Mouse Business 102: Disney, Siemens and Spaceship Earth

In 2005 Siemens entered into a 12 year alliance with Disney. Despite having over 70,000 employees in the United States, Siemens wanted to increase their marketing presence here in America. They knew they wanted to do something associated with an American icon, and explored many different avenues including sponsoring a baseball stadium. Siemens already had a relationship with Disney, providing much of the technology in their fire safety systems and water treatment programs and once the two sides began to talk everything seemed to click.

Two big items that were available for sponsorship, Spaceship Earth and Illuminations: Reflections of Earth fit perfectly with the Siemens Company. Sylvania, the giant lighting company owned by Siemens, seemed a perfect match for the Illuminations fireworks show, and the iconic globe that is Spaceship Earth fit equally as well with the global image that Siemens wanted to portray.

Once the lawyers and paperwork was out of the way, it was now on to the important stuff, the update of Spaceship Earth. Siemens was founded in 1847 by the inventor Werner von Siemens, so futuristic and forward thinking has always been part of the company’s heritage. They knew that they wanted to pair this futuristic thinking with the creativity of the Imagineers to capture the essence of “tomorrow” on Spaceship Earth. However, this is not so easily done. The problem with “tomorrow” is that before you know it, its today. Both the Imagineers and the team from Siemens knew that the task of capturing a “new” future — while still making it seem realistic and in line with the traditions of the ride — was difficult to begin with. Throw in the factor that they would be working on one of the most famous of all Disney attractions, and it was going to be quite a task.

Members of the Siemens company would fly to Burbank, California, about once a month to meet and discuss plans for the ride and post-show with the Imagineers. To give the Imagineers an idea of some of the futuristic advances Siemens was working on, they provided the Imagineers with subscriptions to their in-house publication "Pictures of the Future" a bi-monthly magazine which highlights the cutting edge technology being developed in Siemens’ research labs. The Imagineers even took a trip to Germany to visit some of the Siemens’ headquarters and labs to get an up close look at the "future."

With this foundation, the Imagineers enthusiastically embarked on the transformation of Spaceship Earth, combining the technology of Siemens and the magic of Disney. On March 4, 2008 Spaceship Earth was officially re-opened with a rededication ceremony.

Although the ride has been officially re-opened, Siemens and Disney are not done with it just yet. I asked Mr. Bergen what else might be in store for the legendary ride and he told me several things that he hoped would be incorporated in the future. First, he said they are constantly looking at ways to utilize the technology on the ride to make the experience more interactive for the rider. He would like for there to be a way, using the new "video interfaces", to email yourself, friends or family, your experience on the ride either as you get off or right after you get off. Secondly, they hope to make Spaceship Earth an educational internet experience. A website is already setup for the ride (http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/wdw/special/spaceshipEarth/) and the hope is that this website will use Spaceship Earth as a centerpiece to provide educational opportunities to teachers and students all over the world. Finally, Siemens hopes to eventually hold the finals of their Annual Science Competition at Spaceship Earth itself, a seemingly fitting venue.

One thing that Mr. Bergen consistently pointed out was how easy and pleasurable it was to work with Disney during the entire process. He said that you might hear that since Disney and the Imagineers are such perfectionists they might be difficult to work with. But nothing could be further from the truth.

As a small anecdotal story, Mr. Bergen told me that he was at Epcot one night watching Illuminations. At the end of the fireworks he turned to the Disney people he was enjoying the show with and said wouldn’t it be nice if at the end we could have something reflected on Spaceship Earth that says “Illuminations presented by….”. Without any further requests or follow up calls, Disney did it. Customer service runs throughout all areas of the company.

Although the transformation of Spaceship Earth is almost complete, Siemens has no plans to expand their park presence any further through the sponsorship of additional rides or attractions beyond those it already has. Rather, they seem focused on working with Disney to continually improve what they have sponsored, ensuring Spaceship Earth remains both educational and entertaining. After all, "Edutainment" is the purpose of Epcot. 

 

 

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