When 20th Century Fox’s “Avatar” — the poster child for repeat business — re-entered the market Aug. 27, thousands of moviegoers who had already seen the near $3 billion B.O. behemoth undoubtedly saw it again.
Yet because studios don’t typically track that sort of thing, Fox has no way of knowing just how many repeat viewers that amounted to beyond a ballpark guess.
And while knowing likely wouldn’t add much to “Avatar’s” already bulging bottom line, the lack of data about repeat viewing points to a larger question: Are studios leaving money on the table by focusing primarily on opening weekends and not marketing to repeat viewers?
Ideally, opening-weekend hype builds word-of-mouth, which brings in new audiences. Such hype could also remind viewers why they liked a film the first time and might want to revisit it. Conventional wisdom says that major tentpoles and franchises with rabid fanbases (“Inception,” “Eclipse”), draw the most repeat viewers. However, several titles this summer, from “Grown Ups” to 3D toon “Despicable Me,” have seen surprisingly strong staying power from week to week, with some box office observers suggesting that a good chunk of that durability can be chalked up to repeat business.
Past hits as diverse as “Mamma Mia!” “The Hangover,” “The Notebook” and even “Slumdog Millionaire” may also have benefited from repeat viewings, but there’s no way to know for sure, because the Hollywood studios generally don’t tally such figures.
Some B.O. experts will tell you upfront that there’s not much point in marketing to auds already sold on a film: “If you’ve seen it and liked it, then you don’t need any more coaxing,” says Kevin Goetz, CEO of Screen Engine. “A marketing message may be a reminder, but people are already there.”
But others think that with increased competition for eyeballs from other entertainment sources, distribs and exhibs might benefit from learning more about repeat viewers, and tailoring marketing messages or release skeds to get film fans back for a second or third viewing.
During the 1970s, studios utilized platform rollouts for major blockbusters like “Star Wars” and “Jaws” that weren’t as dependent on big opening weekends. Both of those films fostered rampant word of mouth, which drove multiple viewings over subsequent frames, even months later. And in the ’90s, megahits like “Independence Day” and “Jurassic Park” ran ads that trumpeted the pics’ allure for repeat viewing. “It’s worth seeing twice,” the ad copy for the latter declared.
One way to attract repeat biz is to add footage during a film’s release or re-release, a prospect made even easier with the use of digital prints. Fox incorporated an additional eight minutes of deleted scenes into its “Avatar” re-release. And adding 3D, as with the first two “Toy Stories,” gives audiences the chance to see the same film in a different light.
While studios do set aside some marketing coin to tout a film beyond opening weekend, the lack of data on repeat business hardly offers much incentive for more than that. In fact, the only way repeat business is usually tracked is by exhibitors hiring pollsters, who ask moviegoers in a sampling of theaters how many times they’ve seen a particular film.
Every once in a while, studios decide to track repeat business on a specific film — the most recent case being Warner Bros.’ “Inception.” After topping the domestic B.O. for a third consecutive week, Warners reported that 15% of “Inception’s” earnings that weekend came from repeat business, up from the previous weekend’s 11% share.
“When you have a film that opens during the summer, the biggest playtime of the year, you have more people available Monday through Friday than you do in the fall,” says Warner prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman. “It’s an interesting stat to know, and it doesn’t cost a lot of money to find out.”
Given its complex narrative, “Inception” is an ideal candidate for repeat business. But even comedies like Sony’s ensemble laffer “Grown Ups,” the biggest comedy hit of the summer, have shown surprising resilience, building new auds and drawing repeat biz or a healthy combination of both. “Inception” has cumed $264 million in the U.S. through Aug. 24; “Grown Ups” has nearly quadrupled its $40.5 million opening, totaling $159 million domestically.
As Hollywood churns out more stats and demo breakdowns each week, some studio execs point to more streamlined methods for tallying repeat business that could mean bigger payoffs for less obvious pics over the long haul.
Major circuits like AMC and Regal already track auds’ basic moviegoing habits in an unofficial capacity through their respective loyalty programs, MovieWatcher and Crown Club.
Ted Cooper, senior VP and head film buyer for Regal, says that while the company’s loyalty program records which movies and theaters its members patronize, the current system isn’t set up to discern which films rack up multiple viewings. But he says the system could be redesigned to streamline that data.
“If we can find a way to make more money for both parties, it definitely makes sense for us to do that,” Cooper says.
Online ticketing services, such as Fandango and MovieTickets.com, also could use similar tactics in tracking repeat business. Ticket buyers already provide certain unique information, such as name and e-mail address, that would establish records of individual users.
Beyond fostering a repeat theatrical experience, insiders say both methods pose potential benefits for ancillary markets as well.
Gordon Paddison, who worked on marketing campaigns for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy at New Line, notes that with more audience data, studios can tailor specific messages (regarding, say, DVD or VOD bows, etc.) to auds through social networking sites or email, something he did on “LOTR.”
Paddison says repeat viewers are the perfect target for specific messaging because they’re proven fans of the product. By using consumer relationship management software (CRM), Paddison says studios can stockpile detailed consumer data, such as moviegoing habits, while maintaining customer privacy.
“CRMs allows you to have as much interaction and data with a consumer so you can hopefully offer them something of value,” he says.
Paramount ran a similar campaign last year with its horror hit “Paranormal Activity,” using the pic’s demand-it online interactive site to elicit repeat viewings and generate aud support. As potential moviegoers registered on the site, Par would blast geo-specific messages based on users’ zip codes.
While “Paranormal” was a surprise for Par, the launch also provided a few lessons in marketing beyond opening weekend, especially with the “Paranormal” sequel unspooling this October.
For instance, marketing to repeat viewers enables studios to focus on specific elements that worked in a franchise and with whom they worked.
Still, studios and exhibs may ultimately decide it’s not worth putting time and money into gleaning those nuggets, regardless of factors outside the multiplexes.
“In a perfect world, there would be a way to find consumers and start bucketing them through using this repeat visitation model,” Paddison says. “We love to be innovative — but innovative at a price point.”