Thursday, April 03, 2008

Ten Steps to a Better EPCOT: Step No. 5

Step No. 5: Capitalize

Walt Disney Company CFO Tom Staggs and his group can rest easy -- this kind of "capitalization" doesn't require heft conversion of the company's resources into cash to fund new projects at Epcot. While that kind of capitalization would be fantastic, it's not in the cards anytime soon, and besides, the idea behind these 10 steps is that they should be inexpensive.

This one certainly fits that bill.

Back in 1994, just 12 years after EPCOT opened, Disney decided to change the name of its most ambitious theme park. EPCOT Center became, first, Epcot '94. Then Epcot '95. Finally in 1996, slightly saner heads prevailed and the idea of changing the name every year, even if it was just an abbreviated year extension, was dropped.

EPCOT Center became just little ol' Epcot.

In fact, it's been Epcot longer than it ever was EPCOT Center.

The funny thing is, that EPCOT Center name stuck. Most guests always shortened the name "EPCOT Center" to just "Epcot" when speaking. But Google the words "EPCOT Center," and you'll come up with more than 1.5 million entries. Pick up a travel guide, and quite often you'll find the name "EPCOT Center" being used where "Epcot" is actually more appropriate.

Why hasn't the name change ever really taken hold?

My theory is this: Everyone loved being able to point out that EPCOT was an acronym. It meant something. Yes, we all know ... those groan-worthy old tram-driver puns aside, it stood for (all together, everyone!) "Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow."

And that was grand.

EPCOT had meaning, even if the idea behind that meaning was pretty vague. As an acronym, "EPCOT" had a purpose. There was a point to this oddity of a theme park. Even if you didn't know the words, EPCOT had a definition.

It's important for a place to be definable. "L.A." is always "Ellay," but we know it means "Los Angeles." The City of Angels. Lost Angeles. Lost Angels. Whatever joke you want to make of the initials, they are meaningful.

"I (Heart) NYC" means something because we understand that "N.Y.C." stands for something important. We all know what it is.

Imagine if we were flying out to "La." Or we were going to spend a weekend in "Nyc." Or heading over the Atlantic to visit friends in "The Uk."

EPCOT was more than a jumble of letters, it was an identity.
Epcot is a jumble of letters. A nonsense word. There's no there there.

Has anyone ever asked you, "What do you stand for?" Well, then, pity poor Epcot. It literally stands for nothing. And that's a problem that's easily remedied.

Once it stands for something again, this amazing park will have a better chance of slowly regaining an identity, one with meaning behind it.

It makes little difference whether "Center" follows EPCOT. Now that the aforementioned Mr. Staggs has made a little project out of creating pocket change for Disney by selling off the hard-won land on which Walt Disney World sits, EPCOT is no longer in the center of anything, not literally. So, go ahead and ditch the "Center."

Perhaps no one at Disney never really cared to notice before, but EPCOT matters.


Matt said...

Well, this post hits to the heart of the matter... a general loss of direction by those in charge of the park.

Every one of your posts on this site references this in some way (which you've commented on before), and it's a tough one to solve. Obviously the name should be representative of what's inside, but mgmt doesn't seem to have a direction for what's inside anymore - obviously it means a focus on the future, but by land, sea, air, space, general communication, world travel, etc... it really covers a lot. Especially now, with mgmt trying to incorporate Disney characters into everything.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that EPCOT Center should never have lost it's name - if nothing else, it's a brand, a strong brand, and as you said, holds meaning. As far as what's in the parks, well, that's harder. Now that we're living in "the future" (with technology changing so fast), it's harder to maintain hard and fast attractions that discuss what's on the horizon without being too 'fantasy'. EPCOT (to me) was always representative of an idyllic future that tried to solve the world's problems (mainly through technology) but that seemed attainable. Now, you can see what MIT or DARPA is cooking any minute of the day on YouTube. It's a different world now, and if the original attractions had kept their original themes, yet tried to maintain modernity with the times, they'd be changing every week. Not a good model for a theme park trying to sell stuff associated with memorable attractions and a static brand. Nevertheless, don't get me wrong, I loved all of the original pavilions and what they represented - I would go back to that time everyday if I could... but this is because I loved that time in history, when we were on the edge of real technological advancement, but it still had yet to trickle down to the populous - we had to admire these concepts from afar. Well, today it seems to be materializing in the palms of our hands, literally. Kind of sad, in a way, because EPCOT (along with Tomorrowland, are my favorites).

The other parks at Disney have it much easier.

I hope you discuss a broader philosophy for the future content of Epcot attractions sometime soon. Would be an interesting debate.

Anonymous said...

How about Experimental Prototype Center Of Tomorrow (The best of both worlds perhaps?)

Anonymous said...

The term EPCOT Center could still have relevance if it were only expanded beyond the limitations of the Florida property. As suggested by this very blog, EPCOT could pertain to much of the experimental research going on in the world today. It could represent new and engaging television programming. It could be an online community - a progressive think tank. And...the "Center" of it all could be EPCOT Center -- the representative place to go to be at the hub of this vast "community", where the ideals of the company's founder are embodied in inspiring and educational attractions. That's the kind of creative direction that Disney needs to be taking with Epcot, not what new Pixar character one can see at the park.

Matt said...

That's a great idea, Dean. I can really envision these EPCOT satellites, such as:

- an internet site (such as Ray Kurzweil's or New Scientist, etc.); cutting-edge research in science and technology, with forums, etc. with a Disney edge. Remember how Walt used to be the leader in informational films - my favorites, and the reason I'm where I'm at right now. Would love to see new Disney versions of educational films.
- EPCOT channel, devoted to the same type of programming.
- EPCOT mag, etc.

And with the Center in FLA, that would be the kicker - recreating some of the real-life stuff you've read/watched all year in amusement-style attractions. Very cool.

Yet, again, how could Disney maintain the length of attractions with technology changing so fast? Would this new EPCOT Center turn into more of a 'fair' type park, with transient attractions dedicated to the science of the day? That would be a huge, ongoing financial commitment by Disney.

Epcot82 said...

I wrote some similar thoughts a couple of years ago -- you can find my commentary on EPCOT's missed potential as a brand here:

Anonymous said...

Would this new EPCOT Center turn into more of a 'fair' type park, with transient attractions dedicated to the science of the day?

Personally, I feel EPCOT should be more far-reaching than that. Leave science of the day to the Local science museums. There is already too much of this in EPCOT in my opinion. I skipped a lot of the post-show stuff only because it was something I could already see at the Minnesota Science Museum.

EPCOT should begin where the traditional science museums leave off.

Anonymous said...

Leave science of the day to the Local science museums. There is already too much of this in EPCOT in my opinion. I skipped a lot of the post-show stuff only because it was something I could already see at the Minnesota Science Museum.

Frankly, I think Epcot could learn a LOT from science museums. The "Star Wars" science show and others have been huge hits, and the museum near my house is always packed on the weekends with kids AND parents learning and having fun. I think EPCOT could use MORE of this kind of inspiration!!

Matt said...

Yeah, I do agree with both Anonymouses (^) - I think that's the difference today, than what EPCOT faced in the early-80s. Nevertheless, I like how Disney presents their narratives. What would suggest they focus on? If you think it should be more "far-reaching", how far? Doesn't this start to become 'fantasy' science, with minimal basis on reality, or intent for actual development?

I'm in Cincinnati, Ohio, and there isn't a 'Science' museum dedicated to futuristic technology (like there is with COSI, for example, up the road in Columbus), but if there was one, I assume it would be heavily traveled too. In fact, museums in general draw visitors (the Cincinnati Museum Center has one of the highest attendance rates in the country), but especially science museums.

I think that, despite the criticisms of EPCOT's lost glory, that's why they've seen the rise in attendance recently. Technology in the hands of everyday people begets more interest in technology.

Luke said...

I just recently (February) took a trip to "Epcot" with my wife and her parents. It was the first time her parents had ever seen the park, and my wife first saw in 2004. So none of them had ever seen the classic, "old school" style EPCOT Center I knew and loved as a kid. Needless to say they were all a bit perplexed at my reactions to some things. One of which was the singage and fonts used in the park, which are very generic and do not convey any feelings of science, technology, or community.

I already have read your post about the EPCOT brand and I agree with you wholeheartedly on this. Why couldn't EPCOT be a magazine?

I don't see how in the next inevitable overhaul of the park's general signage, they can't go back to the font and iconography of the original park. I know it smacks of nostalgia, but at least it was unique. It played on the idea of universal forms of communication -- the symbol for Spaceship Earth is the same in every language. This isn't revolutionary stuff here...

I didn't see this shirt when I was there this past time, but if I ever see it, I am buying it. Yeah, tossing more money to the Mouse, but you know what? It's still at least spending money on something which at least represents how I feel about the park. (If it had the other symbols on it, it'd be perfect.) There's still a few things in "Epcot" which work, and I am going to support them.

Anonymous said...

My reference to EPCOT "the brand" was only to return some significance to "EPCOT Center" as the place, in capital letters. That it wouldn't necessarily have to relate only to the "center" of the Florida property but could expand to other endeavors as well.

I would hope that idea of EPCOT could go beyond the current concept of a marketable brand. Undoubtedly magazines, tv channels, travel services, and internet sites can be an outlet for the EPCOT concept, but it would be much more interesting if it could embody some sort of extended "community" that shared the optimistic goals of the parks original ideals. That's why I sometimes refer to these discussions as fulfilling some aspect of an experimental prototype community because we are able to share our similar interests from over a wide geographic area.

EPCOT Center could be the place where this socially conscious and forward looking "community" of people can go and personally experience these shows that teach us more of where we can be steering this planet and what opportunities are available to us -- all the while being entertained and inspired. It might not be the typical "tween" family-unit that this concept appeals to, but I thought that the original intent of EPCOT Center was to draw a different type of demographic anyway. (And honestly I feel that Disney underestimates the sophistication of our current "tweens, teens, and kids".) It would return variety to the WDW experience and bring in a expanded and more diverse clientèle.

Disneyana World said...

I just had an orientation where the speaker discussed "EPCOT Center" on three different occasions.

On a side note...

Whenever I wear my 3/4 sleeve, rainbow logo EPCOT Center shirt, please love it.

The #1 comment is "thats an awesome shirt!"

Funny thing is, most people assume it's new.

Anonymous said...

There is no reason for the name not to be capitalized.

There is no reason that they can't partner with actual science companies, and not promotional partners.

There is a lot of branding that can take place, but I think it might be a bad idea to make a channel or magazine. That is too out there.

But making EPCOT more relevant in our society is something that needs to take place.

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of an EPCOT "community" with an online presence and an EPCOT television channel. The programming writes itself, really. Half-Science Channel, half-Travel Channel, with an overriding theme of interconnectedness.

Think of the amazing things they could do with a serious MMORPG (not that disappointing waste of time that VMK turned out to be). They could map every inch of the park and put surprises you could find in the game and then install stuff in the real world that acknowledged the virtual counterparts. Kids would eat that stuff up.

There's such a wealth of opportunity out there for people with imagination. If only they had some kind of "Imagineer" to come up with ideas like this...

Also I would again like to completely disagree with the idea that 1982 was special because people didn't know about tech, but now they do. If everyone knows about the tech, then it's too pedestrian and not appropriate for EPCOT.

EPCOT isn't supposed to be a science museum where you learn about atoms by playing with brightly-colored plastic balls. Only a small part of EPCOT should be dedicated to smallish stuff that's just around the corner (or that you can already buy), and it's the least interesting part.

EPCOT was about Big Ideas. Look at Horizons...they didn't explain the mechanics of the spaceships or the tech behind the 3D phone...because it's not all that interesting and it's not the point.

The point of a theme park is give you an experience that you can't have watching the Discovery Channel. It's to create an entire environment where you see the future in action, not an explanation of how things are done.

To think big, you have to get beyond the nuts and bolts of things and think about how society itself is going to change. How are people going to live their lives in the future? It should all be based in reality and educated guesses from very smart people, but it needs to be far-reaching.

Horizons never became outdated (other than the fashion), because it looked so far into the future. The general public doesn't have access to seabases or orbiting cities. We still don't have the tech to create the stuff we saw in the desert scene.

On the other hand, a big display showing how Bluetooth or TiVo works is going to be outdated tomorrow.

We haven't lost the capacity to be amazed, Disney has simply stopped trying to amaze us. They've stopped thinking big, and they're trying to wear us down so we do to.

Anonymous said...

EPCOT = Everyone's Paycheck Comes On Thursday

Just ask any cast member. LOL!

Anonymous said...

In my mind, EPCOT is always about The Future - Tomorrow - it's an essential part of the branding of that park. You don't have to turn it into a museum, but showcasing the future is what "Future World" is about, where Imagineering turns ideas into durable prototypes.

You can argue that cable TV and youTube have made these visions of the future accessible to everyone, anywhere. But EPCOT had the benefit of Disney's relationships with global companies, to get them to help fund the construction of substantial pavillions. When it came time to sign up for another 10 years, GE backed out, so Horizons died.

Computing a display technologies are much cheaper now, it should be possible to update rides/exhibits almost yearly.

It's hard to pull off, but if Disney Imagineering team isn't able to present ideas that are 25 years ahead, and make them interesting and accessible, then that's the REAL problem.

Leverage the universities around the Disney parks, and around the world - there's no shortage of ideas.


Why is Energy still basically about Dinosaurs and how petroleum was formed?
Why aren't people riding atoms being fused in the ITER fusion reactor.

When will "the Land" showcase new food ideas and developments in our understanding of the Environment?

Computers and Communications
Why isn't the "Computer & communications" section showcasing the most advanced UI technologies from IBM, Cray, Sun, HP, nVidia, Intel, AMD, Apple, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft?

Show the integration between handheld devices and data centers, with sensors and robotic technologies.

Build a 'crowdsourcing' demo that tells you where the long lines are, based on people's GPS-enabled cell phones or just the RF energy at different areas in the park.

Partner with the leading Southern universities and/or NASA, to build and host a 'regional' supercomputer with innovative environmental features that re-use the waste heat for productive purposes. It probably wouldn't take any more space than the 'sperry' data center did

Show "mission control" for the supercomputer center, where tasks are prioritized. It probably would look like the old "backstage" data center, except displays are better, and processors are 100,000 times faster now.

Disney could also use it as a rendering farm, and make cycles available for university science projects if not needed for movie production.

It would be fun to compare the original AT&T/EPCOT's vision of the fiber optic future, circa 1982, against a new vision enabled by the Internet, where everyone is connected.

The Bradbury Science museum is Los Alamos shows the historical context of large-scale computing, but EPCOT can show everything in context, like Apple's knowledge navigator videos of 20 years ago. Pick a bold vision and create something to showcase it and entertain as well.

We should be riding through 3-d films or immersive experiences.

What would happen if you put Steve Jobs (now on Disney's board) in charge of new projects development in the theme parks for a couple of years?