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Why Disney wants to reopen its theme parks now

Kristin Schwab Jul 8, 2020
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You won't see crowds like this at the reopened Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Jacqueline Nell/Disneyland Resort via Getty Images
COVID-19

Why Disney wants to reopen its theme parks now

Kristin Schwab Jul 8, 2020
Heard on:
You won't see crowds like this at the reopened Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Jacqueline Nell/Disneyland Resort via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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Cases of COVID-19 are surging in Florida, but that isn’t stopping Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando from reopening this weekend. Though the experience won’t quite be the same: no parades, no indoor shows and no hugging Mickey and Minnie.

So why reopen in the middle of a pandemic?

Disney may not be making enough revenue in other areas, even with the success of “Hamilton.” The company moved up the release date on its streaming platform Disney+. That’s because the platform is still pretty new and cheap — a subscription is $6.99 a month. And the company doesn’t expect Disney+ to become profitable for a few years.

That means it has to look elsewhere, but elsewhere isn’t looking so good. “Disney has multiple businesses and most of them are hurting right now,” said Stephanie Liu, an analyst at Forrester.

Disney’s brightest spot this year was supposed to be its live-action remake of “Mulan.” But with many movie theaters closed, the company has suspended its release. Meanwhile, there aren’t many live sports playing on ESPN, and Disney cruises are suspended. But parks? “They have some more control over the experience and what reopening means,” Liu said.

The company also has experience managing a reopening during COVID-19. Its resort in Shanghai started welcoming visitors again in early May.

And for Disney, the parks are about much more than making money on standard admission, which costs $109 a day. The parks are Disney’s interactive PR tool, key to sustaining the brand. Once people visit the Magic Kingdom, they may be more likely to subscribe to Disney+, buy a stuffed toy at the Disney Store or, someday, see “The Lion King” on Broadway. 

“Parks is a big piece in the puzzle,” said Michael Smith, a professor of information technology at Carnegie Mellon University. “But I think it’s also a key part in the overall Disney experience.”

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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