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'Blackfish' Documentary Looks to be Taking a Bite Out of SeaWorld's Bottom Line

Posted by Dale Buss on September 2, 2013 05:16 PM

There's irony in here somewhere: SeaWorld seems to be suffering an attendance hit from a documentary attacking its killer whales, on the same holiday weekend that the king of corporation-whacking documentaries, Morgan Spurlock, is triumphant because of his new positive documentary about a boy band.

Anyway, here's what we know: SeaWorld is slumping, having to cut the price of midweek tickets almost in half at its Orlando park and also offering price discounts at it its original park in San Diego, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

The maker of the documentary polemic, Blackfish, is taking credit for SeaWorld's woes. The film explores the killing of a SeaWorld trainer by a killer whale in 2010. "Picture whales hanging in nets and flipping trainers around like ragdolls," as the publication put it.

SeaWorld tried a pre-emptive PR strike against the film, characterizing it as "shamefully dishonest." And Blackfish has only garnered $1.6 million in actual ticket sales. But it has gotten a huge boost in awareness from media coverage of the controversy. Certainly many parents are at least vaguely aware of "problems" with SeaWorld when it comes to vacation time with their kids, and maybe SeaWorld now suffers from more quick vetoes than it ever did before.

"It's likely people are realizing that nothing at that place is what it seems," director Gabriela Cowperthwaite said in an e-mail to Bloomberg Businessweek. "The jig is up."

Documentary hit jobs on companies typically don't do much damage. Certainly Spurlock's genre-defining effort, Super Size Me, hasn't exactly laid McDonald's low since its release nearly a decade ago (although McDonald's sales lately aren't anything to highlight in a film either). And this weekend, Spurlock has turned to the bright side with his documentary on One Direction, the British boy band, which has been topping the US box office.

The magazine said another factor in SeaWorld's woes could, indeed, be even bigger than Blackfish: Before recent discounting, the company had raised the average admission prices at its 11 parks by 9 percent in the past year, to nearly $39. SeaWorld also has blamed bad weather. And certainly the broader softness in the US economy hasn't made family vacations feel any more affordable to average Americans.

True effects of the documentary will become more evident later on. But for now it's clear that Blackfish is a harpoon in SeaWorld's side.


Kirali United States says:

Incorrect, Fall is upon us and Just like every theme park this is the time when less guests come to the parks. So Dont B.S. about blackfish because all it is, is a one sided movie which doesn't even attempt to share both sides of the argument and allow guests to choose for themselves.

September 3, 2013 01:01 AM #

Daran United Kingdom says:

The other side of the argument isn't really a valid argument, Kirali, and anyone with half a brain, an ounce of compassion and a few spare minutes to read up on the topic can see that. Seaworld were given the opportunity to put forth 'the other side of the argument' and refrained in the first instance. Why? Because there IS no argument and they know it. When they later tried to make one each and every point they addressed was proven to misinformed and incorrect at best, utter lies at worst. What does that tell you?

I imagine you're a Seaworld annual ticket holder living in a state of cognitive dissonance. That's the only reason I can come up with if you can't see the correlation between a lack of people through the gates and a scathing exposee. The end of August (which is when these figures will be taken from) is prime School Holiday Vacation Time. They should've been raking it in.

September 3, 2013 11:55 AM #

Mike United States says:

I'll agree with you, Daran, that a small aquarium is no home for an orca.  But to say the decline in attendence is due to this incredibly small documentary release . . . you're off your rocker.  Kriali is right.  Attendence begins to fall in August.

September 3, 2013 02:05 PM #

Daran United Kingdom says:

According to recent articles it's been a tough summer for Seaworld, not just a tough August - hence the price drops and the 'offers' for October. They're trying to claw back some of the 56 mllion they're down. Why? A number of things. Recession, yes. But you cannot ignore the effect of negative publicity on a chain, especially when animal welfare is concerned. A large number of people will have been disillusioned by that film, and that's costly. I was an avid visitor to Seaworld as a child. I'd never set foot in there again now and I know I'm not alone in that feeling.

September 3, 2013 02:35 PM #

agencia de publicidade Brazil says:

working with animals is complicated, have to be very careful because everything is in favor can backfire

September 5, 2013 09:47 AM #

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