Disneyland Paris enters Marvel universe with Avengers theme

Super heroes characters perform during the opening show at Disneyland Paris, west of Paris, Saturday, June 8, 2018. (AP)
Updated 10 June 2018
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Disneyland Paris enters Marvel universe with Avengers theme

  • A $2.5 billion park expansion will feature Marvel superheroes

CHESSY/FRANCE: Helicopters, concept cars and SWAT teams shrouded in smoke heralded the launch of the first Avengers-themed season at Disneyland Paris following the announcement of plans for a $2.5 billion park expansion that will feature Marvel superheroes.
Movie and sports stars, including French Olympians Teddy Riner and Camille Lacourt, attended an official opening Saturday night for the season that brings the Disneyland resorts a step closer to merging its traditional cast of characters with the Marvel universe.
It follows similar moves in Hong Kong Disneyland as well as in the Disney California Adventure.
“We are delighted to have the Avengers assemble in Disneyland Paris for the first time ever,” Euro Disney President Catherine Powell said. “They’re here to delight thrill and surprise you with incredible action and amazing special effects.”
Actors glided down ropes from a hovering helicopter before Spiderman, the Hulk, Ironman, Thor, Captain America and other Marvel characters took the stage for several shows.
“It’s really spectacular,” said “The Beach” actress Virginie Ledoyen, who watched the action.
Behind the special effects and celebrity guests were hard-negotiated business plans.
The Paris park’s expansion into Marvel terrain was unveiled earlier this year following a meeting between French President Emmanuel Macron and Disney Chairman Robert Iger.
Disney Group said the makeover of Walt Disney Studios Park, one of the two theme parks that make up Disneyland Paris, will be rolled out in phases beginning in 2020. It includes three new areas based on Marvel superheroes as well as the Frozen and Star Wars franchises.
The Hotel New York will be redesigned to resemble the architecture and decor favored by Tony Stark, aka Ironman.
Analysts see the plans as a major area of investment that will aim to drive long-term growth for Disney, which acquired Marvel in 2009.
“The massive Marvel collaboration and $2 billion plus investment speaks to Disney’s positive view for the future of this all-important European asset as it further drives mindshare among consumers,” GBH Insights analyst Daniel Ives said in an interview.
“While Disneyland Paris has seen its shares of speed bumps from an attendance perspective post-recession and Paris attacks, its appears to be on a healthy trajectory,” he added.


Mindfulness profits as meditation apps mature

Updated 17 June 2019
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Mindfulness profits as meditation apps mature

  • According to figures from Marketdata, the US mindfulness market as a whole including the dozens of apps on offer topped $1 billion in 2017, and should double that by 2022

PARIS: From the Zen capital of LA to the Champs Elysees comes the calming voice of a British Buddhist monk-turned entrepreneur, introducing American-style online mindfulness to the stressed-out French.

“Relax your muscles, breathe,” Andy Puddicombe, the bronzed co-founder of the app Headspace, intones by videoconference to a roomful of participants gathered on Paris’s chic shopping artery.

The Englishman and his French team are hoping to replicate the US success of Headspace with a French-language version, in a market where New Age philosophies from the “Anglo-Saxon” world are often viewed askance.

Its path has been helped by the success of French mindfulness app Petit Bambou, which launched in 2015 — five years after Headspace — and claims more than three million users in France for its free and paid platforms.

Both apps use guided meditations for an array of situations — from coping with bereavement to just getting through a difficult day at work — with support from online counsellors, funky animations and videos.

In France, as in the US, Britain and elsewhere, companies have been signing up to subscriptions for their employees.

“Meditation is not a miracle tool, rather a mental hygiene: what’s essential is regular practice.”

Benjamin Blasco, co-founder of Petit Bambou

Petit Bambou says it has secured “hundreds of licenses” from companies such as Deloitte and railways group SNCF, and that it has nothing to fear from Headspace, which along with rival Calm dominates the US market.

In a Paris studio, working on voice recordings for the app, Petit Bambou co-founder Benjamin Blasco said his company was in any case aiming for the long haul.

“We broke even three years ago. We will not sacrifice anything on the altar of marketing,” Blasco told AFP.

“We do not try at all costs to keep people in the app,” he said, but to solicit a two-way exchange and tailor therapy to the user’s needs.

“Meditation is not a miracle tool, rather a mental hygiene: what’s essential is regular practice,” Blasco said.

Investors are certainly buying in to the concept. Calm — which like Headspace was co-founded by a British emigre to California, Michael Acton Smith — raised $88 million from a fundraising round in February.

That gave it a valuation of $1bn, which Smith noted made Calm the first “mental health unicorn”.

“Unicorns” are start-up companies with a billion-plus valuation.

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The US mindfulness market is estimated to be worth $1 billion, and is expected to double that by 2022.

But like Headspace, Calm has its sights set further afield. In Britain it has enlisted actor and TV presenter Stephen Fry to record bedtime stories for use on a popular feature that helps users get to sleep.

“America is only 4.5 percent of the total global population, so there are a lot of other people that can enjoy the product and help the company grow,” Smith told CNBC after the investment round.

According to figures from Marketdata, the US mindfulness market as a whole including the dozens of apps on offer topped $1 billion in 2017, and should double that by 2022.

Helped by the growth in apps, a survey by the National Center for Health Statistics found 14 percent of Americans had meditated in 2017, a threefold increase in five years.

Headspace alone says it has 50 million users worldwide, and has raised $75 million from investors in total, despite marketing a product that preaches “digital detox”.

The paradox is not lost on Richard Pierson, the company’s other British co-founder.

“Although there is the irony that the phone is probably causing us a lot of our stress, our hope is that by using Headspace, you’ll be able to teach yourself the techniques that you need to learn in order to be able to use your phone in a more mindful way,” he said at the Paris launch.

Many of the techniques in mindfulness apps are rooted in Buddhism and have long been familiar to practitioners in Asia. But what, if any, science underpins the apps?

Boosters got new backing with a US scientific study released in late April that looked at the effects of an experimental mindfulness app aimed at smokers.

The app helped many participants cut their smoking or give up altogether, by helping to rewire impulses in the brain linked to addiction.

The world of mindfulness “has become a business, but there is an ethical dimension,” commented Dominique Steiler, a professor at the Grenoble Ecole de Management who specialises in the “well-being” economy.

Apps “are a good way to get started”, but users should be encouraged ultimately to sever the smartphone cord and meditate alone, he said.