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Oh, Eisner – 1987 Edition

Previously, on As the Eisner Turns

Ambitious young Michael Eisner and his boon companion Frank Wells took over control of Walt Disney Productions, which was struggling to make its way in the modern film industry. Disney began to cash in on underexploited assets, and the eyes of management shifted from theme parks to film and television production.

As Eisner ramped up production, the money started to roll in. Yet many of the company’s promising new initiatives, aside from the marked price increases that Eisner levied on the parks, stemmed from programs that had started under the previous management – Touchstone Pictures, The Disney Channel, and plans for Euro Disneyland. Still, Eisner was capitalizing on unused assets, and getting Disney back into the network and syndicated TV markets. But would it come at the expense of the theme parks?

Then, in our last episode, Eisner was fully in charge. Having seized sole authorship of the annual letter from Wells, he was free to spin us yarns of his children’s antics and oh-so-relateable escapades. Profits were taking off, and a series of low-budget adult comedies were about to get Disney back in box office clover.

I suggest that you take a moment and read the comments by our esteemed Another Voice under the previous article. They’re a very instructive encapsulation of the dynamic at Disney at the time, and one can see how the Eisner-Wells-Katzenberg trifecta held things somewhat in check. Eisner’s aspirations of moguldum were reined in by Wells’s assumption of the Roy O. Disney role, and Katzenberg assisted by producing a series of modestly-budgeted minor successes that would soon and often be referred to with baseball metaphors (better to have several solid singles and doubles rather than swing for a home run and strike out!). Eisner was kept from literally selling EPCOT Center to underwrite a series of cinematic escapades, and Disney was in turn rewarded by success and growth in the theatrical division.

Eisner’s aspirations weren’t all entirely misplaced; they allowed him to be convinced of the need to resuscitate Disney feature animation and they eventually enabled the grand plans for projects like Euro Disney. It was a dynamic that worked fairly effectively until 1993-94.

But now we’re back in 1987, so let’s see what was brewing at the House of Mouse.

TO OUR OWNERS AND FELLOW DISNEY EMPLOYEES:

Michael Eisner and Frank Wells, 1987This year I am having trouble writing my letter for our annual report, and Frank Wells (our president and my partner) told me this morning if I do not complete it on my present airplane flight back to Los Angeles, our printers will be forced into overtime. One sets policy by example, so if Jeffrey Katzenberg, our chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, can
be on budget and schedule with Disney and Touchstone films and television shows, I can get one letter completed on time.

I would like to say that the only reason for delay in writing this letter is my difficulty in communicating how well we have done without sounding too cocky, too confident and certainly too proud. How does one present an 80 percent increase in net income and pretend such improvement is nothing special?

But honestly, my delay has been caused by the numerous ice hockey games in which my 14-year-old son has played over the last two weeks in Southern California (four in one weekend, each 50 miles from the previous one) plus college interview time in four cities for my 17-year-old high school senior.

I now have no excuses. I am over the middle of our country looking down
upon cornfields and thinking about the idea of Dick Nunis (our president of Walt Disney Attractions) and Jack Lindquist (our executive vice president of Creative Marketing Concepts) about renting a large field and cutting the crop to create the face of Mickey so that every person who flies over will be reminded about Mickey’s 60th birthday. Have we gone too far? Jack, I don’t think so.

The next few paragraphs, which outline Disney’s accomplishments, are directed to Frank Wells’ mother, Betty, and my mother, who must have wondered in 1955 how their sons would ever earn a living. Of course, Frank was at Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar, with reasonable prospects, while I was a 13-year-old sports fanatic. The answer, of course, is to get lucky and find a team of people . . . each much better than you . . . and pray. Then you’ll earn a good living.

We really have done well this past year, with dynamic growth and progress in every area of our business: parks and resorts, film and TV, and consumer products.

Our figures are remarkable. The filmed entertainment segment achieved a 153 percent increase in operating income during the year. Consumer products had a 34 percent increase. Operating income from our theme park and resort operations at Walt Disney World and Disneyland was up 36 percent in 1987, contributing to a 34 percent compounded annual growth rate in operating income over the last five years.

We had record revenues of approximately $2.9 billion for the year, an increase over 1986 of 33 percent, and record net income of $444.7 million, an increase of some 80 percent (which I now have pointed out for the second time), all of which added up to earnings of $3.23 per share compared to $1.82 per share a year ago.

More significantly, we also showed a return on equity of 27 percent,
compared to eight percent in 1984.

While we are sure Betty Wells and my mother are proud of these numbers and the countless individual achievements they represent, I hasten to add that Frank Wells, Gary Wilson and our entire management team are aware that the task we originally set for ourselves some three years ago has only just begun.

A number of people (I was on the top of the list) troubled by the so-called stock market “meltdown” in October have asked what impact, if any, recession would have on our plans or future performance. My answer in every case is that the fundamentals of our company are stronger than they have ever been and our past experience and current surveys encourage me to be optimistic about the future.

I am supported in my confidence by the views of several prominent industry analysts (professionals whom I admire enormously when they agree with me) that Disney is “recession resistant” if not “recession proof.” One who summarized it best said, “Disney represents a haven of quality.”

We plan to continue on our charted course, which calls for the aggressive and pragmatic pursuit of growth in stockholder values. I suppose I should outline the records we broke in 1987, although the essence of our company is the feeling we get walking through Epcot Center and seeing families having the time of their lives . . . or laughing and crying during an episode of “The Golden Girls” . . . or sitting at Thanksgiving and watching 10 kids enjoying a Mickey and Donald cartoon on The Disney Channel . . . or feeling and sensing enormous pleasure and amusement with an audience at our smash hit movie “Three Men and a Baby.”

But records do say something: Our theme parks topped the 50 million mark for the first time ever; our movies were third in total box office gross, moving swiftly toward second (if “Three Men” continues to do well), all the way up from 12th among the major studios in 1984; in home video we moved to second in the industry (up from sixth in 1985); at The Disney Channel, we continued to be the fastest-growing pay-TV service.

Meanwhile, in consumer products, we extended our worldwide lead, increasing the number of licensees to more than 3,000 covering 14,000-plus products in more than 50 countries.

In addition to these broad gains, 1987 will be recorded as the year we repositioned ourselves strategically to best grasp the opportunities of tomorrow.

Our long-range strategic plan consists of two elements: continued dramatic growth and success of our existing businesses (naturally) plus selective expansion into new related business areas.

With that as a backdrop, I believe 1987 will be remembered long into the future as the year in which we:

Signed our agreement with the French government to proceed with the development of Euro Disneyland (for those of you who plan to be stockholders into the 90′s, and I assume that’s everybody, our French project is very important, and for those of you who are studying French like I am, our park will be a great place to visit);

Sold Arvida Corporation, a community development operation (a good company but a business we should leave to others); we are in the entertainment, recreation and leisure-time business;

Agreed to purchase KHJ, Los Angeles, a major independent television station, our first venture into the realm of TV broadcasting outside The Disney Channel (a business we should be in and not leave to others) and one that we hope will be approved by the FCC;

Jointly agreed (with Industrial Equities, Ltd.) to acquire the Wrather Corporation, owner of the Disneyland Hotel (buying what most people thought we already owned) and contiguous Anaheim acreage;

Signed a 10-year strategic alliance with Sears, Roebuck and Company’s Merchandise Group covering development of new Sears/Disney products, Sears promotion of Disney animated films and Sears sponsorship of major attractions at the Disney-MGM Studio Tour opening in 1989;

Developed a year-round program of tie-ins with McDonald’s, which has agreed to be our partner in jointly beneficial promotional programs involving all parts of our business;

Opened our first three Disney retail stores outside theme park environments in preparation for a nationwide rollout (to use show business terms, “a boffo opening with good legs”).

My experience in the entertainment industry is analogous to the sports world, where interest in last season is minimal. Anybody can win once, but the true champion wins over and over again. As a result, my Disney philosophy is simple:

We would rather be the Boston Celtics than the New York Giants. For the record, I was born in, lived in and worked in New York City. I was and still am a Giants fan. Since I now live in Los Angeles, I’ve become a Laker loyalist. So please, no letters!

Some of the seeds of growth sown over the past few years will come to fruition in 1988 and should help keep us a contender (to continue my sports reference) for growth. I’m thinking particularly about the opening of four major new facilities and attractions at Walt Disney World: The Grand Floridian Beach Resort (900 rooms and fantastic), the Caribbean Beach Resort (750 rooms in the first phase and our first moderate-priced facility), Pleasure Island (a most exciting nighttime Disney-style entertainment complex) and the Norway Pavilion at Epcot Center (the best and only backward-moving themed Disney ride – trust me).

All of these will add to the overall attractiveness of what is already the world’s number one destination resort and will contribute substantial new revenue.

In addition, 1988 will witness at least six new Disney retail stores and many movies and television shows. I will not talk specifically about our movies for 1988 because talking or bragging about movies brings bad luck . . . but remember the name Roger Rabbit.

And on into 1989, we will have other new wonderful Disney projects that we hope will continue to place us in the Super Bowl – the Disney-MGM Studio Tour, Typhoon Lagoon, retail stores, movies, TV and some surprises we have not thought of yet.

Gary Wilson, 1987Your company was the recipient of a number of honors and overly kind evaluations during the year, which I will list in case you missed the original press releases.

As part of a continuing survey among its readers, the marketing research department of The Wall Street Journal issued a “corporate report card” in June that ranked leisure and entertainment companies in four categories: familiarity, quality of management, reputation and investment merit. By every measure, Disney surpassed all competitors,
whose names will go unlisted because of prior, present and future friendships with our competitors.

In October, Business Week searched what it calls its top 1,000 American companies to determine which are America’s most competitive in terms of use of labor, use of capital and “the bottom line.” Disney ranked third overall in use of labor and fifth overall in the bottom line category.

No other entertainment company made the list of 42, which the magazine dubbed “America’s Leanest and Meanest.”

I consider this ranking a major tribute to all the Disney cast members, the dedicated and talented employee force that constitutes our company’s greatest strength, but I would emphasize that Disney may be “lean” . . . but never “mean.”

In December, we were named one of the five best-managed companies in the United States by Business Month magazine.

These honors are not directed at one individual. If Disney is one of the best-managed companies in America, it is because the entire management team and cast have blended their dreams, talents and dedication to the advancement of the enterprise we call Disney.

This past year has been a good one for The Walt Disney Company, and we are working to make next year even better. The foundation is set, the Disney name and consumer franchise are strong, the strategies are in place and we are ready to move forward to even better tomorrows.

But I do want to point out that managing a successful company, like managing a happy family, is difficult. It is easier to have children than to bring them up. It is easier to change diapers than to change schools.

We are, as corporations go, very young . . . in our adolescence, if you will . . . with much ahead of us.

I speak on behalf of Frank Wells, Roy Disney, Gary Wilson and all our cast members when I say I sincerely appreciate your past support.

December 8, 1987

Michael D. Eisner
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

 

 

There you go – 1987. First of all, we need to stop and bow our heads in tribute to the very first mention of the young Eisner’s hockey games. And the other young Eisner is going to college! And Michael Eisner and Frank Wells both have mothers! Who are proud of them! Oh, I mock because I love. Seriously, though – hockey.

I was amused that they divested Arvida because they wanted to stay just in the entertainment business, but in almost the same breath he mentions the Disney Stores. Soon they’d be buying sports teams and heaven knows what else. They finally managed to get a hold of Wrather, though, after decades of trying to obtain the Disneyland Hotel.

It’s hard to argue with those profit increases, though; it’s also fascinating to watch Disney ride from the absolute Hollywood cellar to become one of the top grossing studios. I always thought that Eisner’s biggest problem was that he expected this kind of exponential growth to continue, well, exponentially. Disney went from making a few pictures each year that no one saw, to making several pictures that did pretty well – and some that did very well. Statistically, it looked like a miracle. But it was insane to expect that kind of growth to continue.

Sadly, Wall Street never met a reality it liked, so in later years those massive annual gains were still expected. At that point, the cuts began. But that’s several years off, and now we have Roger Rabbit and the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park Tour to look forward to!

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13 comments to Oh, Eisner – 1987 Edition

  • Another Voice

    A great posting (and thanks for the shout-out). I wish I had hours to write a complete reply, but let me focus on just one bit.

    You wrote that “I always thought that Eisner’s biggest problem was that he expected this kind of exponential growth to continue, well, exponentially”. That is somewhat true, but biggest problem was that Disney lost the talent that really could keep it growing. It’s true you couldn’t just keep raising theme park prices and grow 20% a year. And just to prove the point, Disney HAS been raising theme park prices and hasn’t seen any growth (just a huge drop-off in attendance). That’s why Disney needed to look to new businesses for its growth.

    That had been true of the company from the inception. Walt moved from shorts to features, from animation to live action, from theatrical to television. Disneyland itself was a huge move into a new business. But there was a spine that kept all of the businesses together – entertainment creation. Disney made shows and presented them to the public. In the Eisner/Wells era, that understanding was still around. Disney first and foremost was a creative company. That’s reason behind the Arvida comment (and the sale was not Eisner’s idea, but it’s complicated).

    Unfortunately, Frank Wells was the last Disney executive to really understand that. So as Eisner became less and less controllable Disney began to loose focus. Big projects had less and less to do with growing the business and more to do with Eisner’s personality. The Disney/MGM Studios was all about “beating Sid” over at MCA-Universal. The Grand Floridian Beach Resort was a great and needed addition – but the Swan/Dolphin & Yacht/Beach was all about Eisner’s quest to become the Doge of Architecture. Eisner’s yearning for a network was all about his “being taken seriously” as a Major Big Swinging **** Media Mogul.

    But even worse, moves into new businesses that really could have expanded Disney were hugely mishandled. The late 1980′s and 1990s were a boom time for new business models, for new technologies, for areas for growth. The biggest is, of course, the Internet – a medium even more revolutionary than television was back in the early 1950′s. But neither Eisner nor his orcs could figure it out. In the process they spent billions of dollars on GO.com trying to be like everyone else – first like Yahoo, than a “portal” and then who knows what.

    Disney has no presence in video games except as a licensor of Princesses and Pooh. In the meantime, game sales generate more revenue than theatrical motion pictures do. Disney has a few good early efforts (anyone remember ‘Stunt Island’), but they died from corporate disinterest. Imagine the coin Disney could have made had it released ‘Modern Warfare 2′ instead of ‘Disney’s Christmas Carol’ this week.

    The Disney Channel was hugely popular from the start. But it remained one channel – at first trying to be all things to all people, and then targeted to braces and training bra set. In the meantime, companies like Discovery were showing how to reach a huge audience through a suite of channels. Each channel with a specific market, all adding up to huge profits. While Disney has started that recently, the channels only appeal to the pre-high school set. But image what a suite that included Disney Classics, Disney Nature, Disney Features would be like.

    The point here is not so much to rag on Eisner (although that is both necessary and enjoyable), but to say there were plenty of ways for Disney to continue to grow. It would have taken talent, imagination, guts and skill. Sadly those were all elements that Eisner lacked, abilities he squeezed out of his executive team.

    There are a lot of posts out there that try to blame Disney’s problems on the forces of nature, the “but Disney is a business” excuse for whatever cut they dream up next. That somehow what we see today is something must accept because it was simply inevitable (and we’re evil, less-magical people for believing other wise). That somehow a bunch of lights on archways at EPCOT is now “technically obsolete” and there’s just not a damn thing Disney could have done about it.

    That’s wrong.

    Everything that happens is the result of people at Disney making decisions. Disney chooses its fate, whether by its actions or its failure to react to outside forces.

  • RandySavage

    Entertaining post. Is it safe to assume you’ve both (Michael and Another Voice) read the excellent book “Disney War” by James Stewart? If so, how did it affect your thoughts on Eisner’s reign?

    After reading it, it seems clear to me that there was a watershed moment in 1991 when the the execs convened in the Rockies to try come to grips with/explain to Eisner that due to the enormous debt/interest of the Eurodisneyland project, it would be impossible for that venture to be anything less than a disaster. It was the first major failure of the Eisner era, began a riff between Eisner and Wells that would never heal, which in turn gave Katzenberg an opening to set his sights on the 2nd in Command position, etc, etc.

    But before that moment, one can’t help but admire Eisner – perhaps driven by egotistical intellectualism – consorting with Tony Baxter and the imagineers to build an extraordinary park outside of Paris. Eurodisneyland raised the bar on theme park design/materials/craftsmanship so high that by comparison MK’s castle looks like a cheap, fiberglass mock-up.

  • Another Voice

    There was an interesting dynamic going on with the parks in the “early years”. Michael Eisner was a movie and television person. He was not interested in the parks, he did not like the concept of the parks, he did not think the business produced good returns compared to the studios and he passionately disliked the stereotypical Disney guest (a plump Midwesterner). Eisner was a creation of the Manhattan-based Superior Class, a bunch of hicks eating turkey legs caused him to recoil in horror. The only aspect of the park that appealed to him was the corporate architecture and big named architects. He had always been a fanboy and now he wanted to bask in the loving warmth that’s always provided by people who you throw money at.

    That left Frank Wells to really manage that part of the business. Frank had been running the business side of Warner Brothers Studios for a long time and knew when to let movie people alone and when to step in. He applied that same technique to the parks. Dick Nunis and the staff were left in place – no one knew how to run the parks better. Frank also – and I think this is best word to describe it – fell in love with Disney. We marveled at the parks, learned all the ins and outs. He loved nothing better than sneaking into Disneyland with his wife on the weekends. The highlight of his year was driving the fire engine up and down Main Street during the employee Christmas Party. He was, in my opinion, the last Disney executive to really understand “Disney”.

    Within the parks themselves, it was like a bottle had been uncorked. People forget that recessions and oil crises basically covered the entire period from the opening of WDW until the opening of EPCOT Center. It wasn’t that the management didn’t want to do anything; most of the decade was spent just trying to survive. A better economic climate was key, but the burst of creativity from animation was also a huge boost. Suddenly, after all those Glen Campbell and Clinker television specials, Disney was cool again. EPCOT Center had also made WDW a destination for adults. Attendance soared. Suddenly everyone had the resources and the drive to get all those old ideas done.

    There were occasional bumps. The Disney/MGM Studios was driven by a desire for cheap production facilities and (mostly) as part of Eisner’s personal feud with Sid Sheinberg of Universal (then part of MCA). But still Disney tackled that ill-founded project and tried to make the most of it. Elsewhere, the hotels bloomed, entertainment centers and waterparks were created, the parks grew…and WDW became the resort it was intended to be in the first place.

    But then, things turned.

    After several years, all of the accolades and fawning press coverage went straight to Eisner’s head. He really did begin to see himself as a Suuuuuuper Genius and the source of all great things at Disney. He had always liked to dabble in the minutia of the business when something peaked his interest – sometimes it was changing dialogue in a script, other times was picking out the carpet for the Dolphin resort. But over time, these bits of micromanagement became an obsession. Soon Eisner was selecting which paint scheme to put on the busses at WDW and Mrs. Eisner was designing new costumes for the monorail cast at Disneyland. Those that tired to resist soon understood the meaning of “wrath” – and there soon too many of them for Wells, Katzenburg, Nunis and the others to shelter.

    It all came to head with Euro Disney. Here was his chance to prove himself a Master of International Business. Here was a chance to be courted and fuffled after by the biggest name architects, all of whom trying to get a piece of the largest commercial project in Europe. Here was a chance to out do that dead guy by creating a place of class, sophistication and style that was bound to be the toast of the all the glittering Better People of Europe. And Eisner, having spent a semester in Paris, was uniquely qualified to guide this project because of his deep understanding of French and Continental culture (seriously, that’s what he said).

    But in an even worse development, Eisner’s mindset started to creep throughout the company. Let’s just say that certain designers and others – those that had always thought of themselves as Suuuuper Geniuses who had been criminally undervalued by “the old guys” and their “stupid” shows like ‘America Sings’ saw this as their opportunity to prove their superiority and gain their rightful spot on top of the pedestal.

    There is nothing worse than ambition without constraints, and that’s basically the story of Euro Disney.

  • butter

    I have asked this question numerous times and no one has an answer:

    Good or bad….what would orlando and Disney world for that matter be today if it were not for Eisner’s rampant rape and explosion of expansion.

    WOuld it still be a laid back destiantion or would something similair have happened that we see today?

  • Another Voice

    First, remember that Disney was trying to catch its breath after the opening of EPCOT Center when Eisner, Roy Disney and Stanley Gold started their shenanigans. Their efforts forced the company into a major tailspin and drove the Card Walker / Ron Miller managements to spend all of the company’s cash on defenses, paying greenmail and corporate strategies rather than following their plans for WDW.

    It’s still difficult to say what would have happened had all of that not happened. The following is based on the concepts and ideas that were fairly well-developed at the time, some of them we already in advanced stages of design (as well as accounting for failing memory of my old age). Some of these plans date back to the original master plan, but had been put on hold by the economic horrors of the Carter era.

    On the hotel front, plans for a major expansion of the resort’s accommodations were already well along. The Cypress Point Lodge was already designed for the spot where the Wilderness Lodge now stands. Connecting the new resort to Fort Wilderness would have been a “Western Town” moderate resort – take a look at the Hotel Cheyenne at Disneyland Paris for an idea. The stretch of shoreline on Bay Lake would have had a outdoors, frontier theme in keeping in the Magic Kingdom motif of the resorts. You can also see a major difference in the philosophy of the resorts. The “old” concept was to provide multiple price-points at the same resort. The Garden Wing(s) of the Contemporary were along this line. This “inclusive” concept was abandoned for the current class-based resort system.

    The Mediterranean Resort would likely have been built between the TTC and the Contemporary – the spot originally identified for the Venetian Resort. Look at the Hotel Mira Costa at Tokyo DisneySea for the basic concept. There were several concepts for a hotel on the pad for the old Asian resort on the west shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon, the place where the Grand Floridian now sits. If memory serves, most of these ideas were focused around a “Main Street Hotel” concept.

    By now you’re probably seeing a pattern here. Ideas at Disney stick around a long, long time. An idea that’s “new” has probably existed in one form or another for decades. This was true for a lot of Eisner-era projects.

    Disney wanted to design and run the “guest hotels” on property as they were considered a key part of the overall “themed experience” they wanted to present at Walt Disney World. However, management also knew that WDW was attracting a large convention business. That business was also necessary to offset the seasonality of the tourist trade. Yet Disney didn’t know how to cater to 3,000 plumbers showing up to oogle the latest pipe fitting techniques, and they didn’t want to either. So they were partnering up with outside companies to build and operate a large convention center to be built near EPCOT Center. This is similar to the Hotel Plaza arrangement – in the late 1960s Disney knew there would be a demand for moderate priced rooms, but Disney wasn’t interested in that business. So they let other companies, who would be better at providing that service to guests, lease space and create their own hotels but still be on Disney Property.

    Naturally, all those conventioneers would be looking for places to blow their expense accounts and Disney did not want to see them drive off to Church Street Station. Initially, a second gate into EPCOT Center would have been created so that World Showcase could be used to host dinners and convention events. But a large nighttime entertainment district was also in the works. I personally don’t know of any concepts that made it past the initial idea concept, but there were lots of them out there.

    All areas of the resort would have been connected by an expanded monorail system. The current TTC-Epcot line would have extended down to the Disney Village and the Hotel Plaza. The current “loop” in Future World would have been broken with the beam exiting the park, appropriately enough, passing on either side of The World of Motion. A second, “southbound” station would have been built at EPCOT Center – for a mental image take the current station and build its mirror image on the other beam…you can see how the initial design called for this kind of symmetry.

    EPCOT Center would also be the resort’s major transportation hub. Disney was already planning for stop on a rail line to Orlando International Airport – the days when 85% of guests drove to WDW were over. The idea was for a large “reception area” to be built. You would step off the maglev from the airport and check into your hotel at a central desk. While you were prancing to the parks, your luggage would be taken to your hotel. Day guests would have been directed to a large central parking facility so they could just park once for the day and then use Disney Transport to take them to all areas of the resort.

    Other plans for WDW called for additional water parks (River Country was already doing a booming business and Disney knew it had a good deal going) and other recreational facilities. Disney’s goal had always been to keep guests on property, so Disney wanted to bring all those activities “in-house” as well.

    At the time, one third of WDW property had been set aside as a permanent conservation area. One of the ideas that went back to even Walt’s time was a “True Life Nature” tour through the Kissimmee Creek area. That idea kept popping up and probably would have been acted on. Sadly, the entire Conservation Area was destroyed so Eisner could build Animal Kingdom.

    The idea for a studio tour had been around for decades. The idea for Disneyland itself started as small spot next to the Disney Studios in Burbank that Walt could open up to the public. But the idea for making a Universal Studios type theme park…no one was really interested. Watching people make movies is not all that interesting and, besides, what could you do at a “studio” theme park that you couldn’t already do better at the Magic Kingdom?

    In short, you probably would not have seen additional theme parks being built. Instead there would have been a mixture of “secondary venues” (like the water parks, entertainment centers, Discovery Island and Kissimmee Creek) along with large expansions to the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT Center. These would have been well known projects like Thunder Mesa and Discovery Bay at the Magic Kingdom; the initial concepts for ‘Space’ and ‘The Incredible Journey Within’ at EPCOT along with about six or seven additional countries (you certainly would have seen Equatorial Africa built). Disney knew that the Magic Kingdom was due for a major uplift to keep pace with the developments at EPCOT Center. And the sponsorship agreements at EPCOT required a complete rehab of each pavilion every ten years. The “other guys” knew that the future always had to kept fresh and they had planned for that from the very beginning. By now we would have been well past the second round of re-imaginings and be looking forward to the start of the third.

    All of these were just plans and ideas. There were lots of others as well. It’s impossible to say what WDW would have looked like ten years into an Eisner-free era, much less the quarter century it’s been since he took power.

  • butter

    Another voice thank you!

    There are some great ideas in there!

    Just the transportation ideas would have been good enough.

    If all this had happened, I believe that WDW would still draw just as many people.

    Question: Would Universal have been built regardless of Eisner?

  • Another Voice

    Whether or not Universal Studios would have been built is a good question.

    The idea of a Universal park in Florida had been around since Walt announced Project X. A lot of companies jumped in hoping to ride Disney’s coattails. And most of them flopped. Only Sea World saw some minor success. It’s also true that there was a bitter feud between Disney and Universal MCA…although from my point of view it was really Eisner’s ego that drove most of it. And the announcement of Universal Studios Florida was a primary cause of the tiff, not a result of it.

    What Eisner really did was, temporarily; change the expectations for what a “Major Mojo Media Company” was. In the early years, the primary source for Disney’s huge revenues and profit was the massive price hikes at the theme parks. He didn’t really want to admit that, and so he talked about ‘synergy’ and how the all aspects of Disney could leverage off each other – like how the theme parks could “synergize” the latest animate release.

    Now the best Wall Street analyst understands less about Disney than a typical member of the ‘Pretty Princess and Fairies” discussion board – so they took Eisner at his word. Every studio had to be “synergized” to be a damn. And since Hollywood is the least creative of all American businesses – that meant everyone tried to be exactly like Disney.

    So Paramount went around and bought parks, Warner Brothers snuggled up to Six Flags. No one knew what ‘synergy’ was supposed to do or what it looked liked, but everyone knew if you just had to name your next roller coaster after ‘Batman’.

    Universal, which was being largely left behind in the corporate takeover of Hollywood, figured it ought to have a leg up in the theme park race. A deal with Spielberg was supposed to guarantee the most synergistic of synergies. How Universal was supposed to increase ratings for ‘Murder She Wrote’ was never really figured out…and the rest is history.

  • Ask Michael, I am not an Eisner fan…by far, however…one must give him his due. While I appreciate what he did for the company, I must decry his silly, wasteful exploits at the end of his tenure.

    But…let’s face facts. The central Florida area has ALWAYS drawn theme park competitors, ever since The Mouse took root. The weather is perfect for it, and the land is cheap compared to other ideal areas. A Universal park was destined to happen. And, let’s face it, it Disney would do would what they NEED to do, it would be just another side attraction, as it was just a few years ago. During the 1990′s-the late 2000′s, Universal was an also-ran, at best. Granted, they attracted some talent, but even today, with all of their Harry Potter trediness, they are still a second rate destination that capitalizes on what Walt build.

    Yes, Eisner made mistakes (GO.com, the ZEETHER, cutbacks, Wide World of Sports, ABC Family) but honestly…really…Disney World is still kicking ass in America. Can you tell me somewhere else you would rather spend 10 or 12 days???

    HPX

  • Once again, thanks to the the lack of edit, Harry Potter TRENDINESS…

    Geeez.

  • HA! Yes, perhaps I need to incorporate functionality… HMM…

    The Eisner era is really a Jekyll and Hyde thing. LOL @ “ZEETHER”. Those were the days.

    Whenever I rag on Eisner I think of your old videocamera with the pre-programmed captions “EISNER SUCKS” and “TIME FOR SCOTCH” hahaha..

  • LOL!!!! I haven’t thought of that in a long time. Great stuff!!

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