The unanimous vote by the LA County Board of Supervisors today ends a seven-year public hearing and environmental approval process that clears the way to begin construction on NBCUniversal‘s 25-year Evolution Plan. Starting in late summer, work will begin on The Wizarding World of Harry Potter themed land at Universal Studios Hollywood theme park, as well as on new and upgraded TV production facilities, office space and infrastructure on the Universal Studios lot. The Potter attraction was first announced in 2011 and already has seen success in Universal’s Orlando theme park, which Universal President and COO Ron Meyer has called a game-changer. A Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios Japan was announced last year. Originally, the broader Evolution Plan to build 3,000 apartments and condos and retail space on the studio back lot were scrapped in July, after Yaroslovsky and LA City Council member Tom LaBonge red-flagged the potential environmental impact and potential loss of production jobs. (Universal Studios sits on both LA city and county land; the LA City Council approved the city’s portion of the plan in February.)
In total, the plan is expected to create more than 30,000 jobs and generate $2 billion in economic activity, according to NBCU. County supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the newly forged agreement calls for NBCU to make $100 million in transit improvements, and commit nearly $14 million to jump-start the effort to revitalize the Los Angeles River by “completing key missing links on the LA River bike path”. That includes building a nearly one-acre trailhead park on the studio’s property abutting the river. Here’s NBCU’s release on the deal:
UNIVERSAL CITY, California, April 23, 2013 – NBCUniversal announced today plans to begin construction of the first projects of its 25-year Evolution Plan. The Evolution Plan represents a $1.6 billion investment in tourism and production. This long-term investment in two industries that are vital to Los Angeles will create more than 30,000 jobs and generate $2 billion of economic activity during operations for the region.
“After nearly a decade of work on the Evolution Plan, today’s vote sets the stage for our next 100 years in Los Angeles,” said Ron Meyer, president and COO of Universal Studios. “We are thankful for the support and leadership we have received from both the County and City of Los Angeles and are ready to get started investing in these important tourism and production projects in the next few months.”
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is traveling to the land of the rising sun. Warner Bros and Universal Parks & Resorts are partnering to expand the Hogwarts experience to Universal Studios Japan. Execs involved in the planning pledge Osaka attraction will be just as magical as the one at Universal Orlando Resort. Warner Bros also recently opened the Warner Bros Studio Tour London – The Making Of Harry Potter. As in Orlando, Universal predicted the Osaka attraction would bring significant increases in tourism, jobs and economic benefit to Japan. The new attraction will be similar to the one in Florida and will include Hogwarts castle, Hogsmeade and multiple themed attractions, according to Universal Parks. Stuart Craig, production designer for all the Potter movies, will be closely involved with planning and building the Osaka park, which is expected to open in late 2014.
It’s been rumored for some time and even today Time Warner boss Jeff Bewkes said the news was coming soon. Now Comcast’s Universal Parks & Resorts has confirmed that it will build a Harry Potter attraction inside its Universal Studios Hollywood theme park, as well as expand its uber-profitable The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at its Orlando resort. It’s there that the year-plus-old Potter-themed attraction has helped boost revenue by 33% through the first nine months of 2011, and attendance is up 50% since Wizarding’s June 2010 launch, making the move to other parks a no-brainer. (Yesterday, Comcast CFO Mike Angelakis called the attraction at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure “a reset mechanism” for the park.) “It was a game changer for us and frankly for Orlando,” Universal Studios president Ron Meyer told the Associated Press after today’s announcement. “The expansion in Orlando will make it that much more of a must-see, and we’ll have the same experience here.” The new installation is expected to create more than 1,000 jobs. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told the AP that he was told Universal’s concert venue Gibson Amphitheatre would be axed to make way for the Potter attraction. No plan details or time frames were discussed. Harry Potter is a Warner Bros property.
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes needed a better joke writer to help him acknowledge the anniversary of the blunder he made at last year’s UBS Annual Global Media and Communications Conference when he wrote off Netflix, comparing it to the Albanian army trying to take over the world. He had to eat those words as Time Warner, along with just about everyone else, began licensing programming to the online streaming service. “This is the appropriate place to point out that the Albanian army did take over the world. Alexander the Great? It’s close.” The line only elicited a few chuckles from analysts, but they didn’t seem to mind after hearing Bewkes say a lot of things they wanted to hear. Time Warner’s ad sales have been ”up double digits (since the upfront market) and are holding.” Although 4Q was a little soft, ”some of that is advertisers pulling stuff forward to the upfront. … We’re looking fine for the first quarter,” especially with the return of NBA games.
He also assured investors that they don’t have to be concerned about Warner Bros’ prospects following the end of the Harry Potter film series. He said that within hours, the Harry Potter presence that has done so much for Universal’s Islands of Adventure park in Orlando “will move in a material way in that direction” — suggesting that the company and Comcast will confirm reports that Universal Studios Hollywood will get a version of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction. ”Everybody stay tuned.” He also says that the studio has high hopes for additional franchises including the Batman/Dark Knight series. Read More »
Comcast CFO Mike Angelakis says that The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter was so successful for Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure that it became “a reset mechanism” for the theme park. But he stopped short of confirming reports that the company plans to bring Potter to Universal Studios Hollywood, even as he gave analysts attending the UBS Annual Global Media and Communications Conference every reason to believe that they’re accurate. Indeed, he seemed determined to avoid making news, sticking instead to Comcast’s familiar talking points: He acknowledged that there are “challenges” at NBC but says it’s also ”an opportunty for us,” adding that Comcast is “investing where we can have a level of success.” He vowed to be ”disciplined” in bidding for sports programming, calling Comcast’s agreement in June to pay $4.4B for U.S. broadcast rights to the Olympics from 2014 to 2020 “a smart deal for us.” The company also talked up its new pact to sell wireless spectrum to Verizon Wireless, with the companies cross-selling each other’s products. “We don’t have to build a wireless network,” Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit says. “We’re thrilled.” He noted that Comcast will be able to sell Verizon Wireless phone services even in markets where the cable company competes with Verizon’s FiOS video and broadband offering.
Harry Potter will materialize sometime in the future in Universal City with his own special section of the theme park much like “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal Orlando Resort. NBC Universal is expected to announce plans for the Potter addition within a week, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Harry Potter site in Florida includes a Hogwarts Castle, roller coasters, and several Potter-themed restaurants. In the year after it opened, the Harry Potter attraction in Florida drew an additional 1.1 million visitors for a total of 2.8 million and revenue nearly doubled to $309 million, the Journal said. If the Hollywood Harry Potter succeeds, additional attractions could be added to Universal parks in Japan, Singapore and Spain. Universal licensed the Harry Potter theme park rights for the Orlando Resort from Warner Bros. for an undisclosed sum. A similar deal is likely for Universal Studios Hollywood. WB also receives royalties on merchandise. The Hollywood Harry Potter and any others also will require the consent of author J.K. Rowling, as did the park in Florida.
Disney must be hoping that its new plan to build Avatar theme park attractions will be the shot in the arm the business may need. And, unbelievably, the new feature is coming courtesy of Fox Filmed Entertainment and James Cameron.
On paper, all looks well for Disney’s theme park revenues: they were up 9% to $8.7B for the three quarters that ended July 2, while operating income was up 13% to $1.1B. Also attendance has held steady. But most of the growth was due to Disney’s decision to raise prices for tickets, hotels, food, and merchandise. That probably can’t continue if the economy continues to weaken. Meanwhile, some analysts have been alarmed by the high capital expenditures for parks, which more than doubled to $2.1B in the nine-month period. Disney is still working on the $1.1B upgrade it announced in 2007 for its California Adventure park — it struck many visitors as a cheap, generic amusement park when it opened in 2001. Disney’s also investing in its Aluani Resort in Hawaii (it opens Thursday), Shanghai Disney Resort for 2016, expansion of the Hong Kong properties, a re-do of Disneyland’s Fantasyland, new cruise ships — and covering increased pension obligations.
Construction and licensing costs for the Avatar attraction from Fox and James Cameron could run about $400M, and there’ll be some revenue sharing for the merchandise. But the new project isn’t expected to change Disney’s forecast for its capital expenditures to peak … Read More »
NBC’s broadcast network is reviving faster than Comcast expected and represents “our biggest upside in the near term,” NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke told an investment conference this morning. Since Comcast bought a 51% stake in NBCU in January, “most of the things that have changed have changed for the better.” He says that the national ad business remains “very strong” — with spots for the 2012 Super Bowl nearly sold out. Although there are growing signs that the economy may weaken or stagnate, Burke told the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference that NBC can improve once it gets the respect he says the network deserves from advertisers. He says unit prices for NBC’s ads “are discounted heavily, up to 25%” vs. ABC, CBS, and Fox. If NBC develops more must-see shows then the gap should narrow and “you can imagine hundreds of millions (of dollars) in EBITDA coming in.” Burke adds that NBC-owned stations also are “significantly less profitable than we need to be” and that “there’s no reason” that Spanish-language network Telemundo can’t reach a bigger audience. Burke also is upbeat about revenues from the networks’ and stations retransmission consent deals with cable and satellite distributors — including Comcast. The exec says that some of that cash will go back into programming. The network’s previous owner, General Electric, “had not been as enthusiastic about the business and had not been as willing to invest as we are.” Read More »