At the time of this article’s publication, it is still necessary to physically be inside a Disney Theme Park in order to get the baseline Disney Theme Park experience. But it looks like Disney’s CEO, Bob Chapek, wants to stop that in the near future via his “Next-Generation Storytelling” initiative.
Since its inception, and, really, since the adoption of the all-inclusive Theme Park Tickets, the Walt Disney World Resort has continued to raise ticket prices almost purely based on the rate of inflation and–on a scale relatively subordinate to inflation–additional rising factors such as increases in taxes, cost of labor, and operation of innovative quality experiences. But the powers at be are beginning to realize that they can take advantage of the assumed demand for Theme Park experiences to charge a lot more for what is available, and this dive into the Metaverse will only lead to higher prices.
I argue that despite the prices already being extremely high relative to other vacation options of equal quality, the division of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products (DPEP) has had a history of adhering to an incentive to actually curb the cost potential of Theme Park Tickets at Disneyland and Walt Disney World as much as logically possible. Why? Because they need to continue to be understanding of the fact that their Resorts are physical destinations that people need to get to.
But, if Bob Chapek gets his way, that’s all about to change. In an interview with Deadline, he said the following:
“We wish every person would have the opportunity to come to our parks, but we realize that’s not a reality for some people. In order to reach the 90% of people that will never ever be able to get to a Disney park, we have before us an opportunity to turn what was a movie-service platform to an experiential platform and give them the ability to ride Haunted Mansion from a virtual standpoint. The utility isn’t just to have the same experience. Maybe we’ll give them the opportunity what every single person in the park wants to do, and unfortunately too many of them do it, just to get off the attraction. See how it works, see how those ghost dancers move…We want to give people the ability to experience digitally, something that’s akin to a physical experience that they necessarily can’t be at that place in that time.”
Read More: Chapek Avoids the ‘M Word’ in Disney’s Plans
Now, Chapek claimed that these virtual experiences would be built as supplementary experiences based on people’s in-Park experience. But, eventually, this will mean that there are going to be two groups of Disney Parks fans that form out of this innovation. The ones who settle for the virtual experience and those who can still pay for the real thing.
Imagine one day paying a fraction of the cost of a normal Disney Theme Park Ticket and stepping into some Disney+-driven version of Occulus, some variant of the extra-immersive Virtuix Omni VR game setups pictured below, or even the Star Trek holodeck. No need to worry about feeling claustrophobic amid the smelly crowds, no need to factor in the costs of food and drinks to your day, and no need to worry about some clueless dad or “Disney Adult” influencer ruining a dark ride or fireworks experience with their smartphones. No need to worry about travel and hotel costs!
It is not going to be that good at first, but eventually, the technology could very well evolve to an affordability/innovation apex where the virtual experience is arguably better for Guests on a certain budget than what they can experience today. However, the same will also be able to be said for the “real life” experience, and that cost is going to be much higher.
Disney will longer be dependent upon the requirement of physically packing the Parks and Hotels with Guests, which consequentially has required them to maintain Theme Park Ticket prices and Resort Hotel rates in a realm of probable affordability.
What Chapek’s “Next-Generation Storytelling” aims to do, at least from this writer’s perspective, is lower the common-baseline Disney Park experience under the morally-praiseworthy guise of “increased accessibility.” It will no longer be necessary to make the trip to Florida, California, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, or Shanghai to immerse oneself in Theme Parks. That means that the current common-baseline experience–the standard requirement of being physically present in Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disneyland Park, Parc Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, Walt Disney Studios Park, Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Shanghai Disneyland–will then be treated as an automatic premium, relieving DPEP of any sense of need to keep prices lower than they could be.
In fact, the same thing could probably be said for in-person sporting events, given The Walt Disney Company’s desire to retain ESPN, ABC, and its foothold in the world of sports. Imagine what the cost of Chicago Bulls tickets at the United Center would become if it was no longer necessary to be physically in the arena for fans to get the common-baseline game experience.
Disney+ has already experienced this type of transformation. The common-baseline subscription used to be a quality, ad-free experience. Now that Disney has elected to add an ad-supported tier, the previous Disney+ standard suddenly became, literally, Disney+ Premium with an increased subscription cost.
Chapek and his Chief Financial Officer, Christine McCarthy, have also already experimented with this “Quality over Quantity” view of Theme Park Guests in their decision to create new shortages in Park accessibility through the capacity restrictions and Theme Park Reservations and replace the once-free FastPass+ system with the extra-cost Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane options. The result so far has proven that they are able to get more money out of a lower number of Guests.
This writer has also previously pointed out that Chapek’s decision to grant preferential Park access to one-off vacationing families and increase blackout dates for Annual Passholders (APs) is based on the fact that cross-country vacationing families are libel to spend far more money over the course of a five day period than APs, who are more liable to be local and treat the Parks as their “playground.” But once again, he pitched his perspective under the guise of “increasing accessibility.”
The point of this article is not to necessarily antagonize Chapek or his leadership’s innovative decisions. It is only a matter of time before somebody truly taps into the potential of a metaverse experience, and, as a stockholder, I am going to be rooting for The Walt Disney Company to prove it can be the best. Plus, the increase in quality of the now-premium experience will continue to be expected of DPEP. But I can’t help but see this kind of future come to fruition, nor can I help find the idea of physical presence no longer being the core requirement of life experiences incredibly concerning, Disney-related or otherwise.
Like the first Nixon administration taking the US Dollar off the Gold Standard, I see Chapek’s desire to take Disney’s Theme Park Experience off of the “In-Person Standard” as a ticket to its own kind of stagflation while the commodity once used to back it, the real-world experience, begins a skyrocketing climb further and further out of reach. But, boy, do I hope against hope that I’m wrong.
No matter what technological innovations and experiences await us in the future, nothing will top the intrinsic value of a physical, in-person experience. A company, culture, and society that does not recognize that value and retain it as the standard for measuring any experiences it delivers is all the lesser for it.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s and may not reflect the sentiments of Disney Fanatic as a whole.