potter is going to wane to the point of an island at IOA being unwarranted is just ridiculous. HP is not a passing fad. It isn't the macarena or the Backstreet Boys. It is a series of novels that millions and millions of children AND adults have come to hold dear and followed with unmatched zeal for over a decade now. The movies just add icing to that- introducing the characters to an even BROADER audience who (based on blockbuster after blockbuster after blockbuster ticket grosses and DVD sales) obviously love the series as well. When you're on the fifth movie in a series and you're still gorssing close to $1billion dollars worldwide just on theatrical release (actually up almost $100million from the previous entry) you've stepped out of fad territory and moved on to full blown phenomenon. A phenomenon loved around the world. A phenomenon that continues to grow and WILL continue to grow as new people are constantly introduced to the series through the novels and the films.

    The idea that since the book series is over and the movie series only has two installments left means the end of Potter's popularity is really shortsighted. There hasn't been a new Baum OZ book in around 100 years- and the definitive (albeit fast and loose with the source material) adaptation is like 70 years old. Does that make OZ old news? Does that mean that new people don't fall in love with that wonderful world every day TO this day? Of course not. And again, like it or not... Potter is the new OZ.

    As for theme park viability. There are two Jurassic Park books. The last of which was published 12 years ago. There were three Jurassic Park movies, the last of which was released several years ago as well. Does that make it any less enduringly popular? Any less worthy of a themed island at a major theme park? I don't think so. And the Potter series has long since outsold and outgrossed the JP novels and films...

  • Universal has been in Orlando for 15 years and no matter what rides they build or shows they add (and some are very good), they've been nothing but a side trip for people.  All 4 of Disney's parks beat both of Universal's every year, no exceptions.

    People go to Orlando to go to WDW, and Orlando will be a day trip for most people.  The name change (while I don't really agree with the choice) won't change anything.  People still have their Magic Your Way tickets and will still go (and die hards will still be calling it MGM 20 years from now).

    The Simpsons will drag me to Universal Studios Orlando for the day as will Harry Potter to Islands of Adventure, but then I'll wait the 4 or 5 years until I get the itch to go again.  Both will cause momentary bumps in attendance, then it will be back to the status quo.

    As long as Disney keeps innovating, they'll stay on top.

  • I agree.

    Despite my championing of WWofHP, Universal will never beat out WDW. Though I disagree that no one goes to Central Florida just to go to UF/IOA- I've done that very thing 2 times, just this year. It's a different TYPE of vacation altogether. Honestly (and I may be in the minority) when I go down for WDW, I am JUST there for WDW and when I go down for UF/IOA I am JUST there for that- I never mix the two in the same trip. I like my trips to be as immersive as possible, so I tend to stick to one or the other- not both. Again, I am probably in teh minority... but there you go.

    That said, Universal will never have the room or the resources to full compete with Disney. They may stay on the cutting edge of ride tech and do a nearly (after Disney) unmatched job with their theming... but they'll still always be in Disney's shadow as a family destination.

  • I think evilash43 is dead on, but he forgot to mention something that I consider an important element: even if Harry Potter does lose popularity (something I really don't see happening in the near future), it's still going to be a darn cool section of the park.  Wizards and magic have been around in culture for centuries, and this is just a more specific application of that.  The same goes for Jurassic Park - even if the kids in the park have never seen the movie or read the books, they know what dinosaurs are.

    I don't think Universal's going to pull ahead, but I'm interested to see how the new attractions shake out.

  • Competiton is such a great thing. It keeps everyone on their toes and constantly pushing the envelope.

    Universal used to be a side trip, but after my kids had such a great time on one of our prior visits that we actually went back for a 3rd day (during the buy one get two free promotion) we built in a Universal part to our Orlando visits. Now, we start off at Universal (3-4 days) and move on to Disney. The pace and feel of Universal is sooo different its almost like a warm-up for our non-stop, all-out Disney trip. We go every 3-4 years, so hopefully we'll get some Potter stuff in our next visit ('09).

  • I beg to differ about people moving on from Harry Potter.

    The park opens up around the same time that the final movie comes out, give or take 6 months.  The next movie comes out next Thanksgiving.  So it's still going to have the film fan base.

    As for readers... People have spent the last decade of their lives reading about the world of Harry Potter, watching the films as well, and just because they released the final book doesn't mean that people are going to get over it.  Harry Potter will be here to stay much like LotR or Mickey Mouse.  The new area will bring in people.

  • If I had to guess, I would say that Universal is trying to gain some kind of marketing edge in Disney's renaming of MGM. Perhaps they're planning a new advertisng campaign which will somehow make light of the name change, as well as figure out how best they can market their current and future offerings to be more appealing to Orlando tourists.

  • Hey, remember that contest Jim posted about last week to win tickets to see the Little Mermaid on Broadway?  A good friend of mine is in the competition, you can see her video (that my wife and I helped make) and vote for her here:

    http://broadwayworld.com/mermaidvote.cfm?id=102

    Thanks!

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