Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Colored By Envy...

In Burbank over the last few years, several Suits would look outside watching the traffic move past Alameda and shake their heads

Why would they do this? They were wondering, "Why all this blow-back from the new park we built?" They thought that the success of Disney's new park and expansion of the Disneyland Park into the Disneyland Resort was a given. Wouldn't people just love the fact they had another park? Another choice to go to? A great nighttime destination with the new Downtown Disney?

Apparently not.

See, what these executives failed to realize as many have in both business and government is the way the world is connected and how you can't build an entertainment complex in one place and expect no one to find out and compare it to your other offerings. The main reason that the Walt Disney Company has had such a problem can be addressed with three, tiny little letters... an acronym, so to speak.


World Wide Web... wondering how? It's amazingly simple really, but sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees as they say. You see, before the mid-90's this wasn't a problem for Disney or any other company. But as the Internet expanded and brought the world to America in a much more personal box, people can get a look, even a little piece of what it's like half way across the world.

Now some people will respond to my earlier statement about Tokyo and say that it's not fair. Disney didn't build Tokyo Disneyland's expansion and doesn't own it. The Oriental Land Company did and does... My response to them?

It doesn't matter. Most people when they see something with Disney's name automatically identify it with the Walt Disney Company. They don't care about the fine print details. If your name is on it, it's your responsibility... especially since YOU designed it. Which gives a few Suits a great deal of headaches. One even told me that it was a mistake to offer the pitch of Tokyo DisneySEA to OLC. They wish they'd have offered them a far more modest proposal. But this Suit doesn't really understand that the OLC wouldn't have excepted something like DCA. Could it be that the executives that reside in the offices at the Tokyo Disney Resort actually care more about quality than the ones shaking their heads in Burbank? I don't think so, but I think many Suits(most of whom are no longer there, I might add) don't take a much longer perspective of the company they work for. Many are not only looking for the bottom line, but the current quarter... they're not focused on what to do for the Mouse that will build more on the foundations already laid out. In other words, a five year plan... maybe a decade long plan. Now that sounds familiar, doesn't it? As I mentioned, many... but not all of these Suits no longer work for Disney and another important thing is that those that do, no longer report to Michael Eisner.

This article is not meant as another rant against the former CEO, but he does play a part in the drama that is this Soap Opera. There was a reason that the Disney Suits didn't want OLC advertising the Tokyo Disney Resort outside Japan... and it doesn't all just deal with the business of granting them a license that has not been issued anywhere else. Disney made the mistake back in the 70's of just licensing the Disney name, characters and the services of WDI, then WED. This was a mistake that Eisner intended never to happen again...which is why every park built since then has at least had a minority ownership by the Mouse(DLRP 39%, HKDL 43%). This is an idea that Eisner was exactly right on... but back to the issue at hand. The other reason besides the license was that OLC tends to spend a great deal more on their park than the actual company that owns them. There are several reasons for this, some that are cultural, some that are due to the corporate structure of OLC and then there is the simple fact that the Japanese love and I mean LOVE anything Disney. They spend far more per guest than any other park that Disney owns... which is why they can take a risk more easily than the original Mouse. Now Disney knew this, they also liked the hundreds of millions of dollars from the park that came with no strings attached. They could let WDI design whatever the OLC wanted, help keep many Imagineers employed and also help defray the cost of developing technologies for its rides. Now this was all fine to Eisner, he didn't foresee the change the Internet would have on people, particularly Disney Geeks. After-all, so they would hear they were better and might somehow get a little bit of information, but that was it.

Well the net changed all that. Remember all those grand openings they had on television to "open" the parks? The one for DAK... the one for Disney-MGM... the one for Euro-Disneyland... the one for TDS? Nope... it didn't happen. Eisner knew that showing this park would reflect badly on the other parks particularly DCA. But when Tokyo DisneySEA opened, we were there. Through the net we had tons of pictures. Reviews of people that had attended were available the same day they were at the park. With U-Tube we could see actual videos of the ride. First a few, then hundreds and finally thousands of videos, images and discussions about it.

The genie was out of the bottle... the Walt Disney Company couldn't keep the dirty little secret about the quality between ours and the Tokyo Resort. Another thing that happened is the internet gave Disney Geeks the ability to scrutinize the American parks much more than ever before. Now we could see the difference in quality between Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom. It gave us the opportunity to notice how Disney's Animal Kingdom was doing and how much it improved after Expedition Everest opened. It essentially gave fans that support the Walt Disney Company an outlet to vent and make public our dislike of the business practices of the Mouse's management. It made us, in a sense... "Virtual Shareholders". Yeah, I like that term... perhaps I'll use it in another post(ahem, hint).

Now Eisner, Pressler, Braverman and the other Suits didn't expect all this information to get out. And when it did it created quite the problem for the company. For we Disney Geeks, it created envy. It created a situation where we could see what was offered to Disney fans far away... and it was nice. It was beautiful and it was what we looked for when we thought of Disney. Unfortunately, it was not for us to enjoy. Unless of course, you want to hope on a plane and fly all the way to the Land of the Rising Sun, purchase your tickets for TDR, which I must say are not anything like what Californians and Floridians are used to with things like a Park Hopper and such. This could have been avoided had the Mouse bit the bullet and built WestCot or (my fav)Port Disney, which is where TDS sprang from... but Eisner, stung by the financial mess that was Euro-Disney pulled back and gave us a McDonalds when he promised us a Mortons.

Now Eisner and the others Suits seriously misjudged the cries they heard about the park before building it and they also felt confident that no one would really be able to compare TDS to DCA... they were thousands of miles apart, right? In quality and actual distance yes... they were. But the World Wide Web shortened that distance from an ocean to mere inches. The inches a computer monitor was away from your face.

We can thank Eisner for the years of arguing, whining and general discussion we've had over the years and the envy... oh, the envy. We have to thank the former Disney CEO and his Suits for that... now there are years ahead, a decade really... to fix this mess and finally give Anaheim the park it was promised and deserves. Maybe that's what he planned. Maybe Eisner wanted to ensure a way to continually employ WDI for years into the future. He planned this so that he would be able to make sure he never had to have a massive layoff of Disney's Imagineers again.

If you believe that, then I envy you... because you're wondering around in Fantasyland. Not the one in Disneyland, but the one Eisner created... the one that also felt DCA would be a hugh hit. So big a hit that work began on a third park, possibly a water-park to be placed in the newly purchased strawberry field that Disney had just bought. But it wasn't a hit... it wasn't a disaster as some have said. It was a disappointment, shall we say... compounded by what we saw on the internet. No matter what Eisner and Pressler could say we could tell what we were being told and being sold.

Now the tide is turning... much good will come over the next few years... even more over the next decade should beds get filled and turnstile clicks spike up... it cost Disney a lot more than that 2 billion it would have spent on the original park too... when you think about what it cost Eisner in the long run...

Don't ya envy him?


Anonymous said...

Maybe a solution for Disney would be for them to sell DCA to OLC and let them do what they will with the park. Disney can keep 39%, and OLC can produce an outstanding park, allowing WDI to do what they can do when supported by those who really care.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Honor. I really enjoyed your perspective on the issue. Hopefully, we "Virtual Shareholders" can prevent something like the DCA plan from happening again.

Anonymous said...

You mention that, “many Suits(most of whom are no longer there, I might add)”. This also means that there are some Suits that REMAIN. They essentially continue some of the momentum established by the former management.

Just as any effort in trying to maneuver huge sluggish entities can take time, if sincere steps aren’t promptly taken to change former faulty attitudes, the momentum could continue for years before fresh attitudes eventually overpower them.

So, while the tide may be turning, it may result in some flawed outcomes that we won’t really appreciate before real improvements can take hold.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, isn't dual ownership going to up the quality of any theme park? Especially if one of the partners is generous.

When Disney pitched to OLC, they were trying to sell something and get their money for it. While building DisneySea, they knew they could do bigger things because of the double investment. OLC was willing to split the tab allowing the company to do larger projects. California Adventure was created on a shoestring budget because Disney would own the park entirely and didn't have a backer.

I think its unfair to say they're hiding it because they're not. Its just hard to market any overseas theme park to the US public. I can't remember the last time I saw an ad for a Disney park that was even on the opposite coast! Just because they didn't have a TV special doesn't mean it was trying to be hidden.

Honor Hunter said...

Well anonymous,

Disney has had a long practice of promoting their parks openings... EuroDisney had a great opening, covered on major network television. While the changing market is part of the reason they didn't promote TDS, another reason... which I believe is a more relevant one, is that they didn't want the comparison to DCA. An image is worth a thousand words. In this case, a special showing of what was built in Tokyo would have be priceless for Disney fans and too costly for Disney management.

But in the end, we still got to see it and they got the reaction they were trying to avoid.

mnmears said...

Great post ... and you hit the nail right on the head when bringing up the Web and how it's helped to make this "A Small World After All."

One of the best examples of this difference in Japan vs. U.S. perspectives is the Winnie the Pooh attractions.

Imagineers proposed at least two cheaper versions of the attraction to OLC -- only to be told we want better. OLC knew the popularity of Pooh (at one time Disney's top licensed character) and continued to up the budget. They refused to blink as the price continued to rise.

While the Pooh rides at WDW and DL are nearly detested -- in part for replacing existing attractions (Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and CBJ) -- the Tokyo Pooh ride is among the most magical experiences for guests.

Even if OLC spent 10x as much for its Pooh ride, it's received 1000x more positive word of mouth.

What makes this even more detestible is the fact that Imagineering built the Toyko Pooh ride BEFORE DL's version and didn't take those lessons and give us something just as magical stateside.

As Walt said, "quality is a good business plan." It's a shame the suits forgot that basic premise when developing DCA, Winnie the Pooh stateside or other things.

If it's worth doing ... then it's worth doing right. And, when you're talking about a corporate reputation with its pixie-dust and magic making capabilities, why tarnish that image?