Digital Stats Foretold Which New Movies Would Fall Flat
2013 was not only an all-time record year for domestic and global box office, it was also a big year for digital marketing and social media in Hollywood. We have seen some of the biggest viral campaigns in 2013, and YouTube and Facebook have finally arrived at the center of every digital marketing mix.
Twitter has claimed a decent impact on water cooler conversations, Buzzfeed has reinvented (or at least smartly repackaged) native advertising and Tumblr has used the momentum after its acquisition by Yahoo to position itself as the new echo chamber for fan engagement. Budgets have been steadily shifting towards digital media, and digital savvy has become the new must-have. Overall levels of relevance, mass reach, sophistication and smart spending have increased tremendously in 2013.
Google claimed in June that search volume on Google and YouTube could predict box office quite accurately. No digital marketer would have argued with that, since what people punch into their Google search field in fact is a pretty good proxy for what they want. But before intent, there has to be interest. And before interest there has to be awareness.
Does digital data offer indicators that can be used to monitor marketing effectiveness, calibrate spending and predict box office success? Even before awareness has turned into intent? We at Moviepilot studied a subset of the most recent theatrical releases, focusing on four sets of data:
Facebook fan numbers are a good indicator for fan awareness for a movie in any given market, even months before the release. For mainstream movies with younger target audiences, fan counts are particularly important. However, big fan numbers can be bought and movies with older target audiences typically have lower fan counts. Fan engagement measured by PTAT (People Talking About This) is a more precise but also a fickle indicator, heavily driven by content strategy and media spending.
YouTube trailer counts are important for measuring early awareness about a movie. Movies with over 40 million views are usually mainstream and set to dominate the box office, while titles drawing 10 million to 20 million views indicate a more modest performance. If a movie does not have a solid number of trailer views on YouTube four weeks before its release, it is not promising news. But again, it is important to understand whether trailer views have been bought or grew organically.
Twitter is a good real-time indicator of excitement and word of mouth, coming closer to release or following bigger PR stunts. Mainstream, comedy and horror titles all perform particularly strongly on Twitter around release. Post-release indie titles perform strongly if they have good word of mouth, as this audience likes to spread their opinions after seeing the movie.
Search As Google argued, search is a solid indicator for intent moving towards release as people actively seek out titles that they are aware of and are thinking about seeing. Search is particularly significant for fan-driven franchises and family titles as parents look for information about films they may take their children to see. We used Wikipedia traffic as a conclusive proxy for Google Search volume. We have to consider that big simultaneous global releases tend to have higher search results compared to domestic releases.
To make the data comparable, we analyzed the seven days leading up to each release, when marketing campaigns should be at their peak. We also looked for early indicators, months before release. The same four indicators are also used by most of the digital marketing teams at the studios when they come together weekly and make their marketing decisions.
While individually these metrics may not mean a lot, compared to one another and in the context of competition and genre benchmarks they give a good impression of the performance of a movie’s marketing campaign. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish if the numbers are the result or the driver of a marketing campaign. Needless to say, there are limitations to these data points and the causalities they explain. But, hey, it’s only 2013. It’s still early days in the relationship between Hollywood and Big Data.
American Hustle brought back 2012’s winning combination of David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, this time led by additional Oscar favorites Christian Bale and Amy Adams. Last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook” was a success, receiving both critical acclaim and a great box office return. “Hustle” is on track to do the same with stellar reviews, the highest per-theater-average of 2013 grossing $690,000 from just six theaters on its initial limited release and a wide opening weekend of $19 million.