(TDS - I love Robert's vision: it really is ALL about the STORY!)
So the "battle" in the theme park industry, if there is one, is not simply a contest between companies. It's better described as a race to imbue more (and more engaging) narrative into the experience of visiting a theme park. In this race, Disney and Universal start with huge leads, thanks to their decades of developing and acquiring rights to popular entertainment franchises. Iron parks and carnival rides alone no longer can compete in a narrative-laden entertainment world.
But people are looking for more than the same old theme park dark rides, too. To attract and engage today's media-soaked consumers, theme park attractions need to offer characters who inhabit alluring worlds, rich with narrative possibilities. It helps parks to start with franchises that have proven themselves in other media, such as Harry Potter, Transformers, and Pixar's Cars.
The successful theme parks in the 2010s and beyond will be the ones that fully develop these franchises into engaging experiences, filling rides with so many details that visitors will need to ride and ride again to catch them all. Parks also will do well to allow their visitors to shape and to own their own versions of the narratives that the parks present. Interactive games such as Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom build upon the shoot-'em-up rides of recent years, such as Buzz Lightyear and Men in Black, giving visitors the opportunity to create new and unique experiences on every visit.