As Vice President, Global Live & Location Based Entertainment at Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products, Greg Lombardo leads the global strategy, business and creative development of theme parks, resorts and live entertainment for FOX film and television IP, including the first 20th Century Fox Theme Park, TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX WORLD at Resorts World Genting, currently under development in Malaysia.
Lombardo is a 23-year veteran of the entertainment industry with particular ‘expertise in bringing brands to life through engaging narrative experiences that forge powerful and lasting connections with audiences'.
He will be speaking at blooloopLIVE on May 1st in London.
Blooloop caught up with Lombardo to discuss his new role and the future of brands in the attractions industry.
Background – from Shakespeare to Pepsi and Shanghai
Prior to joining Fox, Lombardo was Creative Director at BRC Imagination Arts, where he led the development of branded entertainment projects for such clients as Bacardi, GE, Pepsi, Abbey Road Studios, Guinness, Swarovski and GM. In addition he was Creative Director for the USA Pavilion at Expo 2010 Shanghai and developed the concept for China Mobile’s Communications Pavilion.
He has written, produced and directed a number of award-winning independent feature films, including Macbeth in Manhattan and Knots. He has also worked as a commercial producer for large advertising campaigns and gaining recognition with a Summit Award for Innovation and a Mobius Award.
Lombardo served as Artistic Director for the National Shakespeare Company, the oldest national touring theatre in the US, where he produced and directed critically acclaimed stage productions including Macbeth and Julius Caesar.
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX WORLD at Resorts World Genting – “a winner”
For the first ever first Fox park, Lombardo describes the decision to partner with Genting as a “no brainer”:
“Malaysia was really interesting for us – we were very careful about where the first one was going to be and Genting Highlands checked a lot of boxes. It has, about 20 million visitors a year. There are currently 10, 000 hotel rooms and as part of this major redevelopment, of which the Fox theme park is the jewel in the crown, they are building an additional 3, 500 hotel rooms.”
Malaysia’s location as a “gateway to China” was also a draw for Fox . Lombardo says, “You’ve got gaming which brings Chinese audiences, and a growing move among that audience of gamers is the opportunity to include their families, much like what’s happened in Vegas.”
In terms of the development, finding an existing very successful resort with a blank canvas for a theme park was an ideal scenario for Fox: “Resorts World Genting provided a uniquely compelling proposition for the first Fox theme park … There were a lot of things teed up, most importantly the fact that there was an existing park very much in need of a complete overhaul."
"I think Genting really presented a decisive message when they levelled the existing park to make way for the Fox park. This will be a ground up rebuild. With that site we found we had all the benefits of an established integrated resort with consumer penetration, the right demographics for our long term business and infrastructure as well as a shovel ready site that provided us with an approach like a green field site.
“So a lot of great things came together at that particular location; a park that we’re able to create form the ground up but that’s going to be in market very soon with that vital proof of concept. That for us was a winner.”
The Audience and a Rich and Broad Experience
Lombardo describes the broad audience demographic for the new park: “One of the things that we’ve seen – Asia is obviously a very big place – but in general something that really holds the region together from a consumer perspective is that it’s family orientated. We want to create a true 360 degree experience in the park that’s going to speak to multi generations who attend.
"We’re going to need to have a mix of attractions that cater to very young children and their grandparents, who are going to be in that coterie of people who are with them, and that means that we have to provide a very rich and broad experience for a very wide demographic.”
In terms of interactivity and technology, there will need to be “a high degree of interactivity in the park. The challenge of interactivity has always been finding technology that is inclusive and intuitive. Any time that you are too overt with technology it puts up a curtain between us and the audience and that’s what we’re trying to avoid. We’re trying to build a very media rich intuitively technical environment.”
In Asia, where mobile phone penetration can top 100% in some countries, visitors will expect to be interacting with theme parks through their mobile devices which have become a ubiquitous and indispensable part of every day life.
“We need to talk to them in that way and we have to introduce this very intuitive way of speaking to them at that level. So in the attractions there’s obviously going to be a high degree of media but also it’s in the queue line and when they’re waiting to order food. We want to allow them to have a comprehensive experience that not only wraps them in the stories of the IP that Fox is trying to bring to life and fundamentally creates a family environment, but also in an overall guest experience that is easy and meets them in a place where they function.”
The Content; A Park that's More than the Sum of its Parts
Fox is setting their sights high in terms of the immersive themed environment that they’re hoping to create. Lombardo says, “We’re really truly trying to build heavily themed environments to wrap people in; to look at the details and those small moments of discovery that are going to cause family audiences to stay and dwell. The win for us is going to be parents finally having to drag their kids out of the Rio Land and take them over to the next thing where they’re going to get lost and then have to be dragged to the next location.”
A theme park based solely on unconnected attractions is not the aim:
“The danger of that approach is that you just find yourself running from ride to ride. We don’t want to make the park about just the attractions – we’re obviously focused on making them very exciting and engaging and unique but we want to be a park that’s more than the rides, more than the sum of its parts.”
Although TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX WORLD at Resorts World Genting won’t be getting a waterpark due to the cool climatic conditions, waterparks are definitely on the agenda for future FOX parks. Lombardo says, “We are very interested in waterparks and it is something that is a key part of our overall strategy and we are looking at other locations but this particular location I don’t think will ever be the right spot for a waterpark.”
Creating Theme Park DNA
At present FOX is in the conceptual and master planning phase of the Malaysian theme park, but other theme park developments are definitely on the radar:
“It’s our strategy to use this as a template to create the DNA of a park model that will be able to be taken to a variety of locations throughout the world. Getting it right the first time is a really important part of our work right now.
“We certainly don’t want to create a cookie cutter model but we’ll certainly be creating a catalogue of attractions with this park, and we’ll leverage them as appropriate when it comes to regional interest sensitivities and IP strength. We’ll look to then leverage that catalogue as appropriate in other locations but we also need to make each of these destinations somewhat unique. What is unique about FOX and how do we tell the stories that people know and recognise?
“You want to have that sense of place so if someone goes to the first FOX park in Malaysia, or they go to a park in 5 years in China or Indonesia or Brazil or anywhere in the world, the DNA is there. They’ll certainly know that they’re inside the home of Twentieth Century Fox, but there will obviously be a variety of attractions that differ and uniquely suited to that regional audience.
“Audiences that are coming to theme parks now are very different from the audiences that were in the first waves coming to Disney and Universal. I think that it’s an opportunity for us to speak to a next generation of theme park goers in these emerging markets.
“The early success of this park will determine that future, but we are very keen right now and actively looking for sites and partners in various parts of the world. Certainly our focus right now is on Asia… it’s such a vital market place that it gives us a chance to really focus our attention on building a next generation theme park that is going to speak to those consumers."
Lombardo also cites Russia, Indonesia and India as interesting new markets and also “at some point we’re going to have start thinking about a location in the US”, but he is particularly interested in Brazil and the effect that the Olympics and World Cup could have in the market.
“I worked on a couple of pavilions at the Expo in Shanghai and I saw how that major event changed the way that the consumers there looked at entertainment and raised their expectations. The Olympics came right before that and the two events really helped prepare the Chinese market for the next wave of development. I’m hoping that we’re going to get the same type of opportunities in Brazil. It’s a place that we’re very keen on.”
Could a ‘Rio’ Fox theme park in Rio be in the cards?
“Rio has been a really great success story for us from our perspective it has such terrific potential in a park environment – a terrific exotic location, great characters and the next film is going to broaden the adventure and build upon the success of the first.”
An IP portfolio: Brands which are "Part of People's Vernacular"
In terms of selecting the IP to leverage at a theme park, Lombardo acknowledges that he is fortunate to have Fox’s stable of titles to cherry pick from in order to create an experience tailored for a local audience:
“We’re lucky that we have IP that speaks to a very broad demographic. There are a lot of different properties that we can bring into the mix in a park that will ensure that we’re speaking to this multigenerational family that were looking to attract.”
Those IPs include animated films like Ice Age and Rio that provide that “youth touch point with the very young through tweens”, action and science fiction titles such as Alien, Predator, Night at the Museum and Planet of the Apes which have become “part of peoples vernacular”, and a host of incredible television properties as well.
A Unique Story; Home is Where the Brand Is
So will each Fox theme park have its own identity and story? Lombardo says that “It’s certainly a question that we’re asking ourselves right now. I think that the safe answer there is that it’s going to have to.
“I came from doing a lot of brand work when I was at BRC and one of the things that is really unique about those experiences is that for a brand like Bacardi or Guinness, they have to be at the home of the brand. You can’t do the Guinness Storehouse anywhere else other than Dublin; you can’t do the Heineken Experience anywhere other than Amsterdam or the Bacardi Experience anywhere other than Puerto Rico."
This authenticity of both brand and location is something that is going to be essential for Fox theme parks:
“You want to know that if you’re in Malaysia it may be Fox park but its uniquely suited to Malaysia and that audience, and if you’re in Brazil certainly you’re going to leverage elements of our stories that are going to really be unique to that audience. If we were going to a park in Brazil for instance Rio is going to play a central part, so our franchise Rio is going to be a much bigger presence there than it would be elsewhere. But more so than that, everything about the park has to have a unique story – we’re going to have to tell that unique story and still make it a Fox park.”
Live Shows and a 360 Degree Experience
In addition to development of full theme parks, Lombardo oversees the creation of live shows also drawing on Fox ’s IP. The Ice Age Arena show has been the first of these ventures capitalising on the films which have been the highest grossing international animated franchise of all time, with a huge fan base in Asia. With Ice Age 5 due out in 2016, the live arena show, which plays to audiences of 5, 000, is set to tour across Russia and Asia with continued success.
Lombardo points out that the live shows are “another great way to provide our consumers with a 360 degree experience … we do have another live show we’ll be announcing soon. We’re developing plans to expand the live entertainment side of the business.” He adds that although “our focus is certainly on Fox branded theme parks now, that’s a business that is supported by a lot of other touch points which are just as vital to us.”
In addition to huge capacity arena shows, Fox has also developed smaller scale attractions for venues like zoos or museums which provide an opportunity for ongoing interaction with audiences between box office releases. Fox has just opened a Rio attraction at San Diego Zoo, developed in partnership with SimEx-Iwerks. The attractions include a Macau exhibit prior to the film, providing education opportunities as well as being what Lombardo describes as “a great way to broaden that brand or IP in the most appropriate way.”
He concludes that “There’s just a lot of great opportunities out there for us that don’t necessarily involve a massive theme park so we try to take advantage of all those.”
The Future of IP and the Appetite for Authenticity
So where does Lombardo see the future of IP going? Will the trend to create attractions from existing IP burn out? He thinks not: “As a developer the question is always ‘is a brand or IP worth it?’ I think consumers have resoundingly said ‘Yes!’ and developers are listening.
“The real marker of that is in China where you have a growing middle class consumer with an enormous appetite for authenticity. They want the real thing and there’s a growing level of sophistication with those consumers that matches their growing spending power.
“I see an IP universe out there and that’s a great universe to live in because for us we don’t want to just repeat the stories that you see on film and TV, we want to use that role as a stepping stone to tell more stories and expand that universe and hopefully give the consumer a chance to broaden their relationship with that brand that they know and love very much. I’m very optimistic about it.”
All images kind courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. “Rio.” ™ ©2011 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
See Greg at blooloopLIVE on May 1st in London.