*This is a post from July of 2017 but my thoughts still stand*
For a company that prides itself on excelling at telling stories, Disney sure could’ve fooled me when they got on stage at the D23 expo. For those of you that don’t know, the D23 expo is the Mecca of Disney fandom. A convention for everything Disney that happens every 2 years. Unlike tech companies, Disney rarely gets on stage to announce new theme park projects instead opting for blog posts and prepared videos to put on YouTube. This is understandable as theme park endeavors usually take time. I will probably take the time to write a separate post that gives my opinions on the various announcements, but this post is more about how they announced these projects.
Disney is new to this whole convention business. The inaugural D23 event was held back in 2009, and this year heralds the 5th D23 expo. Compare this to say 30 years of keynote events that Apple has held. I encourage you to look back to January of 2007 when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone at the Macworld Expo. This is a masterclass in how to tell a story with limited stage time. While I encourage you to watch the entire event, I’ll simplify the message. First, “we’re going to reinvent the phone, and this is a big deal”. Second, “before we get to that, let’s talk about the problems we currently see with cell phones”. Third, “here’s how we plan on fixing that, and here it is”. Finally, “let us show you a demo”. A good rule of storytelling is to tease the audience, and not show your hand until the right moment. Steve Jobs didn’t finally show the iPhone in action until 16 minutes into the presentation. 16 minutes. He took 16 minutes to tell you the why behind the what. It sounds simple, but to this day a lot of companies miss this simple strategy.
Disney seems to have understood the excitement and anticipation behind the D23 Parks announcements, but utterly failed to tell a compelling story. Sure there was a lot of content, but no story. For Star Wars land they gave us the name (Galaxy’s Edge), more concept art, and a list of some experiences guests will have in the land. Mickey’s new ride was also announced for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Some details about the inside of the building were announced, but nothing about where it would be located and how it would fit in. With these announcements, Hollywood Studios is now a melting pot at best.
Bob Chapek started off by reminding the audience that Epcot has always been about an optimistic view of the real world, but with Disney magic. Soon thereafter, Bob unveiled what should have been the most significant piece of concept art for this announcement. Mid sentence, he showed off a daring new vision of what Future World will soon look like. Not much was heard from the audience other than “huh?” They quickly moved on from Future World to a couple of additions and updates to the park. There was no framing, just a confirmation of rumors we have heard. This time could have been used to explain the why behind what they were doing, but instead was a brief glimpse at concept art that was mostly covered by trees. Magic Kingdom suffered a similar fate. We didn’t get a reimagine of Tomorrowland, rather just a confirmation of rumors we have heard.
What surprises me most of all is that Disney knew this was coming. They have had two years to prepare this presentation for their most loyal fans. Instead, they got on stage to throw a bunch of confirmations at them. It’s not like they were short on time, they filled in dead space with a live performance. What this tells me is they don’t know yet. They had to “ship the product” at the D23 expo, and they shipped what they could. The reason we didn’t get a grand vision for Epcot is because it’s not done yet. Part of the blame can be pointed at being “forced” to have a presentation every other July, but part of it could also point out a lack of vision.
Footnote- I’ll write another post with my opinions on the announcements themselves soon.