Comcast Buys Control of Theme Park in Japan

The media giant's largest overseas investment to date positions it to take advantage of theme-park growth in Asia.
Matthew HellerSeptember 28, 2015

Comcast said Monday it has agreed to acquire control of the Universal Studios Japan theme park in Osaka, expanding its footprint in a region where the theme-park business has been growing rapidly.

The U.S. media giant, which owns NBCUniversal, will pay $1.5 billion for 51% of USJ Co., the Osaka park’s operating company, from owners that include Goldman Sachs. It is Comcast’s largest overseas investment to date.

“We see Comcast and NBCUniversal becoming more of a global company,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told reporters. “This is the beginning of us making more global investments.”

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According to The Wall Street Journal, Comcast has sharpened its focus on Asia after canceling plans to acquire Time Warner Cable for $45.2 billion in April. It announced last year that its Universal Parks and Resorts unit would build a theme park in Beijing.

Competitors are also eyeing Asia, with Walt Disney set to open the Shanghai Disney Resort next year and Six Flags Entertainment announcing it would build multiple Six Flags parks in China over the next decade.

“An influx of Chinese tourists over the past few years has helped to revive the fortunes of some of Japan’s theme parks, which had slumped after the bursting of the country’s economic bubble in the early 1990s ended an industry boom,” the WSJ reports.

According to Comcast, the number of foreign visitors to Universal Studios Japan has doubled since the park opened a $400-million Harry Potter-themed attraction just over a year ago. Overall, more than 12 million people visited in the latest financial year, up from 10.5 million a year earlier.

“The new Harry Potter attraction had an impact and brought a lot of customers,” said Katsunori Dobayashi, an analyst at Iwaicosmo Securities, told Bloomberg.

The Osaka park opened in 2001. USJ had sales of 138.5 billion yen in the fiscal year ended March 2015, up 44 percent from a year earlier, while operating profit rose 61 percent to 39 billion yen, both all-time highs.