Disney spending billions in capital expenditures, mostly at theme parks

Posted Tuesday, October 14, 2014 12:10 PM | Contributed by Jeff

Keeping the leading family media giant on top isn't cheap. Disney has been investing billions every year to keep its properties fresh, and that's not going to stop anytime soon. Disney amassed $2.8 billion in capital expenditures during fiscal 2013, and that's actually low by the House of Mouse's recent spending patterns. In fact, it has topped $3.2 billion over the past four quarters -- and that number is on the rise.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014 9:08 PM

"Spending on attractions is the engine that drives attendance."

OK, admit it. You said that just to upset Timber-Rider.

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Monday, October 20, 2014 11:49 PM

Dear God, My Magic+ has already cost $1.5 BILLION?

Seriously?

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014 9:59 AM

And that's a conservative estimate. The local consultants will tell you it's more. The stories of waste and inefficiency are many. If there were a case study in how not to build software, you'd find one there.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014 11:13 AM

Jeff,

I'm still trying to wrap my head around that. I know that Disney project costs often balloon as people charge time to whatever they can, but how do you get to $1.5B?

Is there some amazingly complex concept that is "under the hood" that most of us don't realize? I mean, the project (as I understand it) doesn't seem "revolutionary" in a technology sense, but instead is just the linking of (for the most part) already extant sub systems. Yes, I know that can be an expensive and clustered task (see Federal Healthcare Exchange Website). But isn't this really nothing more than using a device (Magic Band/Smart phone) to link Point of Sale/Fast Pass/Main Entry etc? Essentially the Starbucks phone app writ large across several systems?

I'm guessing that the majority of the cost isn't the NFC readers at the attractions, but all of the development costs, right?

Last edited by CreditWh0re, Tuesday, October 21, 2014 11:13 AM
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Tuesday, October 21, 2014 11:39 AM

The hardware is a pretty finite part of the expense, I would think. Once they settled on a design for the RFID readers (at turnstiles and attractions, as well as the POS version), I don't imagine that there was much beyond that outside of some firmware updates I've heard about. If I had to guess, integration was the biggest expense. Integration is like the black art of software development, because there's a pretty good chance that the things you have to integrate were never intended to be used in that way. (Disclaimer: I'm not saying that's the case with any specific project I happened to work on at the competition... this is a general statement across all industries.)

So think of it this way: You have individuals and families as these entities that you want to think about. They exist virtually in a ton of different ways, from associations to tickets and MagicBands, rooms and room keys, folio accounts, Fastpasses, potentially cruise or airline passengers, online accounts, etc. Some of those systems were never intended for online, high availability "instant" scale. To compensate for that, there are a lot of tricks you can pull off, but they're not without their problems.

Now take all of that complexity, and spread it across dozens of internal teams, external companies, hardware vendors, consultants, etc. My understanding is that there was some kind of core team in charge of the vision that included something like 100 people across many of those entities. You can imagine how much real work gets done in those situations.

I've talked to some people who were fairly narrow in their scope of responsibility, and the smaller teams who did specific things seemed to be pretty awesome. It was still too many cooks in the kitchen.

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