The Wall Street Journal reports that NBCUniversal is in talks to purchase a majority stake in Universal Studios Japan at a valuation of $6 billion, where the company currently only has a licensing agreement. Located in bustling Osaka, Universal Studios Japan has faced difficult times competing with Tokyo Disney Resort as it previously lacked a signature attraction to bring in eager customers. But in July 2014, Universal Studios Japan opened its Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which grew ticket sales significantly over the next year, ahead of Tokyo Disney's growth. Visitors flocked to the theme park's newest land to try some of its signature attractions, including a flight through Hogwarts and restaurants that sample the series' signature frozen butterbeer.
Universal Studios Japan is also courting local visitors with a partnership with Sanrio, the company behind the beloved Hello Kitty characters. Together the companies created Universal Wonderland with Hello Kitty's Fashion Avenue, featuring themed rides, shops, and cafes. The park also has a Sesame Street Fun World which brings the world of Sesame Street to life for visitors of all ages. These unique additions have been giving Universal Studios Japan a unique advantage over Tokyo Disney Resort, despite the latter's ownership of all of Disney's property.
Additionally, NBCUniversal recently announced plans to begin construction on Universal Studios China in Beijing as a joint venture between Universal Parks & Resorts and Beijing Shouhuan. The park was approved by China's cabinet in September 2014, but the deal was signed this week in New York. Like Universal Studios Japan, the Beijing park is expected to house its own Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as well as Transformers- and Jurassic Park-themed rides. Investment is reported at $7.8 billion which includes an extension of Beijing's subway system to bring guests to the park to increase accessibility. The 1000-acre site in east Beijing will include two theme parks, a water park, and six hotels constructed in a two-stage process to initially open in 2019.
The theme park business has major room for growth in China and Japan, with growing leisure spending driven by increased tourism and a larger domestic middle class. Disney has plans to open a Shanghai park in 2016, with Dreamworks Animation opening its own Shanghai park in 2017. While the Asian theme park industry is gradually becoming more crowded with U.S. companies investing in the region's potential growth, Comcast Corp. has a unique advantage as its Universal Parks feature attractions from the company's major franchises-from Harry Potter to The Fast and the Furious-differentiating itself from other similar attractions in the area. Universal Studios parks also feature its signature "Halloween Horror Night" event where they drop guests into a truly terrifying horror movie, capitalizing on the park's ability to immerse its guests in the world of film.
And with Universal Studios being the top grossing major movie studio in 2015, its ability to build further movie franchises, which will be the base for future theme park attractions, is attractive to investors. Upcoming films include Despicable Me 3, a remake of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and a Jurassic World sequel, which excited consumers may well expect to see in upcoming Universal theme parks.
With the potential sale of Universal Studios Japan and confirmed construction of Universal Studios China, Comcast Corp. is significantly investing in its international growth and capitalizing on its existing movie properties when building new attractions and expanding theme park business worldwide.