The show was first announced as part of the park's expansion plans, which includes Pandora–The World of Avatar and a nocturnal version of Kilimanjaro Safaris, in October 2013. Construction began in 2014. The show was originally set to premiere on April 22, 2016, Earth Day and the park's 18th anniversary. However, on April 5, 2016, it was announced that the show had been delayed and would not be able to meet the April 22 premiere date.
The show will only be able to seat 5,000 guests, giving it the smallest capacity of Walt Disney World's night-time shows.
A portion of the show was previewed to media on April 19, 2016, when it was also announced that The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic, a limited-engagement show based on the 2016 live-action film, would fill the space of the delayed Rivers of Light night-time show, presumably until the latter show is ready.
Rivers of Light was initially conceived of as a nighttime parade by Steve Davison through the streets of Animal Kingdom, but this concept was shelved due to the costs of infrastructure alterations necessary for visibility and movement.  In the wake of World of Color, the concept was revisited as a show for the Discovery River Lagoon.