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Digital Box Office Drilldown: ‘The Lego Movie’ Builds Toward a Big Weekend

How this week’s wide release is shaping up on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google

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 below) over the seven days leading up to their release, when marketing campaigns should be at their peak.

The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie” is set to be 2014’s first animated smash hit, following in the footsteps of “Despicable Me 2,” “Frozen” and “Monsters University,” which were all among 2013’s top 10 highest grossing movies. The question isn’t so much whether it will make any money, but how much?

On social, animated movies tend to fall into two categories — franchise and original — with franchise movies receiving much more social buzz as they build on their existing fan bases. While “Lego Movie” is generally behind “Despicable Me 2” and “Monsters University,” which had colossal fan and trailer counts on release, it’s fairer to compare it to “Frozen.” That Disney film, 2013’s most successful original animated title, is now closing on $1 billion dollars worldwide. Prospects for “Lego Movie” could surpass that, given that it’s a brand known to generations of kids worldwide and includes well-known superhero characters.

Online, “Lego Movie” is ahead on every count except Facebook fans, where it is only a few thousand behind. “Frozen” opened with over 500,000 Facebook fans, 18 Million trailer views, 40,000 tweets and a 155,000 search volume. However, on search, “Lego Movie” is closer to “The Croods'” 113,000 searches, which set it on the way to a $43 million opening weekend, probably a more realistic target for “Lego Movie” to reach than “Frozen’s'” high watermark of $67.4 million during its opening weekend.

Even if it can’t quite generate the heat of “Frozen,” this suggests that “Lego Movie” could be in for a long and successful run, especially as it has theaters to itself for a month before DreamWorks Animation’s “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” opens. High quality animated titles usually have a long box office shelf life thanks to good word-of-mouth percolating through the potential audience, demonstrated by their high post-release search volume. Where horror movies’ word-of-mouth and box office returns peak on release weekend then drop off rapidly, revenue for animated titles, as well as search and tweet volumes stay strong for two weeks or more after release.

“Lego Movie” writers and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were also successful in appealing to kids and adults with their last animated outing, “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs,” and the key to “Lego Movie” making money is convincing adults. Their interest is normally indicated by Twitter and search counts where “Lego Movie” is on a par with “Monsters University” and “The Croods,” suggesting it’s building toward a big opening.

Grades for “The Lego Movie”
Facebook B
YouTube A
Twitter A
Search A
Overall A

Vampire Academy

Vampire Academy” has a sizeable fan community on social media thanks to the book series’ fervent fan base, with over 1 million Facebook fans on the book’s fan page, in addition to the 279,000 on the movie’s page, along with countless fan tributes and Tumblrs.

Some book fans are irked by the “From the makers of ‘Mean Girls’” tagline and the raunchy look of the marketing, with that group considering it to be too teeny and missing the darkness of the source material. The content does not seem to be resonating with the core audience reflected in the below average PTAT scores on both the movie and the book series’s Facebook pages. On the other side of the coin, the shiny, sexy sheen given to the marketing seems to be appealing to non-book fans: the trailer has a 0.51% Buzz rating on YouTube, well above average, and while tweet volume is low, engagement (retweets) is very high.

No new title can compete with the almighty “Hunger Games” stats, but while “Vampire Academy’s” social performance does not have a sickly pallor, neither is it threatening to restore “Vampires'” good name and become the new “Twilight”. The numbers are shaping up in a similar fashion to last year’s “Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” also intended as the first in a new franchise. “Mortal Instruments” was released with 762,000 fans, 15 million trailer views and a search volume of 89,000. These are by no means shabby stats, but didn’t drive the movie over $10 million on opening weekend.

Grades for “Vampire Academy”
Facebook B
YouTube B
Twitter C+
Search C
Overall C+

“The Monuments Men

“The Monuments Men” boasts an acclaimed, older cast and an interesting historical premise, a contrast to the younger, less intellectual fare this weekend. Different from “The Lego Movie” and “Vampire Academy”, the measure of success for films targeting an older audience with a specific subject matter is the engagement of the right audience rather than sheer social volume. “Monuments Men’s” social stats do show high engagement rates, if occasionally a lower awareness. If boosted by an injection of critical impetus, “Monuments Men” could be effective counter-programming for the “grown ups” this weekend.

“Monuments Men’s” high 40% PTAT numbers on Facebook suggests that the film has attracted and engaged a core audience. The low YouTube view volume is not entirely indicative of its trailer views — the first trailer debuted exclusively on Apple Trailers, which would’ve added a considerable amount of views to the overall total. The Buzz rate on YouTube also indicates a solid engagement among a core audience. Additional awareness has also come from the film’s promotion off of the major social channels, such as the popular and charming Reddit AMAs from director and star George Clooney and the beloved Bill Murray.

For an older, more sophisticated audience, high tweet and search volumes are particularly important before release. “Monuments Men” has a slightly higher search volume than Clooney’s last directorial effort, “The Ides of March”, which had 71,000 at release and a $10.5 million opening. It’s lagging behind 2012’s Oscar favorite “Argo”, which had a 270,000 search volume at release and $19.5 million opening, but was fueled by over a month of festival buzz.

Grades for ‘The Monuments Men’
Facebook B+
YouTube B
Twitter C
Search B-
Total B

Tobias Bauckhage (@tbauckhage) is co-founder and CEO of www.moviepilot.com, a social-media-driven movie community reaching over 15 million Facebook fans and 7 million monthly unique users. Based on community data, Moviepilot helps studios to optimize their social media campaigns, identifying, analyzing and activating the right audiences. The company works with studios like Sony, Twentieth Century Fox and FilmDistrict.

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Methodology

While individually these metrics may not mean a lot, compared to one another and in context of competition and genre benchmarks, they give a good impression of the performance of a movie’s marketing campaign and the audience’s appetite for the movie. Needless to say, there are limitations to these data points and the causalities they explain, but as Hollywood just enters the era of Big Data, the potential insight offered by these numbers cannot be ignored.

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. Some titles with common words or phrases like “HER” or “LABOR DAY” are very hard to track in a meaningful way on Twitter. 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.

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