Tag: disney

Claims and Answers: Three juicy tidbits from the Genting-Fox-Disney lawsuit

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One of my favorite pastimes is having the ThemedReality unpaid interns scour through tens of thousands of financial and court documents, looking for the juicy stuff that mainstream press and other bloggers often miss.

Here are three of my favorites from the Genting lawsuit against Disney and Fox, which should be interesting going forward now that Disney has acquired the Fox subsidiaries that were being sued.

Background in a nutshell:

In 2013, Genting, the owners of the Resorts World brand (which owns Universal Studios Singapore at Resorts World Sentosa under a license from Comcast), announced that it would begin construction on a licensed 20th Century Fox theme park at its Genting Highlands resort in Malaysia.

In 2018, Fox backed out of the project and was sued by Genting, as was Disney, which Genting accused of being the mastermind behind Fox’s decision.

JUICY BIT #1: A respectable themed entertainment design firm didn’t act so respectable (claim #35)

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Genting claims that Fox insisted it replace the vendor working on a Planet of the Apes attraction with “a firm that employed individuals who were already providing consulting services to Fox (either in their individual capacities or as firm representatives).” Genting goes on to state that it discovered the new firm not only lacked experience, but that it “learned that the firm was secretly attempting to partner with third-party vendors and have them submit bids in their own names, while agreeing with them that it would perform the work in a “subcontractor’ capacity.”

What we find interesting is that in its answer to the claim, Fox kind agrees with this last point. “The Fox Defendants admit that Fox recommended that Genting retain a vendor to assist with the Planet of the Apes attraction, that Genting made the decision to retain that vendor, and that Genting subsequently alleged that this vendor had sought to interfere with other potential vendors, and terminated the vendor on that basis. Fox supported the termination and also stopped work with the vendor.”

Who’s the vendor? We don’t know. It’s not mentioned in the court documents so far. Perhaps it will come up during trial, which will either start later this year or some time next year. Genting is arguing that the discovery process could take up to a year, primarily due to privacy laws in Malaysia. Disney believes discovery could be completed by September. In the meantime, I have my suspicions (which won’t be shared here) and have hedged my bets at a Malaysian casino.

JUICY BIT #2: Disney wants none of its intellectual properties near casinos (claim #59)

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The history behind this is a bit completed and involves a pre-exisiting conflict between Disney and Genting over the development of a large scale Resorts World integrated resort in Miami, which I won’t cover here, but likely will in a future piece.

Genting argues: “Having long adopted anti-gambling policies based on its ‘family-friendly’ brand image, Disney has a history of eliminating any ties to gambling held by its acquired companies. For example, on information and belief, after acquiring LucasFilm and Marvel Entertainment, Disney decided to phase out Star Wars and Marvel themed slot machines in the United States. Disney has also used its financial muscle to fight the expansion of casinos in Florida—the hub of Disney’s theme park empire. Disney has, on information and belief, spent tens of millions of dollars in those efforts and at least $20 million dollars in the 2018 election cycle alone to support the passage of the Florida ballot initiative Amendment 3, which reportedly will make it more difficult for casinos—clear competition to Disney’s parks—to be approved by the state. With Fox World located just outside the casinos in the Genting Highlands integrated resort, it comes as no surprise that Disney would, on information and belief, try to kill the Fox World deal in a transparent attempt to ‘protect’ the Disney brand.”

In its answer to Genting’s claim,”Disney admits that certain Disney-affiliated entities have discontinued plans to initiate or renew slot machine licensing arrangements relating to the Star Wars and Marvel franchises. Disney further admits that certain Disney-affiliated entities contributed to a ballot measure committee that supported Florida ballot initiative Amendment 3 in 2018. Except as expressly admitted, Disney denies the allegations in Paragraph 59.”

Now, here’s the problem I have with this particular claim: Genting filed its lawsuit against Fox and Disney on November 26, 2018. On December 6, 2018, interactive VR attraction company The VOID opened its first Asian location at Skytropolis Funland, the new indoor theme park at Resorts World Genting (yes, the resort actually has a second theme park besides the outdoor Fox World Malysia). Opening programs at the new VOID location were none other than Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire and Ralph Breaks VR. Both programs use Disney IP and were developed by The VOID in conjunction with Disney and its subsidiaries. So it makes me wonder how Disney could mastermind a removal of its intellectual properties from a casino resort while allowing the usage of other Disney IP in another location at the same resort at the same time.

JUICY BIT #3: The Alien vs Predator cruise-ship style dance show (counterclaim #46b)

Dancing_AlienIn its countersuit, Fox attempts to show that Genting did not understand the intellectual properties it was working with. Among its examples: the Alien vs Predator Dance Show.

Fox states: “Demonstrating how little thought it gave to the integrity of Fox’s intellectual property, Genting proposed taking some of Fox’s most significant science fiction film properties— Alien, Predator, and Alien vs. Predator—and using the main characters in a cruise ship-style dance show, featuring a dancing Alien and Predator.”

But in its answer to the claim, Genting says the show wasn’t its idea: “[Genting] never proposed having a dancing Alien or a dancing Predator in a ‘cruise ship-style dance show.’ Rather, it was Fox that suggested ‘a stylized costumed Colonial Marines, Predators, and Aliens dance show,’ including that ‘Predators then perform a ‘dance’ circle outside of the circle of Marines.’ Accordingly, [Genting] designed a show in which the Colonial Marines would simulate action/fight scenes involving two Predators and an Alien. Moreover, it was Fox that demonstrated a lack of understanding as to how its own IP should be represented, as Fox requested significant changes to the show concept it had already approved and its representatives gave conflicting guidance as to what they wanted to see in the show. For example, one Fox representative instructed [Genting] to ‘[a]dd some comic guest interaction between Colonial Marines and guests,’ while a few months later, another Fox representative countermanded that instruction, stating that ‘[c]omedy is off brand from the properties (not comedic movies).’ These types of mixed messages from Fox, along with the aforementioned bad-faith Fox conduct in connection with the approval process—not [Genting]’s actions—caused the delays about which Fox complains.”

Yikes.

A later than promised late February 2019 edition of The Other Side of the News wherein we learn who SeaWorld’s tagged as its next whistleblower, the relationship between China, Six Flags, and Tacos, and what happens to sky rides when God blows his (or her) nose

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This is gonna be a weird ride. Alcohol or a purring cat might help get you through.

THE BUCKET LIST

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One day in my youth, I was at Disneyland, strolling through Old Fantasyland, when I was shoved to the side by cast members as the Anaheim Fire Department’s ladder truck made its way to the center of the pathway to rescue riders stuck on the Skyway. They had already been dangling there for two hours and this was the only way to get them down. The truck would make its way up and down the line in Fantasyland and Tomorowland over the next few hours in order to retrieve every single passenger from every single bucket.

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On the evening of President’s Day 2019, the Bayside Skyride (originally called the Atlantis Skyride as it conveyed diners across the water from the park to the Atlantis fine dining room to enjoy fine dining meals of whale blubber and shark eggs) at SeaWorld San Diego was hit by a gust of wind estimated at around 50 mph and shut down. 16 riders, including children were suspended for hours in the chilly night air. What made this different from the old days of the Disneyland Skyway was the fact that a ladder truck couldn’t just drive underneath each bucket – at SeaWorld, almost all the riders were stuck over water.

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So what happens if there’s a breakdown with the most high profile gondola system of our time – the Disney Skyliner, opening soon at Walt Disney World? Well, according my intel, the gondola system is actually a series of different cables, creating four or five different lines. It all depends on the number of drive wheels installed. So, if my calculations are correct, EPCOT to Riviera Resort is either one or two distinct lines, depending on whether or not the cables terminate at the 45+ degree turn located near the Boardwalk Resort. Other individual lines are Riviera to Caribbean, Art of Disney to Caribbean, and Caribbean to Hollywood Studios.  And if I’m wrong, they weren’t thinking about this issue.

Why is this important? Because the fewer cables there are, even in a straight run, the fewer people might get stuck during a breakdown. – one short stretch might stop while the connecting one is turned into a loop so that those riders can just be pulled into the closest station.

And a breakdown will happen. The Oakland Zoo uses an almost identical gondola system from Doppelmayr/Garaventa to transport guests up a hill to its new California Trail area. The day after the exhibit’s grand opening, the gondola system suffered a “digital glitch” and stopped operating for half an hour, stranding about 80 passengers in the air and another 100 at the top of the hill, waiting for a way down.

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Those stuck in the gondolas had something nice that, from the artwork I’ve seen, Disney’s passengers won’t.  On the interior side of the gondola is a large grate open to the elements, through which cool San Francisco Bay breezes can come through. Without air conditioning, and with the likelihood that there’s no such large vent, we’ll eventually be seeing some interesting interviews on the news with riders who were stuck on the Skyliner in the sweltering heat and humidity of a Central Florida summer.

SIX FLAGS AND FIVE STARS

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The over-borrowing, low return on investment, and huge debt pileup of Chinese real estate developers like Dalian-Wanda Group and Zhonghong Holdings have placed new worries and restrictions on the Chinese real estate market. To open parks in China, Comcast and Disney partnered with government owned companies, who are the majority owners of the Universal Beijing and Shanghai Disney resorts, respectively,. Six Flags took another route, by licensing to and advising its Chinese partner, which has led to substantial delays on its Chinese parks.

Jim Reid-Anderson, CEO and Chair, Six Flags Entertainment Corporation:

Our international agreements continue to be a significant contributor to revenue growth as revenue approached $42 million in 2018. It would have been approximately $15 million higher if not for a fourth quarter adjustment to reflect delays in some of the China Parks opening schedules caused by recent macroeconomic events that many companies are experiencing and from which our partner is not immune. The delays result from three main areas.

First, the economy in China is experiencing a general malaise due to global trade tensions and the lowest pace of GDP growth in almost 30 years. Second, new policies and regulations have reduced the volume of real estate transaction, our partner’s primary business and made it more difficult for private companies to obtain loans. Third, recent turnover of government officials in Chongqing and Nanjing has caused development plans to be temporarily paused until the plan can be reviewed and re-approved by new leadership.

“…recent turnover of government officials in Chongqing and Nanjing has caused development plans to be temporarily paused until the plan can be reviewed and re-approved by new leadership.”

Huh?

THIS IS AMERICA

We have one political party.

The Republican Party.

There are few elections.

If you vote, it’s because your’e a party member in good standing.

Your mayor is chosen for you.

Your city council members are chosen for you.

Your county board of supervisors, state assembly members, Congressmen, Senators – all are chosen for you.

As long as their actions don’t upset their superiors or violate America’s strong anti-corruption laws, these lawmakers are given broad range to make their decisions.

Your President is Donald Trump.  He was chosen for you too. Then he was given a lifetime appointment.

There is no Facebook. No twitter. No Instagram. Well, they exist, but they’re blocked. And if you can access them, and are caught using them, you face arrest.

Instead, you use social media designed with the government’s input and fully monitored by the government – Trumpbook, Tiffer, Ivankagram.

You have freedoms. But those freedoms come with a price.

If you’re caught littering, you lose your privilege to travel.

If you protest something, you’re sent to a “re-education center.”

SIX FLAGS CEO BOTCHES MEETING WITH FLORIDA GOVERNOR

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For over two years, Six Flags has been in talks to purchase Fun Spot Orlando.

Last month, during a Visit Florida reception in Tallahassee, Six Flags CEO and President Jim Reid-Anderson approached Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to discuss the permitting process.

DeSantis noticed that Reid-Anderson was holding a plate of fish tacos, which disgusted him as he neither cares for wildlife nor Mexicans. He immediately stopped progress on the Six Flags Orlando project, because he felt disgusted, and because he could.

And because….

THIS IS AMERICA
….IF AMERICA WERE CHINA

AND NOW AN ADVERTISING BREAK:

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TIDBITS:

OUT AND IN

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IMAX Corporation has shut down all its virtual reality gaming centers at a substantial loss – they were opened with a $50 million VR fund established by the company. But that’s technically not the end of IMAX VR centers. Just one day after the company filed with the SEC that it would be shutting down the IMAX owned enterprise, Dreamscape Immersive opened its first high-end VR center in Los Angeles. Among Dreamscape’s investors are AMC Theaters, Fox, Warner Bros, Viacom (parent company of Paramount), MGM, Westfield Malls, Steven Spielberg, film composer Hans Zimmer, and that $50 million IMAX VR fund. It’s a lot safer for a company to be just an investor than a financier-owner-operator in such a volatile new industry.

THERE’S A PLACE

According to Richard Zimmermann, President and CEO of Cedar Fair, the company’s current collection of thrill rides is strong enough that the company can “space out our larger investments in new rides and attractions over a longer period of time, while our near-term investments will increasingly focus on interactive and immersive family attractions, special events, concerts and outdoor gathering spaces.”

Over in the twittersphere and in a number of of groups, hard core theme park fans are a bit perplexed at this strategy. But, as I reported on this blog in 2017, it’s something that’s been in the works for a number of years, driven by Season Pass sales (see my article here on festivals and events and how they’re used to market season passes).

One interesting part of Cedar Fair’s strategy is utilizing rides and attractions as part of a placemaking process tying together a central theme. The company is doing this a number of ways, concentrating on the historic themes of its parks or their locations.

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At Knott’s Berry Farm, Bigfoot Rapids is being rethemed as Calico River Rapids, tying it through scenic elements and a new storyline with the historic Calico Ghost Town area. Through new animatronics from Garner Holt, it will now become a third story-driven “dark ride” attraction in the land, joining the mine train and the log ride. At Cedar Point, an area that once housed dinosaurs will become a new Western-ish town with an interactive adventure that carries its changing storyline throughout the season and the years – this is version 2.0 of Knott’s Ghost Town Alive.

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Even new coasters are playing a central role in the creation of new thematic environments. At Canada’s Wonderland and Carowinds, they will be the centerpiece of new lands themed to the Yukon and Blue Ridge Mountains, respectively. Each of those lands presents new themed retail and dining opportunities, along with new opportunities for themed festivals and events, which, again, helps sell season passes.

THE MAIN EVENT

YOU KNOW HOW TO WHISTLE, DON’T YOU STEVE? YOU JUST PUT YOUR LIPS TOGETHER, AND BLOW.

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SeaWorld Entertainment has a new CEO, Gus Antorcha, the former COO of Carnival Cruise Lines. The ThemedReality unpaid interns were sitting around recently eating pizza and playing LEGO Harry Potter, so I decided to turn off the TV and put them to use doing something productive – comparing the employment contracts of Antorcha and the prior permanent CEO, Joel Manby. The contracts are publicly available on the US Securities and Exchange Commission website, included with the company’s financial filings. Although the salary and bonus structure is different for each CEO, we won’t be discussing that here, because we found a few more interesting things that piqued our curiosity.

We’ll start with the non-competition clause, which states that the CEO cannot conduct business of any kind with a direct SeaWorld competitor either while employed or within a number of years of leaving the company.

For Manby, that meant conducting business of any kind that could benefit a SeaWorld competitor within 100 miles of a SeaWorld park. For Antocha, that restricted area has increased to 300 miles.

There is also a list of core competitors that the CEO is forbidden to do business with during this period – Disney, Universal, Six Flags, Merlin, and Herschend. A new company has been added to the list for Antorcha – Parques Reundios. We’ll see how that fits in with our ThemedReality prediction from last year that SeaWorld and Parques may be looking to merge.

Most interesting is a new provision in the contract which did not exist for Manby. I couldn’t tell you if this was included by SeaWorld’s lawyers or if it was done at the insistence of Antorcha’s, but it is a clear response to the recent SEC and Department of Justice investigations:

Nothing in this Agreement shall prohibit or impede Executive from communicating, cooperating, or filing a complaint with any U.S. federal, state, or local governmental or law enforcement branch, agency, or entity (collectively, a “Governmental Entity”) with respect to possible violations of any U.S. federal, state, or local law or regulation, or otherwise making disclosures to any Governmental Entity, in each case, that are protected under the whistleblower provisions of any such law or regulation, provided that in each case such communications and disclosures are consistent with applicable law.  Executive understands and acknowledges that an individual shall not be held criminally or civilly liable under any Federal or State trade secret law for the disclosure of a trade secret that is made (i) in confidence to a Federal, State, or local government official or to an attorney solely for the purpose of reporting or investigating a suspected violation of law, or (ii) in a complaint or other document filed in a lawsuit or other proceeding, if such filing is made under seal.  Executive understands and acknowledges further that an individual who files a lawsuit for retaliation by an employer for reporting a suspected violation of law may disclose the trade secret to the attorney of the individual and use the trade secret information in the court proceeding, if the individual files any document containing the trade secret under seal, and does not disclose the trade secret, except pursuant to court order.  Moreover, Executive is not required to give prior notice to (or get prior authorization from) the Company regarding any such communication or disclosure.  Notwithstanding the foregoing, under no circumstance will Executive be authorized to disclose any information covered by attorney-client privilege or attorney work product of any member of the Company Group without prior written consent of Company’s General Counsel or other officer designated by the Company.

AND NOW THIS:

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FINALLY:

Oh boy, we’ve run out of time. But did you know there’s plenty of additional material on the ThemedReality Facebook Page and exclusive content and early access for ThemedReality Facebook Group members? Posting in the group on February 23 is a bonus The Other Side of the News piece on a Chinese government theme park being built at a Trump resort. Membership is free. Click on the group tab on the Facebook Page and just ask to join.

ThemedReality’s top three predictions for 2019

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Ducati World, opening 2019 at Mirabilandia, a flagship Parques Reunidos theme park resort in Ravenna, Italy

These predictions are different than the ones posted on the ThemedReality Facebook page, though some of them do tie together. It’s important to keep in mind that although I have my reasons for believing these predictions may likely happen, they are only speculation on my part. If you share any of this info as fact before it becomes fact, that’s all on you. Don’t forget to click the disclaimer tab at the top of the page.

I’ll be traveling internationally for the first couple weeks of 2019 and although I will be conducting work for my clients during this period, I’ll also be giving ThemedReality a break. This means if you email or direct message me any questions or place questions for me in the comments section of Facebook or in a tweet, don’t expect a response until later in January.

That said, it’s time to open the floodgates and let the predictioning commence.

1. SETTLING IN

Disney, Fox and Genting will come to an out of court settlement on Fox World Malaysia. Disney will take ownership of the park, paying Genting a leasing fee on the property. The park will be redesigned by Walt Disney Imagineering to meet Disney standards and will either see a transitional phase to the new look after opening (akin to California Adventure) or Disney will delay opening until new theming is in place. Genting’s Theme Park Hotel will be given a Fox overlay.

2. هاري بوتر

Universal will announce a resort for the UAE. While it will not have any DreamWorks characters due to an existing licensing agreement for the market, it will feature plenty of Minions and the world’s fourth Wizarding World of Harry Potter, first in the Middle East and closest to Europe.

3. MUCHOS MUNDOS MARINOS

Parques Reunidos and SeaWorld Entertainment will merge and be taken private. SeaWorld’s interim CEO John Reilly will be named CEO of the combined company. Don’t think of Zhonghong as being involved – both Zhonghong Zhuoye, which owns 21% of SeaWorld stock and Zhonghong Holdings, which had the exclusive license to build SeaWorld branded parks in Chinese territories, are pretty much out of the picture. With Zhonghong Holdings’ shares now delisted, it appears that Zhonghong Zhouye can use some of those assets to pay off its debt for the SeaWorld stock. It appears the merger is being orchestrated by Hill Path Capital, which owns just over 15% of SeaWorld Entertainment with Hill Path partners on both companies’ boards. In conjunction with the merger, the companies, either independently or as a merged entity, will purchase Argentina’s Mundo Marino (which, ironically, translates into English as Sea World), obtain the management contract for the Schlitterbahn chain of waterparks, and sell SeaWorld’s Texas properties to Six Flags.

A FINAL THOUGHT

While there’s enough evidence to make me believe these three predictions could take place, I cannot guarantee they will. Markets change, politics change, corporate management changes, plans change. Nothing is set in stone.

Eleven months before the launch of the final Apollo mission, in a January 1972 interview on DC area radio station WMAL, the great Werner von Braun made a profound statement: “I’m convinced that before the year 2000 is over, the first child will have been born on the moon.”

The Other Side of the News: A very Asia-centric end of November 2018 edition

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Fox World Malaysia. Photo credit: Danny Yap
This just in from Asia….

Back in December last year I wrote about the Disney acquisition of FOX:

One of the biggest unknowns surrounds the Fox World theme park currently being built at Resorts World Genting in Malaysia. Construction is well underway, but would Disney allow a Fox-only theme park operated by a company that operates a Universal Studios-licensed park in nearby Singapore to exist? I expect that over the next six months, we’ll find out the fate of the Malaysia park – if it will continue as is under its current contract, or if Disney will sink its participation in the project faster than the Titanic attraction going into it, causing Genting to seek out another (or multiple other) studio(s) to partner with.

Well, it took a little longer than that as today Genting filed a lawsuit against Fox and Disney for many alleged acts of evil deedery. Click here to read the initial filing. I’ll share more about the case as the courts make more available.

Meanwhile, in Asia….
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Wang Yonghong’s photo in the China Rich List 2015. Credit: Forbes (he was worth $850 million at the time)

It appears that Wang Yonghong remains in self-imposed exile in Hong Kong. He’s the owner of Zhonghong Zhuoye Group, the majority shareholder of Zhonghong Holdings, in case you didn’t know. I’d say he’s also the majority shareholder of SeaWorld Entertainment, but things are afoot behind the scenes that I’m not yet ready to discuss. Statewide, while Yoshi Maruyama retains the position of Chairman of the Board at SeaWorld Entertainment, it appears that he is no longer doing so as President of Zhonghong Americas LLC.

As for Zhonghong Holdings, the stock delisting process started on Friday, November 16 and will be completed on the final trading day of the year, December 28. A government mandated meeting with creditors that had been scheduled for November 16 has been postponed indefinitely due to Zhonghong just not having the documentation and analysis ready to deal with the hundreds of parties that filed against the company as creditors.

And now, a short break for a behind-the-scenes look at how rumors become news.
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The internet is full of passionate people. When that passion conflicts with statements on the internet, the outcome resembles a rabid raccoon stuck upside down in a trashcan full of cocaine. Although I know a Loro Parque staffer I was speaking with was joking about the name, I figured what the hell, and posted this photo on Facebook with the caption, “Newly released photo of Baby Ingrid at Loro Parque.” 43,000 views and 28 followers banned.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Welcome to the funhouse known as ThemedReality.

Two executives within a company involved in the proceedings told me that Six Flags was in talks to purchase all or or part of SeaWorld Entertainment. I was given permission by these individuals to post this information on grounds of anonymity. I was given additional information confidentially by these sources, but I adhere very closely to my six rules, so don’t expect those juicy tidbits to be shared until they’re public record.

The first thing I did after speaking with these executives was to attempt to contact the corporate PR directors at both chains for comment. I didn’t receive a response from either and made the decision to post the statement on the Facebook page and monitor feedback.

Now, if you look at the disclaimers that appear on both this blog and its accompanying Facebook page (in the Our Story window), you’ll see that:

. . . READERS ARE ADVISED TO CONSIDER STATEMENTS MADE BY ANONYMOUS SOURCES AS SPECULATIVE

Within an hour after posting, a follower of ThemedReality who happens to be a self-proclaimed expert on orca captivity, and who operates a website with the domain www.fromthedolphinspointofview.com, decided to tip off a reporter with the Orlando Sentinel. Although the reporter appears to have looked at the Facebook page, she never contacted me (though I must credit her for attempting to contact the theme park operators). Neither did individuals reporting on my post for the Orlando Business Journal and Orlando Weekly. In journalism, contacting a source before running a story is called due diligence and it’s part of the vetting process.

Yet, although this practice may not be the norm in Orlando, once the Sentinel article had hit the newswires and become international news, I was contacted by a number of major publications from the US, Canada, and the UK (it’s not that hard to contact me, even if it’s through a Facebook or twitter instant message). I explained to these reporters how this was a non-news story, that it should be considered nothing more than rumor, and a statement too broad and ambiguous to accurately interpret. They all agreed and it did not run in those publications.

One of the more interesting comments I found on a discussion thread accused me of panicking when I wrote two additional Facebook posts – one breaking down and analyzing the statement and the other disclosing that I do not own stock in either company – a preemptive move as the non-news mainstream media spread rumor had now bumped up share value at both companies. While this individual may call it panic, I call it being responsible. But I’m thankful for the hyperlinks in his comment to my posts. I learned a long time ago that the more people you piss off or get to ridicule you, the more likely it is that someone opposed to your stance will link to your post. And more links = more hits. It doesn’t really help me out financially. I’m not making $58,200** doing this. I’m not running ads on the blog (if you see ads, the money goes to WordPress), and I’m not in it for the notoriety. After all, this blog and its Facebook page are nothing more than my personal opinion and observations (it’s in the disclaimer), which is why, for the life of me, I have no idea why this small little blog nobody’s ever heard of recorded 72,000 hits in the first ten months of the year. Someone must be reading.

So now, this thing’s gone national. There’s analysis on message boards, videos are being made, and even the Motley Fool’s weighing in. What I found most interesting in following this is how many people took the statement verbatim. Everything I read was off the mark – with the exception of analysis by the website Behind the Thrills, where I’m an occasional contributor. The site’s owners were kind enough to not only contact me, but to enter into lengthy discussions about what I could share with them. But as strange as this might sound, the bloggers that took their information from or plagiarized Behind the Thrills still got their facts very wrong.

So how can this be?

Without breaking confidentiality, I can share one of the techniques I use when researching a personal blog post or a professional article that I’m writing for the day job. Often, it’s a matter of reading between the lines, looking at how words are grouped, and finding the message that isn’t on the surface.

In the Facebook post, I wrote:

Reliable sources inform me that Six Flags Entertainment Corporation is in talks to purchase all or part of SeaWorld Entertainment. More as details become available.

I never mentioned who Six Flags was in talks with.

Now, in all fairness, if Six Flags, SeaWorld, or another company involved contacts me and states on the record that talks never took place, I will gladly post a correction. But three weeks after the initial posting, that has yet to happen.

Finally, in Asia…..

Osaka has been named the host city of the 2025 World Expo. Congratulations!

The blog Disney and more writes that this is huge news for Universal Studios Japan, located in Osaka, and very bad news for Tokyo Disneyland. I couldn’t disagree more, and here’s why.

The error lies in a gross misunderstanding of the business of world’s fairs and their impacts on local tourism economies. Whereas Olympic Games welcome the majority of their visitors from foreign territories, World Expos invite local populations to see the best that other countries have to offer.

For the 2025 Expo, organizers anticipate just over 28 million visitors – 3.5 million from foreign territories and 24.7 million from Japan. Japanese are very loyal to the Tokyo Disney Resort and it’s highly unlikely that a visit to Osaka would result in not visiting Disney, rather that Disney would be scheduled for a different trip. Many of these local visitors will be visiting the Expo on a day trip basis (Osaka is only 3 1/2 hours from Tokyo via bullet train), and therefore will probably hit Expo but leave Universal for another holiday.

As for foreign visitors, based on travel patterns from past world expos (and most of the foreign visitors to Osaka are anticipated to be from the Asia-Pacific region), they are expected to make multi-day, multi-city trips involving the Expo along other cities and attractions across the country, including Disney.

Another important factor is the kind of visitor to World Expos, which tend to be multi-generational families, and both Disney and Universal have figured out how to cater to that demographic. So, based on visitor composition, it could go either way based on preference – and the same problem exists in Japan as in the Southern California and Orlando market for families with limited time – Mickey Mouse and Wreck-it Ralph or Harry Potter and Nintendo?

**$58,200 is how much the US government paid an orca expert for a few months of research that was ultimately canceled. I’ll explain how and why in a future post.

From Miami to Malaysia, Disney’s Acquisition of Fox Will Change the Face of the Attractions Industry. Presented by Mr. Sparkle and The Secret Lab.

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I’m going to approach Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox through speculation – a speculation based on past business decisions by Disney involving other acquisitions and the company’s history of handling synergistic branding over the past three decades (something I first started studying in the mid-90’s when a Disney marketing executive pointed out during a presentation that a banner for Tarzan at the X-Games was strategically placed to appear in a brief shot in the IMAX film Ultimate X).

First thing to understand is that often Disney will purchase a company for certain, but not all, of its assets. This usually entails the entire company being dissolved and key assets, especially technology, being integrated into other Disney divisions. Dream Quest Images, renamed by Disney as The Secret Lab, is an example of an entire company that was dissolved. Lucasarts is an example of a dissolved division of an acquired company.

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Ice Age themed hotel room at Alton Towers Resort

Within Fox, two particular divisions come to mind as candidates for dissolvement. First is Blue Sky Studios, the animation house behind the Ice Age and Rio franchises. Blue Sky is not as strongly marketed an animation studio as Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, or even Universal’s Illumination. This is partially due to Fox having concentrated its marketing and distribution efforts on DreamWorks Animation pictures once it acquired distribution rights to that studio’s films. Ultimately, Blue Sky is more valuable for its intellectual properties than for the studio itself.

If Disney opts to continue producing animated films under the Peanuts or Dr Seuss animated franchises as begun by Blue Sky, it will need to consider that other theme park companies hold the licenses for those brands.

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The other unit that will likely be dissolved is FoxNext, a newly created division of Fox overseeing gaming, virtual and augmented reality, and location based entertainment, including theme park development and attraction licensing. The division will likely be discontinued as much of what FoxNext does is already handled internally by several existing units within the Walt Disney Company.

Porting Fox IP into the Disney parks, I expect the following:

Most Fox properties will show up within Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida, Disney California Adventure, and Walt Disney Studios Paris, unless they can be thematically linked to an attraction or land at another park.

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Make sure to take the escalator ride to Epcot’s newest attraction – a branded logo.

Blue Sky properties Ice Age and Rio will likely find homes within Animal Kingdom and Epcot. Those two parks will also see a National Geographic branding overlay as Fox holds majority control over National Geographic Partners and its branded attractions, including the new Ocean Odyssey that just opened in New York’s Times Square.

Existing Blue Sky licenses to third parties, such as Merlin Entertainments and SimEx-Iwerks, will need to be reevaluated.

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This is not the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. It’s a typical night at Universal Studios.

Over the past few years, Fox has had a successful partnership with Universal on Halloween Horror Nights with such franchises as Rocky Horror Picture Show, Aliens v Predator, and American Horror Story. With the purchase of Fox, Disney now has enough horror franchises to hold two events at each of its American resorts each year – one a traditional family festival at one park and the other another park for more mature guests, allowing the Disney resorts to compete against leaders in the theme park haunt market within their regions, such as Universal, Cedar Fair, and Six Flags.

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Artists’s conception of Miami Wilds theme park. Also planned were a waterpark, entertainment district, resort hotel, and I’m pretty sure I saw youth soccer fields in the blueprints.

Disney will likely announce that it is pulling out of Miami Wilds, a $930 million Fox themed resort located next to ZooMiami. The project has been delayed for some time due to concerns over endangered species on the property. The cancellation of the project will have an adverse effect on the Miami Seaquarium, which was purchased by Parques Reunidos at the same time that Fox won the rights to build its resort. Miami Wilds, designed by Hettema Group, was to be managed by Parques Reunidos, which would have brought the company $5 million on average in management fees once its theme park and waterpark were fully operational. With Miami Wilds no longer in the picture, Parques Reunidos will need to re-evaluate its plans for the Florida market.

There is the possibility that as the Miami Wilds waterpark was themed to the Ice Age franchise, elements of its design could see new life as an overlay of Disney’s existing Blizzard Beach waterpark.

Marvel is a given. Except in Florida.

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Mr. Sparkle. No relation to my theater major sister’s cat.

The Simpsons is a different issue, with Universal having invested heavily in Simpson-themed lands in Florida and California. However, the lucrative franchise will likely find its way to Disney’s overseas parks, such as in Japan, home of Mr. Sparkle.

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A recent photo of Fox World in Malaysia, located at Resorts World Sentosa. Sorry, that’s the home of this casino company’s other theme park – Universal Studios Singapore.

One of the biggest unknowns surrounds the Fox World theme park currently being built at Resorts World Genting in Malaysia. Construction is well underway, but would Disney allow a Fox-only theme park operated by a company that operates a Universal Studios-licensed park in nearby Singapore to exist? I expect that over the next six months, we’ll find out the fate of the Malaysia park – if it will continue as is under its current contract, or if Disney will sink its participation in the project faster than the Titanic attraction going into it, causing Genting to seek out another (or multiple other) studio(s) to partner with.

The Other Side of the News AUG 2017

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For those of you new to the blog, welcome. For those of you returning, you’ll notice a few changes.  Instead of doing a blog post on one or two topics, I’m switching over to a new format, which I’m calling “The Other Side of the News.” This format, which will run monthly (and on occasion, more frequently than that), will look at attractions industry news items you may not be aware of, or elements of news stories typically not covered in conventional media.

This blog is notorious for its sarcastic and sardonic approach, and that will remain, although it will be toned down a bit in order to concentrate on the news at hand. The Other Side of the News should not be considered a news article. It’s an opinion piece and is based on my analysis of the facts publicly available (unless stated or implied otherwise). There’s a disclaimer tab at the top of the page and I recommend taking a look before proceeding because…well…lawyers gotta be paid for something.

EPCOT’S CHANGING! WALT MUST BE ROLLING IN HIS GRAVE!

Some big news coming out of Disney’s D23 Expo was that Universe of Energy (AKA Ellen’s Energy Adventure) is being removed to make room for a Guardians of the Galaxy Ride. Almost immediately, Disney fans started protesting and griping all over the Al Gore Webosphere.  So here are some of their arguments and why they’re wrong:

Walt would have never changed an attraction like this during his lifetime.

NOT ONE single Disneyland attraction that opened in the 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s, or 1990’s retains its original appearance – and a number of these changes happened during Walt’s lifetime. If it wasn’t the attraction’s narrative or scenic elements, it was via improvement in lighting, sound, show control, animatronics, or safety systems. Imagineers from the very beginning have had a long history of removing elements that haven’t worked and of looking for ways to improve attractions wherever they could.

They can’t get rid of the dinosaurs! Those are a part of EPCOT!

Tell that to Dreamfinder. Regardless of the fact that these are NOT the original 1964 World’s Fair dinosaurs, which reside on the Disneyland Railroad in Anaheim, Disney has a history of recycling its attractions. They could end up in Animal Kingdom, fleshing out the Dinosaur ride that’s already there. Perhaps they’ll be donated to a science museum. My money’s on them being reskinned as alien beasts and staying in the attraction.

A movie franchise like Guardians of the Galaxy has no place in EPCOT

In 1987, Disneyland’s Tomorrowland was the West Coast’s Epcot Future World of its day, with semi-fact based attractions such as Circle-Vision, America Sings, Mission to Mars, and the Submarine Voyage. Then a certain attraction called Star Tours opened, replacing the semi-educational Adventure through Inner Space. The moral: It’s happened before. And you loved it.

The stars of the latest incarnation of the Universe of Energy, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, are as relevant today, if not more, than they were at the time of the attraction’s opening in 1996. But today, they’re relevant for different reasons. Ellen is no longer a sitcom star. She’s become an iconic trailblazer for civil rights and the oppressed. Jamie Lee Curtis was still a few years off her sexy turn in James Cameron’s “True Lies.” She now encourages women to embrace their bodies and their natural beauty. Bill Nye has moved on from children’s science shows to become CEO of The Planetary Society. And Alex Trebek died a few ago and was replaced by a semi-autonomous android designed by IBM’s Watson supercomputer. All four have expressed concern with climate change and with the continued use of fossil fuels, so it makes no sense to continue having them in an attraction that actually espouses the merits of coal mining, fracking, and oil drilling.

Look, change happens all the time at theme parks. It’s part of the evolutionary process and necessary for enticing new guests to visit while encouraging existing guests and passholders to return. If you can’t retain guests, you can’t stay in business. Thinkwell’s Cynthia Sharpe and Dave Cobb have written a fantastic blog piece on the importance of theme park change as a reflection of changing social mores. And remember, each Cobb Salad you buy at Denny’s gives Dave Cobb double frequent flyer points! (see disclaimer, top of page)

SPEAKING OF REMOVED THEME PARK DINOSAURS….WHOOPIE GOLDBERG!

2006 was a huge year for Whoopie Goldberg. Having been banished years before from Superstar Limo, Califia herself became the new on-screen host of the the Universal Studios Tour. So for a brief few years, Whoopie could be seen on screen at two competing Southern California parks. But of course you know that, so it’s not surprising that Whoopie just did something highly commendable across the street from her old “Golden Dreams” theater.

While being interviewed during the Disney Legend (also known as the One Arm Bandit) induction at D23, Whoopie brought up the Disney films “Dumbo” and “Song of the South,” stating that it’s time they be embraced and discussed for what they are. I have to agree.

There’s been a double standard at Disney where “Song of the South” has never been released on DVD and “The Martins and the Coys” segment of “Make Mine Music” was removed for being stereotypically offensive, while at the same time the limited edition DVD series “Walt Disney Treasures” contained cartoons offensive to modern standards (such as Pluto appearing in blackface as Aunt Jemima). But I guess that’s ok, as long as your limited run of DVD’s is only being bought by fans and cinephiles and includes an explanatory video introduction about how times were different back then by Leonard Maltin.

I want to go one step further than Ms. Goldberg (who I do hold in high regard).

James Baskett’s status as a Disney Legend (2010) is overshadowed by the continued withholding of his most famous work. 

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He needs to be recognized for it. Yes, doing so will necessitate Disney releasing “Song of the South” on video, a film for which he was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1948, and it will necessitate discussion in a public forum. It’s important, in this time and age when we as a society explore race, race relations, and racial heritage, that children understand the song “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah” did not come from a bunch of animatronic animals on a teetering showboat viewed from flume logs. It was Mr. Baskett who introduced the song into American culture – it was on the shoulder of Uncle Remus, the character he played in the film, that Mr. Bluebird landed. Seems to me it’s a lot easier to deal with a bluebird on your shoulder than to continue dealing with a monkey on your back (and I’m going to be preemptive because I know there are some who will see what I just wrote and be astounded that I allowed such a racial epithet to go through, when in fact it’s not. The phrase “monkey on your back” derives from the Fifth Voyage of Sinbad in the 12th century version of the Arabic classic “One Thousand and One Nights,” wherein “The Old Man of the Sea” attaches himself to Sinbad’s shoulders and will not let go. Eventually, Sinbad is able to get the Old Man to loosen his grip and he promptly smashes his head. The 1893 English language children’s version of the book, “Fairy Tales from the Arabian Nights,” edited by E. Dixon – which actually mentioned the head smashing – featured an illustration by J.D. Batten of the Old Man as a grotesque ape like creature. Whether Mr. Batten’s conception was rooted in the racism of the era is not known – I could not find any indication of racist leanings. However, this is why it’s important to maintain open discussion on art – and film – and to make the original material available to review in context.)

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THE MUSEUM DOESN’T WANT ITS IMAX. MUST….SAVE….ITS….IMAX!

I recall the one trip I made to the Johnson IMAX Theater at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. I was there for an industry preview of the IMAX film “Coral Reef Adventure” and I remember three things vividly: First, it was 2002 and the theater, only three years old at the time, was absolutely beautiful, and even had a retractable stage. Second, they took away our wine as we left the atrium and entered the theater. They would not allow us to carry it inside. Third, Jean-Michel Cousteau sauntered up to the podium with a glass of wine in hand. I remember being very upset and wishing that one day they’d tear down the IMAX and expand the cafeteria.

Well, unfortunately, my wish has come true as the Smithsonian plans to do just that, claiming that the theater is often only at 20% capacity. I know the people who manage it and the people who market it, so I can’t really conceive why this is happening. But I do have a couple of general ideas of developments that may have contributed:

  • The vast majority of giant screen films available to smaller digital 3D theaters and planetariums are of the same natural history variety shown in the Johnson theater, while aerospace-themed giant screen films tend have a smaller foothold, mainly aerospace museums and science centers. Oversaturation in the overall market affects tourist choices when time is limited (why should we see Dinosaurs Alive! in the IMAX theater when we just saw it on the much smaller screen at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science?)
  • As a longtime giant screen veteran reminded me, at a certain point, the programming and operation of giant screen theaters went from being  mission-based to being profit-based. A programming model where a film might run a full year has given way to rapid turnover, especially with Hollywood fare. From a financial standpoint, it’s a necessity to remain competitive against an ever-increasing number of smaller 3D theaters, high definition full dome planetaria, and HD television channels. From an educational standpoint, it makes things more difficult as more resources must now be expended to accomplish much more in a shorter amount of time.

The group Save Our IMAX is fighting to stop the closure. I completely applaud them and encourage you to join their cause. However, the campaign is far from perfect and I would like to offer the following suggestions in this open format:

  1. With the exception of Diane Carlson, who recently retired from the Pacific Science Center, all the principals involved in the Save Our IMAX campaign are film directors or producers. This creates a bit of confusion as to who exactly the theater “belongs” to.
  2. This should really be a community campaign. Community educators and leaders from around the DC region should have an equal say in the campaign. Instead of it being the filmmakers’ IMAX, make it the community’s IMAX. Or better yet, the Nation’s IMAX. Perception is everything. Now, you do have the great Christ Palmer, a local university professor, on board, but he’s also the producer of such IMAX classics as “Wolves,” “Bears,” “Snails,” and “Dolphins.”
  3. Make sure this is about content being available in the DC marketplace and not about losing a single IMAX theater, especially important as we just lost another IMAX theater in Tampa as MOSI downsizes.
  4. The Smithsonian is a government agency. ENGAGE CONGRESS!!
  5. If the issue of closure is one of content in the marketplace, request the Smithsonian look into constructing a smaller venue. If it’s one of format, there’s always that Bible museum opening up the street. Maybe they’ll build an IMAX and show the Darwin film.
FOR SEAWORLD, IT’S NOT A BLUE WORLD. IT’S NOT A GREEN WORLD EITHER.

SeaWorld canceled its Blue World Project, a series of huge killer whale tanks, and instead did this thing called Orca Encounter in San Diego, which is a show, but it’s not really a show. It’s a documentary film accompanied by live whales, and it’s not working. Neither is Ocean Explorer, the park’s attempt to compete against LEGOLAND California and its SEA LIFE aquarium. I know this because during the recent Q2 earnings call, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby said the company does not expect to see a return on investments on the California attractions.

Here’s some other exciting things I picked up on during that earnings call:

  • SeaWorld’s new virtual reality coaster in Orlando, Kraken Unleashed, is having throughput issues with far fewer people than projected being able to ride (as a side note, may I suggest parks considering a VR overlay to their existing coasters also expand the load station to be able to handle two trains at once).
  • Going into the future, the company expects 1/3 of its cost savings to come from reduced attendance and revenues. The simplest way to interpret this is that the money-losing San Diego park will transform from a year-round to a seasonal operation, similar to the San Antonio park.
  • The company is spending less money to build more rides and attractions and is no longer competing with Disney and Universal, doing its own thing in its own way.

I noticed two things really missing from the press release and earnings call, although one was very explicitly addressed in the SEC filing.  There was barely any mention of Zhonghong, the Chinese company that had just purchased Blackstone’s 21% stake in the company. Manby basically told analysts if they had questions about Zhonghong, they should contact Zhonghong, adding that the two Zhonghong directors on SeaWorld’s board were well engaged and a pleasure to work with.  Something felt off. Something was missing.

Then I was told by a source who would be in a position to know, speaking on grounds of anonymity (see disclosure tab at top of page) that Zhonghong had at the last minute decided against tendering for the time being an offer to buy SeaWorld, which required SeaWorld to make sure no documentation had any indication of any buyout, and all at the last minute. Which is why the press release for the second quarter financials came out almost two hours after its usual wire service distribution time, and why the SEC filing was not done until end of day the following day, almost thirty-six hours later.

Just prior, Zhonghong had placed a $3 billion acquisition of Brookdale Senior Living on hold after Chinese banks (if you’re a Chinese company, you must secure financing through Chinese banks) downgraded the company’s credit rating to “unfavorable,” resulting in Zhonghong being unable to secure financing to complete the Brookdale acquisition.  Scouring the ChinaWeb, I’ve come across a document which is either a complaint or a legal filing (not sure yet which), alleging fraud on Zhonghong’s part with a 2016 residential development near Beijing. The claims are eerily similar to a 2016 SEC fraud investigation regarding Comcast’s purchase of DreamWorks Animation (DWA). Although Zhonghong is not mentioned as being investigated or as a defendant in the SEC case, it is mentioned by name as a co-suitor to purchase DWA with one of the defendants. Although I can’t be certain any fraud investigation has affected Zhonghong’s purchase of American companies, Zhonghong certainly has been effected by the same Chinese government investigation on lending for foreign investment that saw Dalian-Wanda group drastically reinvent itself. My source also tells me that both Manby and Board Chair David D’Alessandro will stay on through at least the end of the year, by which time the acquisition is expected to be back on and nearing completion.

At the same time, private investment firm Hill Path Capital continues to buy shares of SeaWorld, to the point that it is in the top four in terms of company ownership. According to a Merlin Entertainments call the day before SeaWorld’s call, Hill Path is pushing SeaWorld’s management to sell off the two Busch Gardens parks in order to obtain immediate revenue. SeaWorld was very explicit in its Q2 SEC filing that it wants Hill Path to have no part whatsoever in any board or management decisions.

These past forty-five days have been difficult for SeaWorld, with the stillbirth of a beluga calf, the death of what was advertised as “the last SeaWorld orca born in captivity,” and the euthanasia of one of the company’s most revered orcas. I’m not going to discuss welfare or health issues here. If that’s your cup of tea, there are plenty of other sites on the interweb covering both sides of the argument. One in particular caught my attention.

Michael Mountain writes on the Whale Sanctuary Project website about the death of the killer whale Kasatka. He schools SeaWorld for their interpretation of the term “family,” disputes the company’s healthcare and medical diagnoses, questions if her trainers loved her, and then implores SeaWorld to release their whales into a sanctuary, perhaps the very one his group plans on building.

I felt like I was reading a SeaWorld of Hate piece – you know, PETA’s anti-SeaWorld page, since this followed the traditional PETA anti-Seaworld layout – call out SeaWorld on everything they do, then implore them to move their whales to a sanctuary.

I don’t think it was a wise move for the Whale Sanctuary Project, and here’s why.

You need whales for your whale sanctuary and there’s only two ways you’re going to get them – through the courts or building bridges with the whales’ owners. You can have Kiska in Canada, but right now the law prohibits her being moved out of Ontario. You could have had Lolita in Miami, but certain lawsuits and Endangered Species Act recognition means lots more red tape and hurdles to jump through.  I’m pretty sure you want Morgan from Loro Parque, but first you’ve got to figure out just who owns her (I’ve seen Loro Parque say she’s a ward of the Dutch government, their whale, and SeaWorld’s whale. Guess it depends on the day). That leaves the SeaWorld whales. And with posts like this, you’re burning necessary bridges far faster than you can get the materials to build new ones.

A MARINELAND VIDEO SENT ME TO THE BATHROOM.

Marineland of Canada released quite a few press releases last week. One was about the death of the beluga calf Gia.  Along with it was a link to a video on Marineland’s animal husbandry. I recognized the licensed music in the video. It was the same selection that Comcast’s customer service office uses. I found myself automatically headed to the bathroom thinking I was going to be on hold for 20 minutes.

But what Marineland’s doing is far more interesting than listening to a pre-recorded ad for Comcast’s Xfinity internet service play eighty times in a row while you’re internet’s down. Marineland has chosen it’s enemy as it’s become confrontational with the Ontario SPCA, going so far as to state in January:  “The OSPCA is continuing a publicity campaign at the behest of a band of discredited activists with little relevant expertise or knowledge, in an effort to avoid further embarrassment related to an ongoing investigation into the OSPCA’s perceived failure to protect animals that is being led by the same activists they are now firmly in bed with.”

Yes, the OSPCA is a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, much like many other SPCA’s or humane societies throughout the world. What makes it unique is that in addition to being a charitable organization, it is also the government mandated enforcement agency overseeing animal welfare issues in the province of Ontario.

Whereas something like a complaint being filed by, say PETA or the Animal Welfare Institute against a zoo or animal-based theme park would be a civil complaint, a complaint from the OSPCA is a criminal complaint. It is up to the Crown prosecutor to act on the charges and, in the most recent case, the charges were dropped.

Marineland continues to counter the OSPCA’s claims through press releases over the wire services, even callign the OSPCA’s Senior Manager of Communications a “self-proclaimed ‘PR (public relations) pro & writer by trade’ with no actual involvement in delivering Ontario SPCA’s animal welfare mandate.”

So, after treatment of this kind in the media by Marineland and other private zoo owners, it’s not a surprise that the OSPCA released an announcement that:

The Ontario SPCA believes that animals on exhibit in zoos solely for commercial gain is an antiquated business model that must be stopped. The time to begin working towards this goal is now, if we work together to ensure our expectations are clear for elected officials.

The Ontario SPCA advocates that the Government of Ontario put in place the following, on behalf of animals in zoos:

  1. Develop and proclaim‎ new or amended legislation to regulate zoos permitted to operate in the province, prohibiting any zoo exhibiting animals solely for commercial gain,
  2. Provide at least four Crown Attorneys to specialize in animal welfare law so that charges are seen through to justice and the public interest is served,
  3. Provide sufficient funding and resources for increased and ongoing inspections of zoo facilities, and for the eventual closure of zoos that exist solely for commercial gain,
  4. Allow the current Provincial Zoo & Aquarium Registry to be made public and available on the Government of Ontario’s website.

So…the gloves are off….on both sides.

IS CEDAR FAIR HEADED BACK TO ITS ROOTS?

Christian Dieckmann and Howard Newstate have left Cedar Fair (to 3D Live and Holovis, respectively). What does this mean for the chain? Well, we’re likely to see less of the high tech attractions (VR is still gonna be around) like Iron Reef, Wonder Mountain’s Guardian, Mass Effect, and Plants v Zombies.

So what’s taking their place?

I’ve spoken extensively with the management of California’s Great America and with Clayton Lawrence, who was recently promoted from his post at Great America to become Cedar Fair’s Corporate Manager of Live Show Development. The company’s taking a back to basics approach. It’s looking back at the history of its parks and the communities in which those parks exist and honoring both. Food service is being upgraded, accommodations are being improved. The company will present a whole slate of live entertainment with a unified standard across all parks. And most exciting of all, festivals and events are going to be a special emphasis, from craft beer festivals to beach parties, Haunt, and Winterfest, Cedar Fair will be creating multiple reasons to visit year round as they put the amusement back in the park (yep, there’s a disclaimer at top of page).

SIX FLAGS JOINS THE APPEASEMENT BANDWAGON.

Six Flags Over Texas was named after the six flags that at various times flew over the state of Texas –  Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the United States of America, and the Confederate States of America.  In light of the recent events in Virginia and elsewhere, Six Flags opted to remove the Confederate flag from its flagpole. Then they did one better – they removed four more of the flags and replaced them all with American flags.

In Canada, after a mother posted a Facebook photo of a carousel horse at La Ronde, Six Flags’ theme park on the Expo 67 site in Montreal, the company agreed to remove the horse, which featured the severed head of a Native American. While America deals with its racial unrest, Canada is dealing with its own legacy of abuse of First Nations tribal members. The history is a long and hard one that spans from the forced relocation to and abuse at residential schools – an attempt to “educate” the native out the native culture – to today’s epidemic of young aboriginal women disappearing and being killed.

I applaud Six Flags and its individual park management for doing the right thing.

OBSCURE TRIVIA BREAK: B-movies and A-ttractions

It’s very appropriate that Universal Orlando is reopening The Amazing Adventures of Spider-man this Thursday with a complete HD upgrade.  After all, this marks the 50th anniversary of the famed web-slinger’s first appearance.  But sadly, another anniversary is being overlooked.  On Jan. 2 of this year, Jaws at Universal Studios Florida ceased operation in order to make way for something new.  The attraction opened in 1990, but Jaws made its first Orlando appearance much earlier than that.  Thirty years ago this Summer, filming began on the third Jaws film – in 3D  – right down International Drive at SeaWorld.

So although we won’t have the Jaws ride at Universal Orlando to celebrate this milestone, we can celebrate it with another film about other carnivorous fish attacking an aquatic park – in this case, the waterslides of Wilmington, North Carolina’s Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park.

Which brings us to ThemedReality’s first Obscure Trivia Break, for as hard as it may seem, the Piranha franchise can just as easily link the SeaWorld and Universal theme park chains as Jaws can.  Here’s how:

  • The original Piranha (1978) was director Joe Dante’s third film.  In 2003, he directed a 4D film R.L. Stine’s Haunted Lighthouse for Busch Entertainment Corporation, which played at the two Busch Gardens parks and at SeaWorld parks in San Diego and San Antonio.
  • The sequel, Piranha Part II: The Spawning (1981) was James Cameron’s directorial debut.  It was a far cry from the work he did on Terminator 2 3D: Battle Across Time (1996)  for the Universal Studios theme parks.
  • In the reboot of the series, 2010’s Piranha 3D and this year’s Piranha 3DD, the character of Mr. Goodman is portrayed by none other than Christopher Lloyd, who starred in both SeaWorld’s Haunted Lighthouse, as Cap’n Jack, and as “Doc” Emmett Brown in Universal’s Back to the Future: The Ride (1991) and its replacement The Simpsons Ride (2008).

There are plenty of other theme park connections, ranging from film tie-ins to Cameron at News Corporation parks in Australia and Mexico, Everland in South Korea, and Disney parks worldwide, David Hasselhoff’s legendary work for Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and Elisabeth Shue’s performance in that Leonard Nimoy-directed thrill ride at EPCOT.

But I don’t really want to talk about all those.  I guess when it comes down it, we can all learn something from Universal and SeaWorld.  Don’t dismiss B-movies.  After all, there might just be some good theme park talent in there.  I mean, I recall a really horrible Korean-American film from 1985 called LA Streetfighters (later renamed Ninja Turf)…

la_streetfighters_poster_01…and one of the actors from that film went on to host the Thea Awards.

ETI and the Future of Ride Design

eti_logoImagine a world where huge equipment racks, incredible amounts of heat, miles and miles of cables, and soaring operational costs are a thing of the past.  Brian Edwards of Edwards Technologies has envisioned such a world, and these days he’s making it a reality with the ETI Cloud-based Content Management System.

The cloud’s a confusing enough concept.  I’ll just simplify it by stating something along the lines of a room full of AV racks can be replaced by just a few Mac minis.  I like to think of it like replacing your the gas tank in your car with with five D-size batteries.

So just these few minis, with the assistance of the cloud, can do incredible things.  But what if instead of minis, you were using something else, like, say, a supercomputer?

Recently, Brian’s been spending a lot of time with Steve Chen, the lead designer of the Cray supercomputer and one of the industry’s pioneers.  What Brian told me is quite mindblowing and here’s an example, based on what he told me.

I’ll work with two attractions from Disney and George Lucas: Star Tours and the Indiana Jones Adventure.

The second generation of Star Tours is randomized, but it’s limited.  Everything is limited by 1. the storage space for data and 2. the prerendered visuals.  With supercomputer and cloud technology combined, every single variable would be entered in the system and the backgrounds, elemental conditions, and animations would all be rendered real time.  The ride could go anywhere within the boundaries set within the system and no rides would be identical.  Instead of around 50 possiblilities, there will be millions.

Now imagine that you’re going on the Indiana Jones ride.  It’s raining outside, and as you enter the show building, it’s cold and you hear rain dripping.  There might be water flowing down the wall as if there’s a leak in the roof.  Or it’s hot and humid outside so you enter a steamy interior with fog effects turned up.  The computer knows the elemental situation outside and matches it to the inside, seamlessly integrating the real world with the imagined.

As you board your vehicle, there are no sets.  There are LED or OLED screens along the walls, projecting real time animation in autostereoscopic 3D.  And because you answered a few questions about yourself at an interactive terminal before boarding, the ride is tailored to the tastes of you and your fellow riders.  Hate snakes? We’ll add them by the hundreds.

That’s the future.  And it’s already starting at ETI.  Find out more about their Mac-based cloud at www.eticloud.com.