Film Promotion Challenges In The Digital World
The competition and challenges of film launches are only set to become more difficult over the coming years with the ongoing expansion of services like Netflix, Amazon, HBO, etc. Despite this pressure, movie production is growing and there is a fantastic array of new content entering the market each year. The range of stories and storytelling only seems to be getting better and better.
We embarked on analyzing the status quo and breaking down what steps distributors, filmmakers, producers, and entertainment content producers, in general, can take to cut through the noise in trying to bring their content in front of the relevant audiences. The final result is Winning Your Audience. Movie Marketing in the Connected World - an ebook filled with case studies and actionable insights driven by our activity at Gruvi. The entire ebook is available to download for free on our website:
The internet and digital technologies are in the process of massively disrupting the movie industry. The distributors’ traditional role as gatekeepers is being challenged more today than it ever has been in the past. At the same time, a medium flooded with content is in great need of trustworthy curators.
Christine Eloy is the Managing Director of Europa Distribution - an association of European producers that focuses on supporting the industry in these tough times through workshops, conferences, as well as lobbying, and information dissemination. We talked about the challenges faced by the sector and the discussion promptly turned to the known culprits: too much competition in the cinema, strong competition from outside of the cinema, and the difficulties in navigating the always-changing online medium. In Europe, as expected, this issue also takes an institutional dimension. While there are more EU programs than ever dedicated to distribution support, Christine decried a lack of connection between policymakers and the industry. A good example of this is the initiatives such as the Digital Single Market, which are attempting to review and rewrite copyright laws within the Eurozone (we discussed in more detail some of the proposed measures here).
All of these factors force the industry into a survival mindset, but there is still plenty of hope and, along with the pressures, there are plenty of new opportunities for intrepid companies to look into. We will explore the available solutions on a theoretical level first.
We have seen in this chapter the various pitfalls that face indie movies, but it mustn’t all be gloom and doom. The same factors that have created these threats and challenges can be exploited as opportunities. In order to achieve this, disruption must be accepted and tackled with a focus on the end goal, rather than the process of achieving it. Film distributors want audiences to pay for seeing movies- whether in the form of cinema tickets, renting, watching on VOD, etc. They have more methods than ever before at their disposal to achieve that.
Being different is the very currency of the indies but the adherence to mainstream ideas of success is already posing a major threat to their future. So the key to successfully riding the movie industry disruption wave is to accept that gains are obtained over a longer period of time and the focus should be on long-tail economics.
It’s easy to say that the number of independent movies that ‘make it’ has decreased in the last 2 decades. But what defines them as independent films? And what defines ‘making it’? Some films produced independently are made on a shoestring budget, with a cast and crew of friends. For some of them, breaking out means having an audience beyond friends and family. For others, the ambition is to be selected for festivals and build awareness and credibility for the director.
While the methods and strategies we suggest in this paper can be applied to all movies, our focus is on films that are made as both an artistic and financial investment. They are films that are made with an expectation for a multinational (if not international) audience.
Slow but steady gains are seeded rather than providing immediate returns. These also come with marketing expenditure that follows the same pace. Instead of sinking costs into prints and a big campaign to back a nationwide or worldwide opening, a limited release can attract a very precisely targeted audience. Minimizing the window to the VOD release, the film can benefit from strong word-of-mouth support that can help reduce marketing costs. The key relies on putting the effort into constantly seeking out the film’s audience. Once identified, each member of that audience should be able to enjoy the movie as soon as possible. In the long run, this could increase the number of successful small and middle-budget films being made.
The key to benefiting from long-tail economics is
to open up to the technology that has made this a
possibility to begin with.
It requires distributors to consider various release alternatives simultaneously and over a longer period of time- alternative distribution- rather than immediate returns from theatrically exploiting the film and having other channels as a welcome bonus.
The alternative distribution offers the possibility of lower sunk costs when it comes to marketing. While budgets as a whole might stay the same, the expenditure is spread over a longer period of time. The focus changes towards actions that have proven results and not just buzz-making value.
It is also important to note that this approach requires doing away with some existing industry conceptions:
The length of the ‘idea to screen’ time- that is how the series has managed to set the pace and take the lead. While this is something that concerns producers, it also has a deep impact on the work distributors do to market movies.
The definition of success - needs to change to reflect the realistic and specific expectations of rational independent film distributors.
Release windows - shorter windows and simultaneous releases are key.
Marketing as a rigid strategy - this should instead be an ongoing process and involve the movie’s producers.
The definition of successful digital and social media marketing campaigns - impressions shouldn’t be enough to impress and Facebook accounts can’t be fully left to handle by an intern.