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Monday, February 10, 2020

Universal announces its own D23-style expo but, like Disney, still shows no love for Orlando

Posted By on Mon, Feb 10, 2020 at 10:11 AM

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NBCUniversal’s focus on being a major competitor against Disney has seen them add race events, build major new family rides, and go on its own buying spree of family-focused brands. Now, it is about to copy the Mouse yet again, when NBCUniversal debuts its own fan event, pulling heavy inspiration from Disney’s extremely popular D23 Expo.

Using language mirroring Disney's own fan-event announcement, NBCUniversal’s Peacock Live! is billed as "an immersive and interactive two-day fan festival showcasing the best of the company’s past, present and future." The Comic Con-like event will include exhibits, panels, previews, and behind-the-scenes events. Universal Parks will have two panels, including one devoted to Halloween Horror Nights. Attendees at the event will also have access to the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park.

At CityWalk Hollywood, attendees are invited to an exclusive screening of their upcoming Trolls World Tour film. An interactive photo experience will "transform" guests into Trolls. The photo experience is similar to one that had been previously rumored for a Trolls-themed land that was thought to be coming to Universal Studios Florida, though those plans now seem to be off the table. Another immersive experience is based on the upcoming Minions movie.

Many of the panels and experiences have no obvious connection to the theme park division, but it’s notable how many actually do.
With this being the first fan event of this type for NBCUniversal, the Hollywood location makes sense. Both Disney and the best-known Comic Con in the nation also host their fan events in Southern California so there's a proven market for such events in that region.

Since beginning in 2009, Disney fans have speculated about the company holding a D23 Expo somewhere other than Anaheim. A version of the event takes place at the Tokyo Disneyland resort, but so far Walt Disney World has only received a much smaller Destination D events. With Universal’s leading resort being the Orlando location, and with the Florida resort hosting far more meeting space than its Hollywood counterpart, NBCUniversal could certainly fit Peacock Live! in Central Florida.

The company is currently spending billions in Central Florida, so it would make sense to showcase these investments in a fan event like the one in Hollywood. Between 2014 and 2018, Universal, in partnership with Scholastic and Warner Bros., hosted a Harry Potter-themed convention at the resort. While extremely successful and well attended, the resort hasn’t confirmed any upcoming versions of the convention.

Instead, Universal Orlando has shifted to filling in slower times of the year with foot races, another move that the company seems to have directly lifted from Disney where marathons have become a huge event with tens of thousands in attendance at them.
  • Photo via Peacock Live/Twitter
Mardi Gras, extending Halloween Horror Nights’ run, and the recent increase in Christmas programming have helped boost attendance in some slower times of the year, but there are still plenty of other times when the Orlando resort isn’t nearly as popular as Disney parks.

Its "Rock the Universe" Christian music festival was shifted from the busier August-September time, where it was competing with the extremely popular Halloween Horror Nights, to the far less busy late January-February, a time slot previously filled by the Harry Potter event. With Christian music’s popularity now a mere shadow of the juggernaut it once was, there have been rumors that Universal is looking to possibly kill off that fest all together. Disney canceled their Christian music event, "Night of Joy," in 2017 after a 35-year run. When Universal replaced Wet ‘n Wild with Volcano Bay, it didn’t bring over the former waterpark’s Christian music festival, "Waves of Glory." As of now, "Rock the Universe" is scheduled to take place at Universal Orlando in January 2021.

Even with new dates for "Rock The Universe," the extended Halloween Horror Nights, marathon weekends, and the success of Christmas programing the Orlando resort could still benefit from more events, especially ones that fill some of the resort’s 295,000 square feet of on-site convention space.

One reason Southern California has remained the epicenter of fan events is thanks in part to the ability to easily bring in top-tier actors for panels. But Peacock Live! isn’t as focused on top tier talent, instead, it’s focused on unique talents like Mario Lopez, Lilly Singh, Rowdy Gaines, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and select contestants from Ninja Warrior. Gaines is based out of Orlando, others on the list, like Lopez, are regulars to Orlando, while still others, like Al Roker and Amber Ruffin, call the East Coast home, so the ability to fill an event in Orlando wouldn’t be so hard. That's supported by the incredible line-up year after year at Orlando’s MegaCon, which includes almost two dozen stars, including nearly the entire cast of The Office, Elijah Wood, Weird Al Yankovic, Sean Astin, Levar Burton, Brendan Fraser and (yes) Mario Lopez.

If Peacock Live! proves to be successful in California, it’s extremely likely a similar event could head to the East Coast. Hopefully, that would even be enough for Disney to finally follow Universal – for once – and bring a D23 Expo to the East Coast.

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