Does digital data offer indicators that can be used to monitor marketing effectiveness and predict box office success even before awareness turns into intent? We analyzed this weekend’s new movies across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google (the methodology behind the numbers is laid out in the appendix below) over the seven days leading up to their release, when marketing campaigns should be at their peak.
(Full disclosure: Moviepilot worked with 20th Century Fox on this title)
“The Fault in Our Stars” is a social-media phenomenon riding a huge wave of social buzz and fan anticipation as it starts in theaters. Based on the New York Times bestseller by John Green, the movie has a large, fervent, built-in fanbase that couldn’t be more excited about its release — the official trailer is the most liked trailer in YouTube history, and fans have driven well over 1 million tweets in release week, making “TFIOS” an organic trend.
“TFIOS” has whipped up the perfect social-media storm thanks to touching subject matter that unites users from around the globe, a passionate base of book readers, a cast and author with huge social followings and a social campaign adding impetus to conversations across several platforms. The author is a savvy social-media user with more than 2.5 million Twitter followers and 2 million subscribers on the YouTube channel he shares with his brother, while leads Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort have 653,000 Twitter and 574,000 followers, respectively. The popularity of the cast has also been leveraged by taking part in reddit AMAs and Twitter Q&As (often from other Twitter handles with large followings to push the conversation to new fan groups), which, along with live events streaming on YouTube, have given fans constant access to the cast and the movie.
The strength of the fanbase is shown not only in the tweets but also in the Facebook fan numbers. These are now more than 3 million thanks largely to organic growth, which has also seen the Instagram account grow to a very healthy 134,000, just short of Woodley’s recent YA hit “Divergent,” which gathered 156,000 fans before release, and both movies have gained more than 2.5 million Instagram mentions. “Divergent” had a similar number of trailer views on release with 34 million views with a very good 0.57% Buzz, but “TFIOS” is light years ahead with an unprecedented Buzz rate of 1.66%, thanks to the trailer that is so beloved, and associated videos like Ed Sheeran’s soundtrack song that have also received millions of hits. The caveat: This bonanza of activity comes with the knowledge that “TFIOS” took the record of “most liked video” from the trailer for the One Direction movie, which opened with $12 million.
The fervent online fans make it impossible to compare “TFIOS” to other titles — the young female audience is certainly active and engaged online — as are the #tfiosmoms – with numbers on Facebook and Twitter streets ahead of most blockbusters, which is especially surprising for an unusual YA movie about cancer patients. Search is probably a better indicator of the box office opening this weekend, putting the wider appeal of the title into context. Woodley’s last YA thriller “Divergent” opened to $54 million with 167,000 searches, and “Endless Love” (a tragic love story aimed at younger females) opened to $23 million with 87,000 searches, suggesting that with 132,000, “TFIOS” is headed for a total somewhere in between. Traditional tracking pegs the movie at $20 million-$25 million, but looking at the social furor, we’d expect to add at least $15 million on top of that. Whatever the outcome, it’s certain that “TFIOS” has been a hugely impressive social-media success.
Final expectations: The hugely passionate online following of “TFIOS”will shoot the movie to a total way above original expectations.
On the one hand this week we have a modern, social-media-driven frenzy, and on the other we have a good old-fashioned Hollywood humans-vs.-aliens dust-up, helmed by a true A-list star. Tom Cruise may not drive millions of tweets, but he remains a big name and a draw, especially among older audiences (we took a straw poll in the office — everyone over 30 still loves him, mainly thanks to “Top Gun”).
“Edge of Tomorrow” sees Cruise in familiar action sci-fi territory, and while he may not be a social-media phenomenon, his enduring popularity means he does have 4.5 million Twitter followers who love to see him run on the bigscreen. The “Edge of Tomorrow” Twitter has been used to propagate positive WOM after “EoT” was extensively screened for fans in order to get the word out that it’s actually a good movie. The positive movie reviews have featured heavily across the marketing push.
Twitter also punned on the movie’s “Live. Die. Repeat.” tagline with the hashtag “Live. Die. Retweet.” which encouraged fans to interact in order to unlock exclusive content, driving thousands of tweets. “EoT”s 90,000 Tweet count puts it ahead of last year’s sci-fi predecessors “Oblivion” and “Elysium,” which both had around 80,000 tweets each. This premise was hammered home in the trailer for the movie, as well as in this addictive desktop game (my best so far is still only 44 seconds).
However, the overall trailer count may be inflated by the movie having already opened in some markets overseas, which typically means an increase in views. Exclusive clips have also been released on iTunes trailers and Fandango in order to get them in front of older audiences more inclined to be Cruise fans and to be up for a sci-fi shoot-em-’up rather than a teenage love story. “EoT”s view count is up over 30 million, which puts it ahead of “Oblivion” and “Elysium,” each of which had less than 15 million on debut last year.
“EoT” appears very similar in feel to “Oblivion” and “Elysium” and will likely open with a total in between the two. “EoT” is ahead of “Elysium” on every front, not least search, where Elysium had only 60,000 searches to the 267,000 of “EoT” before a $30 million opening. However, “Oblivion” had a huge search volume, almost twice that of “EoT,” suggesting it had stirred up much more older interest, which will probably keep “EoT” from overtaking “Oblivion”’s $37 million opening.
Final expectations: Fading star or not, Tom Cruise is set to propel “Edge of Tomorrow” to an opening well over $30 million, and good WOM should see it stick around at the box office.
Tobias Bauckhage (@tbauckhage) is co-founder and CEO of Moviepilot, a fan-focused platform for movie geeks, cinephiles and everything in between, reaching over 10 million monthly unique users and over 15 million Facebook fans. Based on community data, Moviepilot helps studios to optimize their social media campaigns, identifying and activating the right audiences. The company works with studios like Sony, 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, A24, CBS Films and Focus Features.
Facebook fan (or like) numbers are a good indicator for fan awareness for a movie, 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. Both numbers are global and public facing numbers from the official Facebook fanpage.
YouTube trailer counts are important for measuring early awareness about a movie. We track all English language original video content about the movie on YouTube, down to videos with 100 views, whether they are officially published by a studio or published unofficially by fans. The Buzz ratio looks at the percentage of unique viewers on YouTube that have “liked” a video and given it a “thumbs up”. 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 specific audience. 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. These numbers are global and public facing.
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. We count all tweets over the period of the last seven days before release (Friday through Thursday), that include the movie’s title plus a number of search words, e.g. “movie” OR a list of movie-specific hashtags. The numbers are global, conducted using a Twitter API partner service.
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 look at the last seven days (Friday through Thursday) of global 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.