Harry Potter and the $15 billion adventure

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How long can the $15 billion Harry Potter franchise flourish without generating new content?

In December 2011, an announcement about the planned launch of a Harry Potter theme park in California generated a frenzy of excitement among bloggers and media ranging from Perez Hilton to the Los Angeles Times. The blogosphere is also buzzing about news regarding the expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Island of Adventure in Orlando, Florida. Meantime, the official adventures of Harry Potter are over: the final book in the series was published five years ago, and the last movie adaptation was released in 2011. The release date of the forthcoming Pottermore website has been postponed and remains unknown. Will J.K. Rowling and her network of media/entertainment partners find a way to renew his adventures after all?

John Hensler, owner of Sunken Anchor Media and a well-informed enthusiast of theme parks and Harry Potter, offers a tantalizing scenario: “I can easily see Time Warner (who produced and released the movies) creating new interpretations of the Potter books and placing them on HBO: one 10-to-12-episode series for each book, much like what HBO is doing with George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books,” he says. “That would be another seven years of content. Plus, with the long-form type of storytelling, it would be different enough from the movies that it would be fun for old and new fans alike to watch.”

And although J.K. Rowling says Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the last official book in the series, I’ve also heard speculation (perhaps wishful thinking) among Potter enthusiasts that she could be persuaded to write backstories — prequels if you will — that delve more deeply into the lives of her parents or the founding of the houses of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Pottermore would be an ideal venue for her to share new adventures, perhaps through Internet-friendly serials. (This snippet from a Time article about Pottermore is encouraging: “[Pottermore] also reveal background details on characters and settings Rowling says she’s been ‘hoarding for years.'”

For now, Potter fans must content themselves writing their own mysteries about the nature of park developments. Apparently Universal filed a permit to demolish the “Jaws” attraction at Island of Adventure and named the undertaking “Project 722.” John Hensler Googled 722 and found names of people on LinkedIn affiliated Project 722 — all of whom are connected to Harry Potter movies. John is not the only one undertaking this kind of skullduggery — so did the aptly named ParkRumors blog. You can see for yourself some of the speculation occurring elsewhere if you do a Google search.

As John points out, on Page 722 of Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling cites King’s Cross station and boarding a train — hence, we hear of serious reports like this one from Theme Park Insider that the expansion could a Hogwarts Express train connecting the second Wizarding World inside Island of Adventure to the original — as well as reproduction of Diagon Alley and a ride through Gringott’s Bank. (Anyone who watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 can understand why it makes perfect sense to build a ride that emulates the Gringott’s chase scene from the movie.)

Reconfiguring Island of Adventure to make room for an expanded Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a no-brainer. Wizarding World as we know it today is a fun but compact section of Island of Adventure. Wizarding World consists of a breathtaking Hogwarts ride (inside a faithful reproduction of the famed school) and a charming re-creation of the fictional town of Hogsmeade, a location that plays an important role in the books. At Hogsmeade, you can buy a wand at Ollivanders Wand Shop or drink tasty butterbeer at Three Broomsticks.


But inside Island of Adventure, Wizarding World is surrounded by some tired attractions such as the largely dated Lost Continent, which contains experiences like Poseidon’s Fury, where you walk inside a series of chambers and watch some drama unfold involving lots of water cascading around some mechanical figures that were probably cool many years ago but cannot keep up with the slick special effects embedded in the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Ride.

The problem is that Wizarding World has raised the bar for the use of special effects — making some of its neighboring attractions in the park look bad, like a brilliant student from Ravenclaw showing up an underachiever from the house of Hufflepuff. Retiring the Jaws ride is a good start. The attraction was cheesy, and although Jaws remains an important (and still thrilling) landmark in film history, the movie has remained largely out of the public eye since it appeared in 1975 (save for the appearance of some subpar movie sequels and the release of DVDs and related video games). In order to encourage people to make repeat visits, Universal needs to up the ante, which, in turn, is adding pressure on Disney to do the same. Comments John Hensler via email:

It has always been the case that the first theme park a family visits on an Orlando vacation is the most important — because that’s when their wallets are the fattest, and, accordingly, they buy more stuff from that park. Disney used to have that all to themselves; but for a lot of visitors in the last two years, it has been the Wizarding World. So,  that’s why Disney is working hard to reclaim that “must-see” status, with the Fantasyland expansion and the Avatar-land at Animal Kingdom. That’s the real reason for the competition between Universal/Potter and Disney: the struggle to keep the guests on their own property (and in their hotels and restaurants) for as long as possible.

You can be sure Potter fans will provide plenty of answers and speculation in coming months and years.

Meantime, for more insight into the growth of the Harry Potter brand, check out this presentation I found on SlideShare.


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