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Cross-promotion boosts theme parks

Published Jul. 18, 2016

When Universal Orlando announced the official opening last week of its ride featuring a famous ape, some famous people helped spread the word.

Al Roker and Tamron Hall of NBC's Today show donned 3-D goggles and rode Skull Island: Reign of Kong as cameras rolled.

Universal's theme-park division and NBC share a mutual owner in NBCUniversal, a Comcast Corp. division. Industry watchers say Universal has increasingly used that relationship to spotlight its attractions.

In doing so, it is mimicking a strategy of corporate synergy long used by the Walt Disney Co. Like Disney, NBCUniversal has been assembling a collection of franchises. It also has been building a more robust consumer-products business.

"The relationship that Disney has across its various products, including ABC, has been a model of how to do it," said Mark Johnston, marketing professor at Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business. "Universal has done a much better job more recently in leveraging the relationship with NBC to cross-promote what's happening at the parks."

Universal declined an interview, saying it doesn't discuss strategy. "In terms of the Today show, we are always grateful for their coverage of our news, just as we are when other national news organizations cover us," Universal spokesman Tom Schroder said in an email.

NBC shows also get a plug in the parks. Universal Orlando plans to open a ride based on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. During the holidays, Universal Orlando hosts a small version of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke, a former Disney executive, talked to analysts recently about cross-promotion.

"So when we come out with a big film like Despicable Me or Secret Life of Pets … every single part of the company promotes it," he said. "It's promoted on 10 different cable channels. It's promoted on the NBC network. It will be promoted in 20 million Comcast homes as well."

Disney has long focused on having all its divisions, from consumer products to theme parks, work together. Last month, ABC sent Good Morning America host Robin Roberts to cover the opening of Disney's new Shanghai theme-park complex.

The festivities were overshadowed by an alligator attack that killed a toddler at Disney World.

There are so many sources of news today, said Al Tompkins, senior faculty at the Poynter Institute, that such connections are not as problematic as they used to be.

"That's the issue with these mega ownerships, is that they do create some messy … synergies that have to be disclosed to the public. That's one of the keys to me — when they do cover themselves … they remind the public there is in fact a connection."

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