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April 4, 2022

Curation VS Community

After a round of Quick Hits, we discuss the recent string of acquisitions and Universal’s new housing project.


After a round of Quick Hits, we discuss the recent string of acquisitions and Universal’s new housing project. 

Stories Covered

Transcript

Philip:

From our studios in Los Angeles and Tampa, This is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30, I'm Philip, and I'm joined by my co-host Scott Swenson of Scott Swenson Creative Development. Hello Scott.

Scott:

Hey everybody, Hey Philip, it's good to see you all. Another week has gone by, and we still got more stuff to talk about, what a shocker. All right?

Philip:

Despite April Fools we're here.

Scott:

There you go. We got some new news, more stuff to talk about, and hopefully stuff that will, promote you guys to continue talking about the topics that we bring up here in our little 30 minutes together.

Philip:

Well, let's start off the show this week with some quick hits. These are things that are not too long, not huge stories in terms of discussion or impact, but they are big stories in terms of big moves in the industry, kind of things to think about. The first is that Mickey Mouse is ready for hugs at Walt Disney world again. According to the Disney parks blog, as soon as April 18th, guests can visit the characters as normal at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Lines and Aulani Resort in Hawaii. They'll be implemented in phased changes. Exciting, we're getting characters back.

Scott:

Yeah, I think it's neat. I mean, we've always said that we're going to continue to move forward and figure out how this is all going to look. You've heard us use the term, we've entered the Wild West and we need to re-establish what's going on. Now that more and more people have been vaccinated, boosted, and some have received their second booster already, I think that we're getting it under control. I think we've had sort of a reality check and that we're ready to make this offer again. The thing I really like is, for those people who are still wearing mask in areas that are not required, or for those people who are still deciding to physically distance, even though it's no longer a mandate, the thing I like about it is, personally, and I don’t know if this is true everywhere, but personally I'm seeing fewer and fewer people being resistant to that. They're just accepting it as if you want to, you can, and if you don't, you don't need to. I've actually seen family groups where one of the members, or two of the members, of the family are wearing masks and the rest are not, and it's not an issue. It is a personal choice. Now we are getting to that point where it can be a personal choice without endangering anybody else.

Philip:

Yeah, one might even call it a new normal that we've arrived at.

Scott:

I think you're probably right. Well, and it's interesting. I mean, Philipp, your business, your company is a lot more in touch with what's happening in Asia. In China, for example, we see...

Philip:

That was always normal. Yeah.

Scott:

It's always normal, and it happened, it became even more normal because of SARS, and then it became even more, more normal because of COVID. So, it's one of those situations where it's just what you do. I'll be honest, I think I'm still going to continue to wear masks. Even if, for example, the FAA decides that I don't need to wear one on a plane, I think I'll still wear one on a plane, just because it makes me feel somewhat safer and maybe that's not a hundred percent accurate. But, if I travel enough, I don't want to necessarily spread something from one location to another, whether it's COVID or the common cold. So, I kind of like the fact that we are getting into that new normal, and this is just another example of how we can get back to a sense of normalcy, normality, by hugging Mickey again.

Philip:

Yeah. I agree with all of that. I also think this, couched in this, could be a little bit of a staffing flag here. I think a piece of the reason that that entertainment has not returned as normal as quickly. Yes, I think the big excuse was that, you know, post pandemic, we're trying to figure out the new normal, but I think the other piece of it was staffing. It takes more staff to have character meet and greets where the characters interact with people. It takes longer, you get less throughput, it overall, takes more bandwidth from the staff. So, I think that is another reason. Like, "oh, entertainment's coming back! Everything's coming back! Oh, I wonder why that is. Is it because you finally have cast members again to do these things? Oh!"

Scott:

I think that may definitely play into it. I think that it's also that, that we want to continue to offer experiences that go inward versus outward. I think that by, by making those, by creating those intimate moments, we're making people feel comfortable again.

Philip:

Yeah. Well, I don't know about if this is making people feel comfortable again, but he next story... Well, I guess it's comfort food. The Epcot Food and Wine Festival is returning, and they've announced the dates going from July 14th, November 19th. That is 129 days.

Scott:

129 days?!

Philip:

So, it's a full quarter. They are now like, Food and Wine is a full quarter. Do you remember when it used to be like a month? And now it's a quarter.

Scott:

Yes, yes. Yes. Well, and it's interesting because it just kind of shows that, A, there is enough demand for it to expand it. It allows them to amortize their investment over a longer period of time. And, it allows them to always have something newsworthy going on in their parks. You know, it's the idea that every theme park, I think, has done when they start doing quarterly events. Not quite as robustly as it's the entire quarter, but I think that this is where we were headed. We reported last week about Halloween Horror Nights and it being incredibly long this year, and this being incredibly long, I think this is another way to meet guest demand. Because the pent-up guest demand for this has been building over the last couple years, and the floodgates are open this year. Let's give everybody the opportunity. If you want to experience Epcot Food and Wine, you will now have the opportunity to throughout the entire quarter.

Philip:

Yeah, I'm not sure if we mentioned this on the show, but just to add another data point to the pile, the Boysenberry Berry Festival this year was extended by an extra week as well, at Knotts. It's the same format when you look at all of these kind of food things--well, maybe it's not the same at all of them--but the concept of you have a tasting card has also like kind of taken hold everywhere, even down to the Knotts one, which is the same shape and uses the same tab system as the Disneyland one.

Scott:

Well, and the funny thing is Busch Gardens is doing their food festival as well. What's interesting is, they have extended theirs to be the entire summer, very similar to this, not quite as long. But, they're actually layering sub events over it. So, there's food tasting and concerts. Now they're layering in Viva la Música, which is an event that was a separate standalone event before, but now it's been layered over the food and wine experience. It's where all the concerts go Latin, and a little bit of the decor changes. So, they're now doing overlays on their overlays to make it so that, even within the same festival, there are sub festivals, which means guests are being encouraged to visit even the festival, which was their reason to go to the park, multiple times. Or, give them a fuse if they want specific types of music or specific types of food. So, I think it's really interesting that it's taking the concept of, "let's provide a new reason to come to the park," and applying it, not just to the park as whole, but even to the seasonal festivals as well. So, there's sub seasons within seasons now.

Philip:

Yes. Again, one more data point on that. The Disneyland also has their Egg-stravaganza that is like kind of overlapping their food festival. But anyway, so moving on.

Philip:

So, our next quick hit here, of course, is the Disneyland Paris celebrated it's 30th anniversary beginning on March 6th. So, we've been holding onto this story for a while, but I'm sure you've already read all about it, about the different offerings that they had in other places, because it was pretty big news. The biggest takeaway from this is drones. Drones are the biggest takeaway. Drones as an entertainment medium is an area where Disney has dabbled in the past, but this will be the first time that drones will be used as part of the daily outdoor show in a Disneyland park, in a Disney park. In the past drones have been used for limited time engagements at Disney Springs and Walt Disney world and for press opening of Rise of the Resistance at Disney Hollywood studios. Disney D-Light utilized 200 synchronized drones for the show at Disney Paris in France.

Scott:

So, again, I think drone shows are great. I think they are a lot of fun. Depending on what happens with them, depending on the guest response to them, and depending on how they're used, because again, they're a tool, they're a means, not an end. They're another really cool thing. I love drone shows, don't misunderstand me, I think they're really fun. I hope that Disney continues to find new and unique ways to use them and to incorporate them with other technology, so that the storytelling continues, because that's what Disney really has always really been known for. I'm wondering, I don't know this for a fact, Philip, maybe you do. Do you know if there's any difference in the regulatory issue in France, and why they're doing it there? Because I know that there was some concern here in the States about flying them over guests because drones, no matter how reliable they are, are still mechanics and they still can fail, and when a drone fails it falls. So, I don't know whether there's a different way of monitoring that in Paris or not.

Philip:

I know there are different regulations. I'm not sure if we will see the regulations make a carve out for entertainment drones. Like, I know that, especially in California, there are regulations on just like individual personal drone usage and being able to fly in areas where there are people, and they're not really allowed. But I'm not sure about entertainment, drones. I'm not sure if they're different. I'm sure, eventually, it'll be developed. Again, these are things that are natural extensions. Natural extension in that, if you're out of physical space around you, where do you go? You go up. And previously we went up with firework shows, but firework shows cost money. Also, they can't be fired off without huge expense, you know, like every hour or every, you know, et cetera, et cetera. But stuff like projection mapped shows, like on castles, those types of things, they can be fired off more frequently, and that provides just another way to engage guests and soak up crowds, and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Plus, you can change them, it adds that seasonality to it, et cetera. So, this is a natural extension of that show. So, I'm sure that there will be some carve out established, especially in Orlando, that has to do with the entertainment drones.

Scott:

It's clearly a capital investment versus an expense investment. If you invest in the capital of the drones or the projection mapping, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, you still have to recreate new content, but you have to recreate new content for firework shows as well, but you don't have to pay anymore for the actual pieces to make it happen. So, yeah, I'm wondering. Originally there had to be a fallout zone, just like there was for fireworks, I'm glad you made that, that comparison. So, I don't know whether that's still true or not, or whether those regulations are different in France, which is why they're doing it there first. Either way, I think it's cool, and I think it means that they're continuing to look at new and different ways to, as you say, expand up.

Philip:

Well, our last two quick hits stories. First, the first US Super Nintendo World will open at Universal Studios, Hollywood in 2023. Not much else to say there, that was big news, I'm sure everyone is aware of it, but we just had to make sure we mentioned that. Another new place that just opened was Sesame Place in San Diego. SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, a leading theme park entertainment company, and Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, have officially opened Sesame Place, San Diego, the newest theme park in California, and the first Sesame Place on the west coast.

Scott:

For those of you who've never experienced Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, it is an adorable park. And if you grew up, I mean, I am the ideal age for Sesame Street. I was five when it came out, so I was the target audience. So, I literally grew with the Sesame Street brand, and even as a grownup with no children, it is really exciting for me to go to the park and to see some of the characters that have been my friends for as long as I can remember. Now that the fact that you can do that on the West Coast, I think is great. I also know some folks who were involved with this opening. I can't really tell too many tales out of school, but internally the buzz is that this is a really special place. They were able to take what they've learned from the Sesame installations that they have done in all of the SeaWorld parks and entertainment parks, not just in Langhorne, and continue to build upon them. So they've kind of been finding ways to refine this concept for the last several years, and from what everybody has told me, if you're, if you're into the brand, this is the park to go to.

Philip:

Okay, let's talk now about some bold moves happening in the attraction space. The first one, which is at this point, it's old news, but Scott and I have not talked about yet, but it is still big news is the TAIT acquisition of Thinkwell Group. Operating since 1978 TAITs diverse group of markets include theme park, theaters, cruise ships, concerts, and corporate events with marque clients ranging from Princess Cruises, Fortnite, World Cup, and U2, to Disney, Universal, and the Olympics. At the core of its services is TAIT Navigator, a show control and proprietary automation platform that maximizes the client's creative vision. And they have acquired Thinkwell.

Scott:

So this is exciting for me because as a creative it's creative and tech smashing head to head and recognizing we need each other. I think that's really smart. You've heard me quite often say, don't lead with tech, lead with story, use tech to tell stories. This is a perfect example of, in essence, a show control platform, a company that is based on a show control platform, recognizing this, embracing it and saying, "you know, we can do a whole bunch of cool stuff, but without the help of somebody like a Thinkwell Group," which is brilliant quite honestly. I mean, again, a lot of great people work for that organization as well. "Without that we are limited in what we can do." By making this acquisition, it sounds like they're ready to expand and they're ready to be able to offer from thought to installation, to closing, which again, very smart. I think it's a smart move.

Philip:

I am not sure if it's smart. It could be smart, I think we will see. Just as with all acquisitions, sometimes they work sometimes they don't, even sometimes if they seem smart, they don't end up working out. But what I was thinking when I saw this is that the pendulum has now come back on this way. There are natural cycles in industries, and of course the end of something like a crisis, like a pandemic, always kind of pushes the pendulum this way. We've talked about this as well, where you see a lot of the companies start to get acquired because larger companies end up getting access to larger capital due to the stockholder nature, and smaller companies news tend to get squeezed when they don't have access to capital through the pandemic. So, it creates opportunity for acquisition, which is kind of where we are now.

Philip:

On the one hand you're seeing like a lot of companies be able to acquire and doing those acquisitions to try and push themselves into like the next stage of growth and whatnot. Then what that does, by its very nature, is it opens up opportunities for niches. So, you see the creation of really small mom and pop niche places that are now coming to fill the needs that can no longer be met by those larger companies, because they moved into a different space. So, you'll see smaller companies pop up, which Scott and I have seen, even some of our friends that we know making up smaller companies. That's kind of the way of things, or I'm seeing. So, I think we will continue to see a few more acquisitions, big acquisitions, in the entertainment sector. There were a few that we already talked about.

Scott:

There were some offers, RWS, and then there were some offers out for one theme park chain actually purchasing another theme park chain.

Philip:

Well, those offers aren't real, nah nah nah.

Scott:

But this actually happened. I think it's interesting that you have hesitancy to say, you think it's a good idea, but I think there is something to be said for...

Philip:

So much can go wrong with acquisitions, you know?

Scott:

So much can go wrong with any acquisition, but I think the theory behind it is intelligent.

Philip:

Sure.

Scott:

I think it's exciting, and I think it's exciting to see. Yeah, but you're Eeyore, you'll never like anything you're so grumpy. You're so grumpy.

Philip:

It's just like we mentioned even about Microsoft and acquisition Blizzard, you know that acquisition. We were like, you know, that sounds good. It all sounds good. Great. Like I hope it works out. But also, acquisitions are tricky; merging two different companies together, and then you think that your target markets overlap, or you think that it's a good product market fit, and then you put everything together and you realize it's not like.

Scott:

So it's not really the acquisition that's tricky, it is the application of the acquisition that is tricky. So, what you're saying is, this could be the best idea in the world and if it's handled well it's will be successful, and if it's not handled well, it won't be.

Philip:

Yes.

Scott:

That's a completely different thing from saying, this acquisition's not necessarily a good idea. I think this acquisition is an excellent idea, how it's applied maybe something completely different.

Philip:

And I think that regardless of how it's applied, it will open up opportunity for some small, like independent, very small businesses, to kind of pick up some of the loose ends that are left in the acquisition.

Scott:

Well, yeah, I think to your point, I think that Thinkwell now being under TAIT, I think that will open up some opportunity for some new, smaller, independent creative companies, because I'm sure that their direction is going to shift now. So, I agree with you there. I definitely agree with you there.

Philip:

The next big move we have is Universal Parks and Resorts plans a housing community in Orlando, Florida. Didn't we just talk about this? Sounds familiar anyway.

Scott:

It does sound familiar, but you know, it's a small world.

Philip:

It's a small world. Gosh.

Scott:

It is a small world after all.

Philip:

A planning application was recently lodged by Universal parks and resorts and Windover Housing Partners to build an affordable housing complex called Catch Light Crossings in Orlando, Florida. Plans for the 1000-unit mixed income development project include a marketplace for classes and hobbies, a community event space, a playground, a game room, a fitness center, a grilling gazebo, a neighborhood food pantry, two resort spots with swimming pools, community gardens, and technology cafes. So, where Disney goes, so does Universal. Apparently, they have to. I just think it's, it's interesting. I do like it. I do like this. I'm not dissing on them. I like, though, that we have two similar companies that have taken completely opposite approaches, probably for that reason. Because they're both doing it, they're taking opposites.

Philip:

So, I have one where we're like, "we're going to make a Disney curated experience." And then we have the exact opposite, which is a basically going from curation, which I had mentioned when I talked about it, curation can also mean walled garden, they can be very similar. You know, it depends on who's doing the curating and what their modus operandi is. Then we have Universal, who is saying, "we're deliberately going to throw people of different backgrounds together, of low income and higher income. We're going to put everyone together in the same community, and we're going to dedicate a significant portion to specifically community use areas and food pantries, places where people can come together and gather." And it's really focused on the community versus something that is a curated experience outside of the Disney community, which is the one that Disney's planning. So, this one is like one in the Orlando area for the community.

Scott:

Yeah. It's interesting. The fact that you just used the word community several times in your explanation, there's a reason I mention that. Yesterday, or day before yesterday, I had the opportunity to be the day chair for a collegiate experience that was all about hospitality within the Tampa Bay area. We took people, everything from theme parks, to zoos, to sports teams, to catering facilities, we went all over Tampa and spoke with people in all the different sides of hospitality. The one word that came up over and over and over again was the importance of building a relationship with the community. It's very exciting to see that, and that what resonates with me in this particular story, that Universal recognizes that.

Scott:

Even though they're not making The Avengers campus that you can live on, what they're doing is they're making a connection with the community and all levels of the community. I think that is a smart business move, because as we've learned, more and more younger up-and-coming, business executives and business professionals want to work for, or work with companies that are community based that are socially minded. It's not the walled garden that it used to be, and I think it is one of those situations where this is a way of Universal showing its potential next generation of high-level executives, "we do care. We do care about the community and the local community, especially in Orlando," which is where they have a huge hub right now, and a growing hub, a continually growing hub. So, I think that this is a great opportunity to diversify in the right way.

Scott:

One of the things that people don't recognize is, when the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened, Universal had more money than they knew what to do with and they had to find ways to invest it and invest it quickly. Otherwise, there were tax implications, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I don't know this for a fact, but I wouldn't be surprised if this is even still just a little bit of spinoff from that. Even if it's not, I think it's a great idea to expand in this way because I think it makes people... Well, just like we're talking about it, we talked about Disney about being a curated high-end experience, a walled garden experience, and we're talking about Universal as caring about the community. So, I think it's an interesting approach, and instead of competing with Disney, it's filling a need that Disney's not filling. So, I think that's wise on all levels

Philip:

Highlighting what you said about filling a need. I do want to also draw the line here, I don't know how I feel about this, I'm just drawing the line here about how there's a lot of political division in the country right now, everyone agrees on this. The one thing we can all agree on is that...

Scott:

There's division.

Philip:

Yeah. There's division.

Scott:

What we agree on is that not everybody agrees.

Philip:

A lot of social scientists have pointed to kind of the lack of community spaces, and kind of the lack of interaction between people that you wouldn't normally interact with, as an underlying factor in that. Yeah. There's social media. I mean, there's a lot of big causes, right? But that's one of them, is that you don't get together at the local downtown street, or at the library, or do these kinds of things anymore. The big question is, whose responsibility is that? I think we've started to see parks maybe say, "maybe part of that is something we could get into and provide those community spaces." As well as like Shedd, we talked about the Shedd story previously, this is also the same direction they're going in, it's something that is a community space.

Philip:

I'm like, well, that's a tricky line, and it's tricky because of just what we talked about last week--Chapek's latest sanfu should be a meme at this point--the old way of doing things is to kind of say, "no, we're not involved in any of that." Kind of like, take your Switzerland kind of stance on the things that are happening. But if you're going to be for the community, and you're going to create spaces that are for the community, that are, essentially, competitors too, or adjacent to the community rooms at libraries, then you have to ask if that is a role that you're going into, then maybe you do need to have a stance on some of the other things. I think that's why it gets tricky. Because it's a slope in that direction.

Scott:

Well, and there was a time there was a time where a theme park would've considered a free social space in competition with themselves. So, I think that that trend is clearly at least being chipped away at, I won't say it's going to go away, but that trend is at least being chipped away at. It gives companies a perfect opportunity to remind people, the fun that you're having with your family now has been brought to you by Universal.

Philip:

Yeah. Exactly.

Scott:

So, it's actually a very subtle way of marketing, but it's also a way of showing how large corporations can step up and make a difference. The nice thing is, if they step up and make a difference in the right way, then it kind of creates a win-win scenario. It's good for them, and it's good for the it's good for the community. I think that's unique, and I think that's exciting to see,

Philip:

We have one last story to kind of try and get in here under the wire, and this is under the umbrella of kind of like new social dynamics, or different ways to engage people at your attraction. San Diego zoos, Wildlife Explorers Camp has opened, redefining engagement with young visitors at a location. The key takeaway here is that, inside the base camp zoo guests will visit a variety of fascinating species and engage on a deeper level by utilizing full sensory and multifaceted elements including, parallel play, opportunities from climbing and crawling around a master tree house, to exploring through water play elements experiences, interactive touch screens, games. So, the parallel play thing I think is the thing that is most interesting here. There is high tech integrations as well, but it is this idea of parallel play and engaging your audience in a different way.

Scott:

So, Philip, help us understand a little bit more about what parallel play actually means. I think it's a great buzzword, and I think we can understand it, but I think a lot of folks are going to interpret it differently. I know I I've interpreted about three different ways since I started reading this article. So, in your mind, how do you view parallel play?

Philip:

That is a great question. This is actually a thing that I really want to go and see myself. Actually, this is one of the things I want to go see how it's actually working. I think the theory is to encourage children to play at the zoo in the same way that animals play. So, like play with animals, not like physically with animals, but as in like, I am looking at the monkeys over there, and then a person is telling me, "monkeys like to play, they like to swing around, they like to do these things, and we're going to now do that, just like the monkeys do." So, we're going to play in the same fashion, surrounded by monkeys. In that way, we build empathy as to understanding how similar to us animals are well.

Scott:

When you play, if you experience something while you're having a good time, study after study after study have shown that this is the strongest form of education. So, I just wanted to make sure that we were all thinking the same way. This is something that, again, science museums have done forever, some zoos, even back in the day of when I was still working at Busch Gardens in Tampa, they had tried things similar to this where there were climbing apparatus within a primate habitat. So, I think this is great that this is getting down to the zoo level, especially considering that so many zoos have had such a pushback on, "well, we're here to educate not just entertain. " We'll call it the black fish backlash. So, they've been terrified to actually say, "we're going to entertain." I think this is a great way to get back to making certain that people have a good time while they learn, not only facts about the animals, but also conservation issues about these animals as well. So, I think that's very exciting, and I think it's a great way to get guests doing stuff, which is always really important, especially in educational settings.

Scott:

Well, that's, that's our time. We are done for another week. So, on behalf of Philip Hernandez with Gantom Lighting and Controls, and myself, Scott Swenson with Scott Swenson Creative Development, thank you so much for listening. Please share the show with everybody you can think of, and we will see you next week with still more things that we can chat about, and maybe argue about, see you then.

Scott Swenson Profile Photo

Scott Swenson

Owner/Creative Director

For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been a storyteller, bringing stories to life as a writer, director, producer and performer. His work in theme park, consumer events, live theatre and television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been providing impactful experiences for clients around the world. Whether he is installing shows on cruise ships or creating seasonal festivals for theme parks, writing educational presentations for zoos and museums or directing successful fund raisers, Scott is always finding new ways to tell stories that engage and entertain.