While Disney’s history is rooted in American culture, its focus for future growth lies outside of the United States. The company makes more TV shows outside the US than in it, operating 110 Disney channels around the world. Most of all, it thinks it can win in China.
Disney’s advance into China has been a model of diplomacy, stealth and long-term planning. Barely a year after opening its doors, Shanghai Disneyland is already China's largest amusement park, attracting 12 million visitors.
“There were 18 years between first setting foot on the property in Pudong and cutting the ribbon with government officials of China to officially open Shanghai Disneyland,” says chairman and chief executive Bob Iger.
The most challenging aspect of the project, he says, was to build something that “would be viewed by the people of China as a great experience and enable them to have a sense of pride in it and ownership of it, meaning they felt like it was their theme park”.
However, it hasn’t always been this way. Andy Bird, chairman of Walt Disney International, says that when he joined Disney 13 years ago the strategy was to create products in the US and then sell to overseas markets: “Like many multinational companies we were in the export business and a large proportion of everything we produced was produced here. It was literally one size fits all.”
The entertainment giant now has ‘Future Teams’ in place at Disney offices around the world to identify local trends and share clues across the company on emerging consumer behavior patterns.
When it comes to expansion in Asian markets, the company is focused on the long haul. “The actions we take today are going to have an impact 10 or 20 years down the road,” says Bird. “When we look at markets like China and India, many of the things we do will be for a much more long-term play.”