Marketing concerns are certainly making inroads into the content of movies and TV shows in Western Europe.
But across the Continent — where many film directors are considered auteurs, and pubcasters remain a vital fixture in the TV landscape — there remains a stigma associated with Hollywood-style test screenings, focus groups and other commercial tools.
That said, in Blighty, which historically has the closest Hollywood ties, use of research screenings and focus groups is standard practice, both to tweak films in post-production and to plan marketing campaigns.
The U.K. Film Council, which the British government will soon retire, has long been an advocate of test screenings. But these tend to lead to subtle changes rather than radical recutting, according to Sally Caplan, who until recently headed Blighty’s National Lottery-supplied Premiere Fund.
“They are good at pointing out where a film is dragging. When you’ve seen it a hundred times, it becomes very hard to tell,” Caplan says.
For example, Caplan cites Neil Marshall’s Scotland-set sword-and-sandals actioner “Centurion,” which made some tweaks after tests.
“In the first screening, audiences didn’t understand what the Romans were doing in Scotland,” she says. “We had assumed people knew what the Roman Empire was; but they were confused.” So Pathe introduced explanatory text at the beginning, and the next test audience was much happier.
On the other hand, nothing really changed after “The King’s Speech” test-screened. “Everyone just said it was wonderful,” Caplan says.
The main British companies offering screen testing services are NRG, OTX and First Movies, which also does research screening in the rest of Europe — mostly in Germany, in collaboration with local research agency Schmiedel.
In France, “a film is first and foremost considered a work of art, so there is a reticence to consider it as a product,” says Anais Flores at Paris-based research company Mediametrie, who is not allowed to identify her clients.
However, Gallic distributors often resort to surveys and test screenings to test a pitch, a poster, tweak an edit and, in most cases, tailor a marketing campaign.
For instance, Cinefriends, a market research outfit linked to Quad Films (“Heartbreaker”) conducted a test screening on Quad’s latest production, “Borderline,” which was originally pitched as a black humor-tinged thriller.
After the test screening revealed that the film — which is centered around a suburban lawyer who stumbles across a suitcase filled with cocaine — was in fact perceived by the sample audience as a pure comedy, distributor Bac Films reconfigured its campaign to market the film as a laffer.
Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, well-versed in market research, regularly prescreens its films to a group of 300 powerful French bloggers, called the Club 300 Allocine. This enables EuropaCorp to anticipate reviews and tailor marketing.
In Germany, market research has long been a must for the TV industry and is becoming increasingly vital for features.
But German film producers face many more limitations than their U.S. counterparts, which are better equipped to tweak, or even reshoot, productions after they have been test-screened.
“Often producers and distributors will simply test-screen their films to confirm their gut feeling,” says a Berlin media consultant. “But they just don’t have the resources to go back and do reshoots or re-edit.”
In large part this is because Germany’s generous federal and regional film subsidies provide production financing, but nothing for testing or marketing.
On the Teutonic TV side, however, commercial broadcasters such as Sat.1 and RTL Television, and pubcasters ZDF and ARD, which are becoming increasingly competitive, rely on ratings and data from leading research group GfK not just to test pilots and event-movies but also to develop new series.
In Italy, market research has become a crucial component of the film and TV biz, but marketers don’t necessarily use the standard data-gathering methods of the U.S. majors.
Test screenings and focus groups are rare. But the deeply ingrained marketing mindset of Italian producers often seeds content creation, spawning movies tailored to appeal to specific audience segments or calculatedly aiming for crossover appeal.
Take “Manuale d’amore 3” (Manual of Love 3), the latest hit from producer Aurelio De Laurentiis, considered a master at tapping into a wide aud.
“Manuale,” which is numero uno at the Italo B.O., is a three-part romantic comedy comprising love at different stages of life — “Youth,” “Maturity” and “Beyond” — with the final segment starring Robert De Niro and Monica Bellucci. It’s based more on De Laurentiis’ personal rapport with the public than on specific market studies.
Some Italo distributors have inhouse research outfits: RAI Cinema’s is Auducinema, which gauges film demographics for theatrical and TV outlets.
TV plays a big part in marketing a movie in Italy, where the top two local film distributors, Medusa and RAI Cinema, are also units of the top two broadcasters, Mediaset and RAI. It’s not just in commercial spots that a proprietary pic gets plugged, but also via the network’s gameshows, talkers, and variety shows.
Similar to Italy, Spanish commercial broadcasters Telecinco and Antena 3 are the top film producers. And they, too, put their powerful marketing muscle behind the movies they produce.
As market research becomes an increasingly key concern for Spanish film companies, a small clutch of such companies — Working at Weekend, Boxoffice Consulting and Common Sense — have bowed. They also tap into new tech tools.
“The social networks have provided a major boost to raise industry awareness about the existence of new strategies to seduce audiences and position film and TV products,” says Boxoffice Consulting’s Pau Brunet.
Viral marketing proved a hit for microbudget docu “La ultima cima,” which bowed in June, using social networks to access niche audiences at a very low cost. Helmed by Juan Manuel Cotelo and turning on a Spanish priest who died climbing a mountain, the religious docu made $1.1 million at the box office in Spain and has sold abroad.
The growing importance of market research “is a sign of changing times in the Spanish film industry, which is evolving from a subsidy-based sector to a more box office-driven business,” says Telecinco Cinema CEO Ghislain Barrois.
Still, test screenings are standard only for mid-to high-budget movies in Spain.
Morena Films’ topper Juan Gordon (“Cell 211”) laments that while the use of marketing research is expanding in his country, “filmmakers should be more conscious of its relevant role when drawing up movie budgets.”
Ultimately, how much Europeans rely on marketing data from the get-go seems directly connected to where their coin is coming from. The more public funding they get, the less likely they are to use such data.
As London-based IHS Screen Digest analyst David Hancock puts it: “When you just have the money, you don’t worry about test screenings. That’s something you do when you’ve had to build your budget from scratch.”
Adam Dawtrey in London, Elsa Keslassy in Paris, Ed Meza in Berlin, and Emiliano De Pablos in Madrid contributed to this report.