I’m told that Universal Studios Florida is finalizing terms to bring a type of “Harry Potter World” to its Orlando resort. The themed area would be at a previously unused portion of the amusement park. The negotiations have been kept uber-secret. This is in addition to the The Simpsons ride deal I announced earlier this week. (Previously, various online blogs and websites that follow theme parks have posted only unconfirmed rumors about both.) Having Harry will be like a cash cow for Uni. After all, the six Potter books published to date have collectively sold more than 325 million copies and been translated into more than 63 languages. The seventh and last book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is scheduled to be released on July 21st. Its publishers have announced a record-breaking 12 million copies for the first print run in the U.S. alone. The first four books have been made into wildly successful motion pictures by Warner Bros, which has earned an estimated $4 billion in total worldwide revenue from them. The fifth pic, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is scheduled for release on July 13. The books and movies have also spawned video games and assorted merchandise but never a theme park attraction. Back in 2005, a news story made the rounds that Walt Disney Co. wanted to create a Harry Potter theme park and execs were reportedly looking at a Singapore site for a huge complex with rides devoted to the Harry Potter stories. Disney watcher Jim Hill said that the company had been in protracted negotiations with J.K Rowling and Warner’s to secure theme park rights for the complex. But that project never materialized. Instead, I’m told Universal went into negotiations with Warner’s and that a Harry Potter them park deal is now set in principle but terms are still being finalized. Bill Davis, president of Universal Orlando Resort, was asked in February by the Orlando Sentinel about the possibility of a Harry Potter attraction. Davis replied: “Boy, I think that would be great. I can’t talk about what we’re going to be bringing to either one of our parks in the future. That’s a forward-looking thing we can’t discuss. I will tell you we’re working hard to bring innovative, new technologically-advanced attractions to both of our parks.”
Universal has cashed in on other movie-related attractions by spinning Jurassic Park, The Mummy, Van Helsing, King Kong, Spider-Man, Hulk, Back To The Future, Jaws etc. into theme-park gold. Disney has woven its Pixar toons into its theme parks and went the reverse route with Pirates of the Caribbean, a Disneyland water ride that received a facelift in time for the second installment of the movie. Wall Street has been only so-so about theme parks because they have fixed costs and swing up and down with the economic cycle. When it first took over Universal, GE/NBC reportedly planned to sell the theme parks. But the company apparently discovered that they also generate great cash flow. Until now, the closest anyone has come to making Harry Potter into an attraction is Alnwick Castle, the location for Hogwarts School. And the gardens at London’s Buckingham Palace in 2006 were turned into a $10 million children’s theme park celebrating British children’s literature for the Queen’s 80th birthday. J.K. Rowling read from her next Harry Potter book joined by Harry himself, actor Daniel Radcliffe.