Media and content are such high-profile pieces of the Disney entertainment empire puzzle that it’s easy to hold them in outsized regard. The fact of the matter is, however, that when it comes to a breakdown of what does the best and most consistent job driving the money-making machine inside the Magic Kingdom, it’s something pretty old-school — the company’s amusement parks.
Consider this, for example, for some context around how important parks and resorts are to Disney’s corporate empire. According to a New York Times article published Friday, the company is planning to pump more money into its parks by way of expansion and planned investments than the company spent to acquire Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar. Combined.
“Each of Disney’s six theme park resorts around the world is undergoing major expansion, along with Disney Cruise Line,” the NYT reports. “Michael Nathanson, a longtime media analyst, estimates that Disney will spend $24 billion on new attractions, hotels and ships over the next five years.” That’s more than it cost Disney to acquire all three of those prominent content companies, which combined cost the House of Mouse around $15.4 billion.
When it comes to its parks, resorts, and real-world attractions, though, the company is planning to put big bucks behind that expansion effort, because that’s where white-hot growth is coming from for Disney. Examples include the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge park coming to Orlando’s Walt Disney World that will let guests sit in the cockpit and fly the Millennium Falcon.
“With its television business facing significant challenges in the streaming age, and lots of popular movie franchises to put to use, Disney is spending billions to supercharge its theme park division, which has emerged as a surprisingly strong moneymaker,” the Times report continues.
For comparison, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts notched an operating profit of $4.5 billion for the 2018 fiscal year. That was up more than 100 percent from five years earlier. Disney Media Networks, meanwhile, includes ESPN and ABC and saw a $6.6 billion profit — but that represented a 3 percent drop.
No wonder, then, that Disney theme park chairman Bob Chapek is quoted in the NYT piece as describing the planned investments in the company’s parks as “enhancement on steroids.”
Take Walt Disney World, which is comprised of four theme parks in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The resort — spread across 25,000 acres, making it twice the size of Manhattan — sees an annual attendance of 56 million people. Disney reportedly had to borrow equipment from NASA to install a huge steel beam required as part of its "Avatar" attraction there.
The parks, in other words, are a massive and important part of the Disney empire in more ways than one, and at a time when other parts of the Magic Kingdom are coming under strain.