Can SeaWorld Be Saved (cont.)?

A strong argument in the Orlando Sentinel, from Scott Maxwell, that SeaWorld in fact can’t be saved, unless it comes to grips with the fact that its killer whale shows can no longer be its primary attraction.

Money graphs:

SeaWorld’s problem is that its biggest asset and biggest liability are the same thing — whales.

It needs to evolve and expand.

See, one of the main reasons that Disney and Universal continue to thrive is that they continue to evolve.

Ten years ago, Universal was all about superheroes and roller coasters. Today, it is Harry Potter and high-tech simulators.

Disney has grown and adapted as well. It started with fairy tales and an iconic castle. But Disney then reached out to older adults with Epcot, movie lovers with MGM Studios and animal lovers with Animal Kingdom.

Today — four decades after Disney’s first Orlando park opened — Disney is preparing to cash in on the worldwide phenomenon of a movie that didn’t even exist until last year: “Frozen.”

Meanwhile, SeaWorld’s main theme and attraction is the same as it was when the park opened 41 years ago: killer whales.

And the park is doubling down on that. It’s biggest spending plans involve hundreds of millions of dollars to expand and improve the whale habitats.

Other than that, the park has second-tier additions on the horizons — like a revamped Clyde and Seamore sea lion show, which the company described last week as “a hilarious tale, filled with amazing animal behaviors and splashy audience fun.”

Think about that. Universal has a new Harry Potter attraction that’s garnering worldwide attention. SeaWorld has a paid blogger, a bigger whale pool and a revamped sea lion show.

If Disney needs more than Mickey, SeaWorld has to understand that it needs more than Shamu.

Read the whole thing, and see who you think makes more sense: Atchison in Businessweek? Or Maxwell?

Can SeaWorld Be Saved?

Last week, Karl Taro Greenfeld managed an unusual feat: he was allowed inside SeaWorld’s corporate offices to interview SeaWorld’s leadership and report a Businessweek story called “Saving SeaWorld,” about SeaWorld’s efforts to survive and bounce back from the surprisingly powerful and accelerating #BlackfishEffect (seriously, I think it is fair to say that no one involved with the production fully anticipated the impact that resulted).

Since this is the first real access SeaWorld has given a big-time news organization since Blackfish started cratering SeaWorld’s image, its corporate relationships, and its stock price, it is worth taking a close look at what Greenfeld reported.

First up, Greenfeld gets SeaWorld CEO Jim Atchison to comment on SeaWorld’s PR strategy:

“There is no recipe to follow. There’s very little intuitive about it,” says Atchison. “Do I wish we would have taken a more aggressive action earlier? On an emotional level I do, because I was offended by it personally. … One of the things we had to measure early on was, how do we engage in it? We don’t want to aid the marketing of the film by engaging too openly, too aggressively, too early. We didn’t want to turn it into the film SeaWorld doesn’t want you to see. And the film didn’t really gain any kind of notable momentum until CNN started airing it. Repeatedly.”

I have to admit that I am sympathetic to SeaWorld on this point. SeaWorld had a long history of keeping its head down when bad things happen at its parks, and the bad news always blew away over time and allowed SeaWorld to get back to business. It is completely understandable that SeaWorld did not want to make a big deal out of Blackfish before Blackfish was, indeed, a big deal. Why help the public take notice of a film that will harm your business?

And Atchison is correct, I think, that the CNN airings are what blew Blackfish up into a public phenomenon (an important lesson to all film-makers who want their work to have impact). Following Sundance, and through the film’s theatrical run, there was just not that much public awareness about Blackfish. I have never been in the loop on the theatrical numbers, but I don’t think Blackfish was packing the movie houses. It wasn’t until Blackfish hit cable television, on CNN in late October (along with a pretty good CNN-designed social media plan) that lots and lots of people saw Blackfish and started telling others about it.

Continue reading “Can SeaWorld Be Saved?”