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April 25, 2022

Parks, Politics, and Purchases

Parks, Politics, and Purchases

We dive deep into Disney’s troubles in Florida, then hit takeaways from the dissolution of CNN+ and the latest RWS acquisition. Show Notes: https://www.haunt.news/green-tagged-parks-politics-purchases


We dive deep into Disney’s troubles in Florida, then hit takeaways from the dissolution of CNN+ and the latest RWS acquisition. Show Notes: https://www.haunt.news/green-tagged-parks-politics-purchases

 

Articles Quoted In Today's Show:
"Punishing Disney, DeSantis Signals a Lasting G.O.P. Brawl With Business"
"Safety features were altered on Orlando Free Fall ride where teen died, report says"

Transcript

Philip: From our studios in Los Angeles and Tampa, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. I'm Philip, one of your co-hosts from Gantom Lighting and Controls and the Haunted Attraction Network.

Scott: And I'm Scott Swenson from Scott Swenson Creative Development, and several other places around the country, I don't know what that means.

Philip: Award-winning playwright, director.

Scott: Playwright, director, and other things I've written on business cards from time to time. Right now, I'm in Tampa and that doesn't always happen, as a matter of fact tomorrow morning, bright and early I fly off to the Midwest. So, next week I'll be coming to you from a different place maybe. Who knows? I don't even know. I can never tell. Anyway, here at Green Tagged Theme Park in 30 we're going to dive right in, and Philip, I'm going to let you talk about this because since it's happening in my backyard, it makes me really sad to talk about. So, I'm going to let you dive in first and then I'll rant later, how's that?

Philip: Disney is in hot water again. I'm going to be reading some excerpts from the article at New York Times, but of course, this kind of was, I think, one of the news of the week things for everybody, so you could read the story in the BlooLoop, you could read it in Attractions Magazine, you can read all over, but I'll be reading these excerpts we already have here.

Scott: And by the way, this is not just for folks in the attractions industry, this is impacting everybody. It's been on major news, so guess what we're going to talk about kids!

QUOTE: Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday revoked Disney’s special tax and self-governing privileges in Florida, culminating an extraordinary clash between one of the Republican Party’s leading figures and a powerful company with deep historical ties to his state.

The move, which reverses a 55-year arrangement effectively allowing the company to self-govern its theme park complex, came after a weekslong battle with Disney that became a symbol of the country’s broader cultural fights over education, sexuality and identity.

Philip: This is actually taken from a separate article which I put in here. It's a nice little summary of what it means for the two different places. For Disney, it means that, of course, it's a loss of the special tax district, and it could put a dent in the growth, and it would also restrict the company's ability to develop the land it owns and tap state resources to do it. For Florida, the biggest issue is nearly 1 billion in tax-free bonds that have been issued by Disney. Florida law states that if a special task district is dissolved, the responsibility to pay those bonds reverts to local governments. Democratic state lawmakers say that the interest on those bonds equates to an additional tax burden of $580 per person for the 1.7 million residents of neighboring Orange and Osceola County, which would also have to step in to provide many of the public services for which the area that currently funded by the company. Disney also employs about 80,000 people in Florida.

So, also just to clarify, because I think it was written in these articles like little in-speak, but just to clarify. So, basically, Disney is like a country within a country in this area.

Scott: Home rule.

Philip: Yes. But that also means that it has to do all of the things. So, it provides all the services, it pays the taxes, it does all this nonsense; so, it governs everything in there, but also pays for everything. So, that is kind of what they mean here when they're saying that not only would this debt then be transferred to the local taxpayers, but on top of that they would suddenly have to come up with a plan and funding for running all of the emergency services, road work, and all those things that the state and government usually do in other places, Disney just does those on its own. So, people are going to have to figure out how to do all of that, and it's going to potentially be a burden for the local taxpayers. Potentially, I don't know. But anyway, that's where we are.

I think that the other big thing they underline here, the bigger thing for Disney, what it means is a loss of control. That's not really stated in here, because this is a mainstream article, so they probably don't understand, but we in the industry understand that really means a loss of control. The reason that's important is, of course, because when Disney is expanding, or when it is filing for additional builds, which it will be for continuing to build out that resort, control is an important thing that they need to maintain. So that's really, I think the bigger piece of it. I think Disney would much prefer to run its own everything; obviously, everyone would want to do that.

So anyway, that's the preface situation. Scott, what do you think?

Scott: Oh Lord.

Philip: I know, I know.

Scott: Let's try to unravel this. As is so often true with so many news stories, everybody wants to make them really simple, "it's this, which has led to that." Unfortunately, I think they've completely gotten it wrong, because I don't think they're looking deep enough.

Philip has done a really good job of explaining what is going on, but the question still remains why? Why is DeSantis doing this? Mainstream media seems to want to say that it is DeSantis is getting even for Disney policies, and to use a term that still just boggles my mind because it's so weird, but for being "woke"--that Disney policies really make them nondiscriminatory in a bunch of different ways--is what De Santis is attacking. I don't think that's the case. I think that I wouldn't put it past him, but he's not going to go through all of this trouble, raise all of this problem, and elevate the tax burden on Floridians just for that.

So, you have to kind of dig a little deeper and you have to start thinking a little bit deeper. If, for some reason, they are able to eliminate home rule for Disney... I just want to reinforce here what home rule means is, Disney runs its own Police Department, it runs its own water facilities, it runs its own fire department, it runs its own road repair; I mean it is in a country within the country, the way Philip described, is the best possible way I can think of.

The other thing that Disney has done is, despite all of its expansion, despite all of its growth, it is still surrounded by green space. It is still surrounded by a large tract of undeveloped land. When you start to think about that, that's where you start to ask the question, wait a minute, is he trying to get his hands on that so that it can be sold so that that can generate more tax dollars for the state? It comes down to money. It has to.

I don't agree with him politically, I will just put it that way. But he's not stupid, and he is very financially driven. He's driven by two things, power and finance. So, I can't help but think that his thought is if they could be able to dissolve home rule, and then all of a sudden Disney would have to put in permits, as Philips said, for every piece of expansion that they do, even on land that they own.

Which by the way is not owned all by Disney itself, it's owned by a consortium, and everyone in the consortium has to agree before that land is sold; you know the whole Ready Creek development thing. If they could get that to go through and actually sell that land, then that, I think, is what DeSantis is trying to grab on behalf of the state. Not that the state will take over the land, but that they would start to generate tax revenue from that land.

To be honest, I think this is going to just be a very confusing cluster right now. I think both sides are looking at the fact that Walt Disney World Resort is, I mean let's just put things into perspective, is roughly the size of Rhode Island inside of Florida. So, it's huge. I think Disney is saying, "we are too big, they're not going to be able to do that to us," and I think the state of Florida is saying, "they're too big, they can't move it, they don't have a choice." I think this is just going to be a really big, pardon the expression, pissing battle for a while.

I think we have to look deeper. I don't think we can look at the surface as to what the news media is telling us. I think it's a great way to wave a flag against people who aren't bigots, if that makes any sense at all. But I don't think that's the real reason. I think De Santis sees some opportunity for finance, and I think in order to get it pitched and through to the locals, it wouldn't surprise me if in the near future he doesn't come back and say, "and if this land is broken up, and if it is sold, and if it is developed, then the finance that is going to be raised from that will more than pay for the deficit and the debt that will all of a sudden fall to the burden of the state."

So, it is not as cut and dried as everybody wants to think it is. In my opinion, it is significantly less a battle over, "we support the rights of people who are in minorities or gay or whatever." There's a financial reason behind it, I just think it's been hidden behind that. So, that's my first thought.

What's my second thought? And I think it's hysterical already, Texas has already invited Disney to come there. So, we have one Republican state saying, "we're going to make life difficult for you," and we have another Republican state saying, "Come, we'll embrace you." So, what this is doing, it is actually pitting Republican against Republican, which I think is very interesting. It is one of the first times that DeSantis has ever really gone after big business, like Disney. I think it's also interesting that Disney, there's a meme that's been going around, certainly Florida, and it may be worldwide, of Mickey whispering in DeSantis's ear, "I'll be here longer than you will." So, we have to kind of take this all into perspective and recognize that it is not as simple as the news media wants it to appear. That's what I want us all to recognize.

So, does that give us really any deeper insight? No. But all I'm saying is, ask the questions, trace the money, figure out what the real reasoning is, and then recognize could this really happen? I don't know Philip, you're in the other bastion of Disney Power, and I know they're not nearly as powerful in California as they are here in Florida, but what's your take on this? How far off do you think I am?

Philip: Actually, I'm not sure.

Scott: I'm not either that's why I'm asking.

Philip: Well, I agree with the overall. Overall, my opinion is also that this is going to be a slow-moving thing that might end up being nothing, and we need to just kind of wait. I do think though it does, again like we talked about last episode, it's important for us all to be aware, because what it is really is big trends. It's these big like tectonic trends that are moving. I do kind of agree, I'm not sure if really there's much impact on us.

Disney operates in a bunch of other places where they don't have home rule just fine, right? So, clearly, they can do it. Now, you could say that if Disney had the same home rule here, then the whole Disneyland Forward thing would not be an issue, and all these you know hiccups that happen in California would not be an issue, so that's really what's at stake for them.

But you know, I'm not sure about the land thing, because really, I'm not sure that Disney would agree to do that, because it's really against our best interest. So, I could see it working out in the reverse way where Disney ends up making a lot more money by breaking up the land and then leaving the area; I could see that working, which would just further hurt Florida. But I don't know.

The main points I did want to put in here is, I do think this is also, just to clarify because it might have been unclear from Scott saying, but just for the factual thing, DeSantis is actually attacking Disney directly. Which is obvious, duh, but he has all these talking points that are saying that they bring all this ideology, blah blah, whatever. But just to clarify, he has drawn that line directly in his statements. He also is saying that it will not impact his constituents. I'm not sure what he means by his constituents, but I'm not sure where that's false or whatever.

Scott: Well, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. I'm not saying that he's not saying it's because of Disney policies. What I'm saying is the news media is not making it clear enough. This is a much, much more tangled web. In my opinion, that is a big smokescreen to get "his constituents" to follow him.

Philip: I agree. Yes. I just wanted to make sure for the listeners, to make sure that's clear. He is drawing the line directly, but our point is that we don't think that's necessarily the bigger issue.

Scott: And the news media that will dig into everything else is just going with that.

Philip: They are just going that, I do agree that that's a big problem, that they're just going for it. I mean, New York Times had a whole separate article just about the things that Disney does that they're attacking, which include like having Ursula as a character in The Little Mermaid ride, like things like that; which is ridiculous, that's a rabbit hole we don't need to go down.

I also do believe that this is a little bit of a smokescreen for the redistricting map that was released in like the same breath. He's like, "well, we've released the redistricting. But also, what's really important is Disney." I mean, I think that's really the bigger thing he's trying to put up a smokescreen. I also think, no matter what happens, this puts Disney in a tough spot, and the bigger take away for our listeners, I think, is the bigger trend here that we've talked about previously, but it's really just that it's a catch 22 for attractions going forward, With any of these political topics, it's a catch 22. Like there really was no eloquent way for Disney to eject itself from this situation, because on the one hand you have employees who are diverse and the employees were walking out, so you had to do something to stop the employees from walking out. But in doing that thing it then brings political people to attack you.

So, I feel like that's the bigger trend here, just again going back to what we have said previously, go back to your leadership and really get ahead of these types of things. Like, make a plan at your own attraction to be thinking about the battles and the stances that you are going to take, how you're going to do that, and what you stand for as a company. Because I do think that that's the bigger problem, you might be put into this situation. Just think about it, think about if your attraction was in this situation Disney was in, what would you do? How would you be able to handle it? Because, to me, that's the bigger problem.

I kind of feel bad for Chapek in this case I'm like, there's really not a way to get out of this without getting heat from someone. You don't want to upset your staff, but you also don't want to get drawn into a meaningless smokescreen set up by these people. I mean, there's all these... it's a minefield and I think that's the bigger problem, it didn't use to be a minefield.

Scott: Yeah, I think the reason it's become a minefield is because of a very divisive culture that we have right now, and people have found that if they can piss enough people off, they can change things that are completely unrelated. I think that's exactly what this is. I think this is a situation where DeSantis is not going after home rule because Disney embraces the LGBTQ plus community. That is like saying it's going to rain tomorrow because there are aardvarks in Afghanistan. I mean, none of it makes any sense. None of it is really connected.

Philip: It isn't connected, but I would push back in that's not connected, but I would push back in that for your employees, clearly it was, and that was the problem. The employees were upset because they perceived...

Scott: But you're still trying to make a connection, but that's not connected. You're still trying to make a connection. Yes, you're right, the employees got pissed off, they had to change their policy, they had to be more vocal about it, I agree with that 100%. That has nothing to do with losing home rule. That has 0 to do with home rule. What has happened is they've made that the reason that they're going after home rule. That way they could make it sexy, they could make it political. So, I agree with your point, and that is, as a company, decide what you stand for. As a company, decide what you stand for, and don't be shy about it, be honest about it, and have a stance that is in your best interest. If you're straightforward about that, then when these--well, you don't think it's land grabbing--money grabbing sharks come after you and try to use that as a smokescreen, you can say, "this is our policy. This has been our policy forever." So, you're right, there was a little bit of a stumble there, but the only reason they're connected is because DeSantis and his team have chosen to add that on and make that the smokescreen. That's the smoke screen as well.

Philip: Correct, correct, correct.

Scott: So, I don't disagree that companies need to make a stand and that need to be good stewards, not only financially but also morally, of your employees and of your company; whatever that means to you so that you can find the right people to create the right culture in your environment. Where I push back is, you cannot make this connection. This connection is sketchy at best. I may be wrong about the surrounding green space, but there's more to it than this. DeSantis is not going to do this kind of big broad stroke, this big sexy thing, just because he thinks that morally Disney is wrong. There's a financial reason.

Philip: Well, sure. Sure, fine. My point is you have to be ready for the smoke screen regardless of whether or not it's connected or whatever.

Scott: I agree with you.

Philip: I think that, in this case, Disney hasn't said anything, they haven't made comments. I think, actually, in this case, I think that's fine.

Scott: And because they've already made their comments. To your point, they've already made their comments. They changed their policy and became more vocal about it, so they have nothing to say, they've already said it.

Philip: Correct, and that's what I'm saying. So, what I'm saying here is, OK, they made their misstep in the beginning, corrected their misstep because your staff is upset. Then DeSantis attacked them, and DeSantis, like you said, he is making the line that makes no sense, and that is a smokescreen. We're all in agreement on that. Then Disney's response to that smokescreen is nothing, because they have already made their answer to the previous thing, and they're not going to acknowledge the smokescreen at all, and I think that's a good move. Because I think, to your point, if you acknowledge the smokescreen, you make it real, and you don't want to get into it. You just want like step outside the whole thing and be like, we continue to support our cast members and their diversity, period.

Scott: Well, and Disney is not making a public statement. To say Disney is doing nothing is probably not 100% accurate.

Philip: Oh yeah, yeah. I'm sure they're doing a bunch of stuff behind the scenes.

Scott: They're a duck, they're really smooth on top, but they're paddling like crazy under the water. My guess is they're going to every member of Ready Creek and reaffirming those relationships. I know here in Florida, once DeSantis made his statements, once DeSantis tried to pull home, the number of 50th Anniversary television commercials doubled, if not tripled. So, they're trying to keep a positive view in the public eye, to say, "look, you don't want this to go away from Florida." So, they're working like crazy, but they're doing it, again as we said, very smartly. I don't always agree with everything Disney does, but in this particular case, I think they're handling the situation well.

To Philips's point, you know, make sure that you have your moral stance and your business community, your business culture, make sure you have that worked out and clear. But at the same time, in this particular case, don't just trust the surface, because that's not the real reason.

Philip: Yeah OK, I agree with all of that. So, move on! Our next story also comes from the New York Times. We don't want to spend too long on this one, this is more a trend story, but CNN Plus is no more. There's a kind of a long story behind this as to the whole thing. CNN Plus was set to launch, it launched kind of right after the merger agreement, and then it essentially was killed. But some of the reasons here are that they had fewer than 10,000 viewers were watching at any given time https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/24/business/media/cnn-plus-discovery-warner.html "The near-instant collapse of CNN+ amounted to one of the most spectacular media failures in years, a $300 million experiment that ended abruptly with layoffs in the offing and careers in disarray."

First of all, just the first little thing, I feel bad for everybody involved in this, because that is really sad to have left a job somewhere else and move over to a new company, and then literally within like a week, two weeks of launching that new company, they get rid of it. So, I do feel really bad for all those people. But I think the larger trend here is something we have also talked about that is going to impact entertainment, which is why we're bringing it up here, and that is the consolidation. Disney has said that Disney Plus is a huge piece of their puzzle, speaking directly to consumers, and of course, we have Netflix and all these people. But essentially what's happening, which we've talked about since we've been running the show, is the consolidation. There are too many services, it's too much out there, and then also in order to compete you need IPs, and the way to do that is to consolidate. So, what they are doing is Warner Brothers and HBO Max are merging together, and obviously they're going to put CNN Plus into that.

I also think if you were kind of watching your parent company be absorbed, and they already have a streaming service, and then you were also trying to run a streaming service. I feel like it's, duh. Like it should have been like an obvious moment. Of course, you know all that aside, I do think this represents the importance of people trying to collect the IPs back together, to rebundle them back together, because life is a pendulum and we did previously have big cable channels, there were a few networks. Then everything got unbundled, and then we had the Internet with a bunch of streaming services, and now they're getting rebundled back together to be able to compete against other players in the IP and digital space.

Scott: Yup.

Philip: Why thank you Scott, I love your opinion.

Scott: Here's the thing, it's real simple guys. It's what happens during a merger.

You know, I agree with you 100% Philip, why didn't you see this coming? This is what happens in a merger. Anytime there's a merger and, for example, if one large company takes over another slightly smaller company, and if you work in in redundant departments like human resources, or you work in redundant departments like IT, be prepared, there's going to be cuts. Because that's the efficiencies that they find when these things come together. So, you're absolutely right, that's just what happens in mergers. As far as coming together with IPs, I think they're doing it because yes, they need that control, and control of content is apparently control of the world. I also think that control of the names of content are assets that you can use, you can disassemble, and then you can sell off if you need to.

I think that is something that we're going to see. Going back to your pendulum, this is the great buy-up, and we're going to see that go the other way, because all of a sudden, these behemoths are going to be too big to handle. So, speaking of buy-up...

Philip: Yes, speaking of buy-up, there's another acquisition here that's closer into our little world of themed entertainment. RWS Group has acquired ted, Europe's largest entertainment, audiovisual, fitness, and custom merchandise company. Let's see, I'll read from the press release here.

“This announcement follows RWS's November 2021 acquisition of international attraction design firm JRA and expands the group's expertise to include 360-degree experience design, audio visual solutions, fitness and wellbeing programs, custom-made retail products, studio recording and visual media design. ted services will also expand to include new Halloween and seasonal holiday experiences complete with design, fabrication and installation.”

Philip: There's a bunch of quotes in here that say nothing. So, basically, the rest of the press release says a lot of stuff that amount to nothing. I'll be reaching out to the RWS team to get details, and we'll see the answer me, they probably won't. I don't know. Scott, you actually have worked with all these people, including RWS and including the people that are quoted in this, and I do think it's very interesting they call out Halloween, seasonal, and holiday experiences, and then they just don't say anything else about anything meaningfully. I don't know. Ryan seems nice.

Scott: So here's the thing. I've known Ryan since before he was the big shot that he is, and he is a big shot and he has worked very, very hard to get to that level. I still, every time I'm at IAAPA, Ryan and I chat and say hello. I don't do a lot of work with RWS at the moment, but I have worked for RWS in the past as an outside contractor. It is a very smart company, it is a very aggressive company, and always has been. Ryan started buying up rights and IPs long before it became a trend. What's interesting is he made a ton of money when he sold them when it did become a trend. So, I thought that was kind of interesting.

I think that acquiring ted is, I was talking about this with some other friends in the industry, other people who worked with Ryan and that whole team before. They said eventually we'll just call our country the USA RWS, because they just keep buying; and it's now not just our country, now it's the world.

Ryan’s a smart businessman. He's a very, very smart businessman. He's a strong creative and his team is very creative. This is another growth step for him, and we will see in time whether it was intended to extend ultimate control, or whether it is another asset that he feels he can either utilize for the time being and sell off later. I don't know, I just simply don't know. I do know that Ryan has continued to, and RWS has continued to expand and grow in a very intelligent way and a very manageable way for many years. You can't question success, you know? We'll see.

Philip: We will see. I just also want to put it all into context. They said that more than a dozen JRA design projects will open in 2022. Altogether all our dev companies will deliver nearly 500 live experiences, and provide jobs for 6,500 performance, technicians, and designers in 50 countries around the world.

So that is a big number. Also, it's insignificant in terms of the size of the other companies we've been talking about. So just in terms of worlds within worlds, again, just to remind everybody of this of the scale of things, 6,500 versus Disney World has 80,000 just in Florida.

Anyway, one last update here I want to get to before we run out of time. An update on the Orlando freefall ride. There is the first phase of the report was finished, and it's not good news.

QUOTE: Commissioner Field also announced the report revealed manual adjustments had been made to the sensor for two of the ride’s seats – specifically seats one and two – that allowed the harness restraint opening to be almost double the normal restraint opening range (presumably to accommodate riders who exceeded the 250-pound manufacturer’s weight guideline). These adjustments allowed the safety lights to illuminate, which improperly satisfied the ride’s electronic safety mechanisms and allowed the ride to operate, even though [the teen] was not safely secured in his seat.

Philip: The investigation course is ongoing. There's still a few other phases. This is not good. Just for all of us that the report has come out and an attraction modify the ride to be able to accommodate things that are outside of the manufacturer's purview. That's not good for all of us.

Scott: It just goes to show you, no matter how much our customers complain or get upset with us because we don't allow them to do something because of safety standards set forth by the manufacturer, that is something we need to deal with from a PR standpoint, and not by sidestepping or finding ways around the manufacturer’s recommendations. That's just a given. Safety has always been job one, and always should be job one in absolutely everything we do. It's not about finding ways to sidestep the safety protocol. It is about finding ways to enforce the safety protocol and making sure our guests understand that the reason we're doing this is in their best interest. It's that simple.

I wish everything were that simple, but I'll tell you what is simple, it's we are simply out of time. We have finished our 30 minutes. That was the most awkward transition I think I've ever made.

Philip: We're simply out.

Scott: We're simply out of time, so we're simply done. On behalf of Philip Hernandez with Gantom Lighting and Control, and myself Scott Swenson with Scott Swenson Creative Development, this has been Green Tagged Theme Park in 30.