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Observations and Analysis of Disney in the News

News Commentary from July 2 - July 9

A Medley of Thoughts  

Brian Bennett

According to Newsweek and MSNBC.com, prices for summer fun are going up significantly. Two examples cited include the $43 price to visit Disney's California Adventure and a cost of $1,531 paid by one Walt Disney World family for accommodations and park admission.

Paradise Pier at California Adventure
Paradise Pier at California Adventure

I am probably going to shock some MousePlanet readers here, but I really don't want to make a pitch for lower prices for vacations. Personally, I don't mind paying what I pay for my WDW park admission and hotel accommodations. I think that the prices I pay are fair for the value I receive -- and that's why I go back time after time.

My concern is more basic than price. It's the value that I get for the money I spend. I am very concerned about the lowering of standards at some of the newer attractions at WDW. Journey into Your Imagination, a refresh of an older attraction, is terribly themed. The story is weak, there is no sense of plot, and the attraction is poorly executed. Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, with only a very thin theme veneer is another example.

If I'm going to continue to pay top-dollar prices for my vacations, I want to get top- dollar entertainment in return.

Maybe I'll actually visit Universal on my next trip south. Nah.


CBS MarketWatch reports that the Warner Brothers Store chain will shut down this Fall, probably by October. The reason cited is an over-exploitation of the Hollywood franchise, an echo of what may be happening to the stronger Disney brand in the stores across the mall.

While Warner Brothers tosses in the towel, Disney continues to try to fine- tune its retail stores to shore up lagging sales. The lack of strong box- office results are hurting the company across the board.


Finally, the Orlando Sentinel reports that most of the increase in joblessness that was reported on Friday is coming from the recreation industry, including theme parks and hotels.

This softening, it is thought, is just a reflection on the weak economy at the present time. Reports that I have received from cast members at Walt Disney World are showing very weak occupancy rates for the resort's hotels.

The lesson to be learned? Bargains can be had for folks who are able to plan impromptu vacations.


Florida Mall Faces New Competition

Sue Holland

Built 15 years ago, the Florida Mall says tourists account for about half of its customers. Located near the airport, it is large, recently renovated, attractive, and contains a good mix of department and specialty stores. When I'm in a strange city, visiting a local mall can be a good way to spend some spare time. But when I'm on vacation in a location as full of things to do as the Orlando area, a mall is the last thing on my mind!

The largest new mall is the planned Mall at Millenia, which is due to open in 2002 near Universal Studios. Undoubtedly the many tourists in the area will find it easier to visit this mall, since it will be closer to their hotels and motels. This mall will be smaller than the Florida Mall, with a different group of anchor department stores. The Florida Mall has JC Penney, Burdines, Dillard's and Saks Fifth Avenue -- with plans to add Nordstrom and Lord & Taylor. Millenia will have Bloomingdales, Macy's and Neiman Marcus, so each mall may attract tourists based on their department store preferences.

Local residents will likely try the new mall and then settle on whichever one best meets their needs for a particular outing. Foreign visitors who can find items here at better prices than in their countries will be thrilled with additional shopping opportunities. Whether the typical tourists will take time from their vacations to visit (and spend money at) two malls remains to be seen, though!


Disney World Union Accepts New Contract

Kevin Yee

The Orlando Sentinel reports that Disney's largest union, comprised of food workers, ride operators, and hotel employees at WDW, has approved the latest labor contract. Wages now range from $6.70 to $11.12 an hour, up from $6.35 to $10.90. The slim gains in compensation are offset by a multitude of goodies, though, including the addition of the Martin Luther King, Jr., birthday as a holiday and an October bonus to range from $1,000 to $1,500 per worker.

Disney's newest offer comes on the heels of the involvement of a federal mediator and a failed first offer for a contract several weeks ago. What's surprising about this particular contract is both the lower turnout - roughly 3,200 workers voted, compared to 4,500 in the 1998 contract - and the fact that highest-seniority workers were not given more perks. It is typical that Disney unions reward the highest-seniority workers to a degree greater than the newest workers, as they usually have little attrition and have to live with a contract longer, and thus generally are more vocal about their demands during the negotiation stage.

One argument the higher-seniority workers seem to have won is the demand to limit the increases in healthcare premiums going forward. Usually, lowest-seniority workers and temporary workers receive no health care benefits, so this is one element of the contract seemingly aimed at the seniority crowd. No doubt the offer of a $1,000 check also played a large role in the contract's popularity.

The offer was approved 2,037 to 1,118.


Does the Content King Wear Clothes?

Lani Teshima

A recent article from the New York Times (which requires registration to view) has Disney CEO Michael Eisner bemoaning the pressures he feels in today's world of corporate mega- mergers and acquisitions, where he is constantly asked why Disney is not purchasing more TV networks or other media conduits.

Richard Cook (chairman, The Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group) and Michael Eisner at the premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' "Recess: School's Out" at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood
Photo Eric Charbonneau / BEI. (PRNewsFoto PR Newswire Photo Service)
Richard Cook (chairman, The Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group) and Michael Eisner at the premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' "Recess: School's Out" at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood

In Eisner's mind, Disney is all about content; not the means by which to get the content to consumers. In the article, he states:

"What makes the company different is that everybody right now, the other big companies, are run by very gifted businessmen who are out vociferously championing the control of the conduit to the public in one way or another ... But for us, the main product is intellectual product, or content. And all those words are so antiseptic that it's hard to talk about it and much harder to write about it. But if you sit in a theater and you see 'Dinosaur' or 'Atlantis' or a Garry Marshall movie or you watch a television show in a group or you go to a theme park and you see people react, then you start to understand content. And it is our single driver."

This philosophy did not get past the Times reporter however, who pointed out various Disney fiscal shortfalls and stumbles, from attendance problems at the new Disney's California Adventure park in Anaheim, as well as "box office turkeys" causing a decline in revenue for the studio division for these past three years. While "Dinosaur" and "Atlantis" are far from straight- to- video duds, they will have made far less money for Disney than Eisner would have hoped, especially compared to blockbusters like "The Lion King."

Considering the problems Disney has experienced with its "content" recently, it is with some irony that Eisner touts this as Disney's touchstone. If I may make an appeal to Mr. Eisner: If content is king, please put him on his appropriate pedestal and make sure he gets treated like royalty. And sir ... I hate to have to point this out, but I think your king — er, emperor — needs to put some clothes on.



ABOUT THIS COLUMN

One of the lesser-known features of MousePlanet is our News headlines in our MousePad discussion forum, where we try to direct you to any important news stories about the entire Disney company.

One thing we can't provide in that resource is an idea as to how those stories, generally about very specific portions of the company, may fit into the larger Disney picture. Towards that end, the Reporter's Notebook provides brief comments on those recent stories that are of interest.

We welcome your questions and comments, but keep in mind that all submissions to the Reporter's Notebook become property of this Web site. They may be edited for length or style and in consideration of a family readership. Questions may also be quoted on other parts of the site.

Send your questions, comments, and news tips here.

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