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.
In the 7 years since “300” stormed theaters, Zack Snyder’s cult classic has gathered an enormous army of followers on social, eagerly awaiting a sequel – or prequel, in the case of “Rise of An Empire”. This follow-up has scored tens of millions of YouTube views in anticipation of another bloody, stylish romp through ancient Greece.
“Legend of Hercules” and “Pompeii” have both taken on the box office already this year, debuting to $8.8 million and $10.3 million respectively. “Rise” will make light work of both, with social stats towering above them: they each debuted with less than 1 million Facebook fans and around 10 million trailer views, while “Rise of An Empire” hits 6 times those numbers, and has a search volume 2 times the size of both movies put together.
Anticipation has been growing for “Rise” since last summer, when the first trailer dropped and the release date was pushed from August to this weekend, matching when the original “300” came out. This early start has contributed to the large trailer count, with each subsequent trailer drop driving peaks in chatter on Twitter and culminating in a blockbusting total of over 60 million views on YouTube.
Socially, “Rise of An Empire” benefits from being a franchise movie and is building on an existing fan base. This is particularly beneficial on Facebook, where “Rise of An Empire” took over the original “300” page, giving it a very high fan number on release. However, big fan counts do not always translate into box office takings. Putting too much stock into fan numbers is especially dangerous in cases like this, where the majority of the Likes were a result of enjoying the first movie, rather than as a result of fans expressing their excitement for the coming title.
Instead we can look at Twitter and Search for a clearer indication of intent to view: “Rise” has a modest tweet count compared to the other metrics, while its search volume is very high, the highest for a movie opening this year. This is explained by the target audience and those coming back for more Spartan action being on the older side – fans have waited nearly a decade after all. But whether this prequel can live up to the original, a phenomenon during its time, is difficult to forecast based on social data – since social did not have the impact it does today.
Final Expectations: An army of social followers means “300: Rise of An Empire” will put up a ferocious fight at the box office.
“Mr. Peabody and Sherman”
“Mr.Peabody and Sherman” have their work cut out to emulate the success of “The Croods” from this time last year, following in the tracks of smashes “Frozen” and “The Lego Movie”. The good news is that they are up against a distinctly non-family friendly film and most moviegoers have already seen these past two dominant animated features.
The focus of “Peabody”’s marketing campaign has been offline due to the split nature of its target audience: animated features are typically aimed at kids, while “Peabody” is based on the 1950s and 60s cartoon, so the older audience are parents and grandparents. These audiences are more readily targeted through TV and offline efforts, however “Peabody” has chalked up healthy engagement rates online, using social to appeal to grownups with sweepstakes and giveaways galore.
“Peabody” has established a large Facebook fan base of over 1 million fans prior to release, with an impressive engagement rate. This is more than any original 2013/14 animated feature debuted with: “Frozen” had 534,000 and “LEGO” 450,000, and is only just shy of the 1.2 million fans that “Cloudy with Meatballs 2” had on release, despite being a franchise title. Dreamworks also has a sizeable following of 459,000 Twitter followers and have been building engagement with “Peabody” theme posts. Facebook has also been used for cross-promotion, with the trailer being posted out to 6 million Zumba moms in order to appeal to the older audience.
“Peabody”’s domestic release is coming a month after it started in the rest of the world, so interest – as well as social activity – outside of the US has already died down. Bearing in mind that these are global numbers, “Peabody” could have expected to see an increase in search and tweet volume had it released simultaneously worldwide.
Overall “Peabody” clocks in with above average stats compared to 2013 averages for original animated titles. It has driven a respectable 14 million trailer views with a solid Buzz rating, but doesn’t look set to compete with the box office behemoths on other metrics: “LEGO” collected an enormous 147,000 release week tweets with 174,000 searches, while “Frozen” had slightly less with 87,000 tweets and 155,000 searches. “Peabody”’s current stats put it more in line with last summer’s “Turbo”, but has a more favorable release date as it isn’t directly sandwiched between animated franchise releases, indicating the dog should outperform the snail.
Final Expectations: “Peabody” will get off the marks faster than Dreamworks’ last movie “Turbo”, but won’t build a total as high as the latest animation smash hits.
Tobias Bauckhage (@tbauckhage) is co-founder and CEO of http://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.
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.