New Disney CEO Bob Chapek just gave a wide-ranging interview to CNBC following Shanghai Disneyland’s successful reopening day. Topics covered included the future of Walt Disney World and Disneyland, as well as the film slate, Disney+ and more. In this post, we’ll recap some of what was discussed and what clues Chapek gave about the Walt Disney Company’s roadmap for the next few months.
We’ll start with Shanghai Disneyland, the reopening of which was the likely impetus for the interview. Last night, we watched this 85-minute live stream of this Shanghai Disneyland’s opening plus a number of Instagram stories from people who know who live in China. By appearances, things went well. Attendance appeared modest, wait times were short, and guests were (mostly) complying with requirements of social distancing and wearing masks.
Watching Shanghai Disneyland’s reopening was probably the most excited and happy we’ve been in weeks. Even though we have “complicated” feelings about going back, it was nice to see. The entire world is going through a tough time right now, and it felt like a glimmer of hope during that. Having even one Disney park in the world open sends a symbol of returning to normalcy–people going back to enjoying fun and frivolous things…
Not to bring this crashing back to reality too quickly, but it’s worth emphasizing that Shanghai Disneyland is dramatically different from Walt Disney World and Disneyland for a number of reasons. Testing, tracing, and the prophylactic measures taken in China all differ from the United States. As do new cases–Shanghai was never the epicenter of the pandemic, and the city has had no new cases since March 3.
It also helps that the majority owner of Shanghai Disneyland is a state-controlled company, meaning the park has both the blessing and liability shield afforded by the government. There are myriad other cultural, demographic, and logistic differences between Shanghai Disneyland and Walt Disney World. All of which is to say that we don’t want to draw too strong of conclusions from that park’s reopening, even if the lessons there will undoubtedly be applied to the domestic parks.
During his CNBC interview, Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke about the reopening of Shanghai Disneyland. He described the local market there as “short book,” meaning that most guests plan visits and buy park tickets with little notice, as opposed to booking vacation packages months in advance (like at Walt Disney World).
Chapek indicated that Disney is significantly constraining attendance, and that nearly all advance reservations have been booked. “We’re pretty much booked out for the rest of the week. We have a few tickets available on a few days, but essentially, everything is gone.”
This claim is dubious–as of this morning, every day after today (going by China Standard Time) for the rest of the month had both full and half-day tickets available. Despite initial widespread reporting that reopening day tickets sold out in minutes, more availability was released and tickets were available through the weekend.
In any case, Chapek reported receiving countless emails from guests eager for the parks to reopen (that’s undoubtedly true). Chapek noted that for many people, Disney represents “some semblance of normalcy.” He further stated that Disney wants to reopen as soon as possible around the world, but is moving cautiously, responsibly, and slowly.
Chapek pointed to the reduced capacity reopening in Shanghai Disneyland as a small step towards reopening other parks, a “stair-step” towards prudently ramping up to normal operations.
The plan at Shanghai Disneyland is to go slow and steady, increasing capacity numbers by 5,000 guests per week in compliance with government health and safety guidelines.
Chapek praised guest compliance with the new safety measures, before being asked a couple of questions about the timeline for reopening Hong Kong Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Resort.
(Nothing really substantive was said about either. We know from recent social media photos that HKDL is preparing the parks with similar infrastructure to what was installed in Shanghai two weeks before that park reopened. Japan just extended its state of emergency, so Tokyo Disney Resort is unlikely to reopen anytime in the next month.)
When asked specifically about Walt Disney World reopening in July, Chapek indicated that he wouldn’t comment on any specific dates. (In case you missed it over the weekend, Walt Disney World Delayed Bookings Another Month, suggesting that July 1, 2020 is now the earliest reopening date for the Florida resorts.)
Instead, Chapek said in large part it will depend upon guidance from the state and local governments, plus healthcare experts and hospitals in the area where Disney operates, plus their capacities.
Chapek did strike an optimistic tone when discussing the reopening of Disney Springs, which he compared favorably to Disneytown at Shanghai Disney Resort. He noted that Disney dipped its toes in the water with Disneytown, and will be doing the same with Disney Springs.
He indicated that the soft opening of Disneytown went incredibly well in terms of guest cooperation, and hopes that this has paved the way for a “great rebirth” of Disney Parks. Chapek also stressed guest behavior and compliance, intimating that subsequent progress will likely hinge on how well guests do with the new rules imposed at Disney Springs.
When asked about health safety protocol and potential impediments to reopening Walt Disney World and Disneyland, Chapek spoke of cultural norms and environment.
He also broached the topic of face masks, which have already proven to be a lightning rod for controversy among some Disney fans.
Regarding face masks, Chapek said: “one of the things we’re likely going to require is masks for both the Cast and for the guests. And I think the masks for the guest will be something that culturally is different. In Asia, as you know, it’s fairly commonplace for folks to walk around in public with masks on.
That is not the case in the United States. So that will be something that will be a little trying for some of the guests, particularly in the hot, humid summers that we tend to have.”
From there, the interview bounced to the topic of Disney’s upcoming Mulan release, which Chapek confirmed will go forward with its July 24, 2020 release date. He believes there’s sufficient pent-up demand for the release, and it will be sufficiently safe for film-goers to return to theaters.
There was also talk about releasing more on Disney+ (or not), the stoppage of film production in California (including the upcoming season of the Mandalorian), live sports on ESPN, the Chapek-Iger relationship, and more.
You can watch Chapek’s full CNBC interview for yourself:
Overall, it’s interesting to hear directly from Disney’s CEO as to what’s on the horizon, and what the internal thinking is right now within the Walt Disney Company. While a lot obviously remains unknown (and is still subject to change) this is the second straight time we’ve found Chapek’s words encouraging (the first being the recent earnings call).
Chapek once again reinforced Disney’s resilience, and pointed to the (many) bright spots for long-term success even as many of Disney’s business units are hit especially hard right now. We’re not exactly “Chapek cheerleaders,” but we are certainly rooting for the company’s ongoing success. He’s demonstrated more poise and eloquence in the last couple weeks than we’ve heard in any previous interview, which bodes well. Some leaders are forged in crisis…maybe that’s exactly what’s happening here?
What do you think of this news? Think this bodes well for the reopening of Walt Disney World’s parks & resorts within the next few months? Are you excited to see that Shanghai Disneyland has reopened, even if you won’t be visiting anytime in the near future (or ever)? Any questions? Keep comments respectful, apolitical, and on topic. Anything not following these requirements will be removed.