It was not until my first visit of Walt Disney World in Orlando last year that I realized Disney’s genius. I was born when the Disney empire was already big and I always took it for granted. Even when I started working in the industry I would look at Disney as an industry mammoth and wouldn’t pay too much attention to what they were doing (it doesn’t help that I was born in Paris and then lived in Hong Kong, where Disney operates two of its less successful parks). But that day when I raced like a kid through Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, everything changed; I was struck by the Disney magic. And this priceless infographics from 1957 I just stumbled across explains why…
Disney is a machine and it all revolves around “Creative Talent”. On this chart Walt Disney Studio is in the heart of the business and provides material for comic books, characters for merchandise licensing, art for record jackets and rides for theme parks. As me know creativity is sometimes difficult to get in Asia (and particularly in China), but for Disney this is what got the empire started. It is in their DNA and transpires in everything they do. The recent example of Frozen is quite relevant. After so many years of making princess stories Disney is still able to take the whole world by surprise with a completely new approach (from Creative Talent), which now impacts the entire business, from merchandise licensing to theme parks and music.
Disney’s genius is also in how the different businesses are interconnected to each others, be it theme parks providing customers for TV commercials or TV plugging theme parks. Although not entirely relevant in 2014 one can see that it can easily be applied to Disney’s new businesses such as digital, PIXAR, etc. Because this runs in their veins since the 50’s, Disney knows better than anyone else how to create these synergies.
I like that Disney calls its production “Theatrical Films”. To me it says a lot about the intent of their content to be very staged and highly entertaining. Theatre plays are based on strong plots with rich characters and this is essentially what has made Disney’s success over the years, from Snow White to Frozen.
When I look at our industry today I don’t see anyone capable of applying this model, and certainly not in China despite what Wanda and all its followers are saying about their cultural tourism city model relying on their own IP and content. One exception though could come from a small town in Belgium, at the border of my home country, where Steve Van Den Kerkhof has been slowly building the Plopsa Group based on a strong synergy between Studio 100 animation studios and Plopsa theme parks. I am off to De Panne soon to check it out. Stay tuned.