Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The movie marketing machine

The last few days have been spent thinking about movies. For no reason, except that in the past week, I have watched about 5 movies. Over multiple choices. From the local DVD rental shop to the multiplex nearby and my own DVD. I liked some movies, disliked some and wondered what the hype was about the others. And that set me thinking.

The movies are a lot different from what they used to be or how they used to make money. The dynamics of the industry has changed.

Now the number of sponsors (partners - radio partner, TV partner, media partner, cellphone partner, web partner) that you see at the start of a movie and the product placements that you see through a movie are as many as what you see in a soap opera on TV.

The whole business of a good movie is now geared to make you make that one visit to the theatre to view the movie. The greater number of people who fall for it, means the greater amount of money you make. Earlier, when the number of screens was lesser, the week 1 acted as a build up week to the rest. So, the movie could run for weeks and the stakeholders kept making money on it. Now, the whole game is to get you make that one visit at the earliest, preferably advance booking and much of the money is made before the movie is released. Once it is released, the first week is usually the highest grosser for most of the movies. Only really good ones or ones that get great reviews do better later on or in the DVD circuit.

So, from that perspective it is a mighty effort to put in all the work and see the audience either bomb or burst into rapturous applause in nearly a day. Which is the obvious reason why a repeat business mentality has crept in. Sell older movies, create merchandise, re-release movies, release movies with unedited shots and newer tracks and exclusive tracks on DVD and so on.

Effectively it is one big mean marketing machine. From the trailers and teaser websites, ringtones to the interviews that happen with every movie ending up with the lead star saying, "This is a different movie" to "This is the movie I dreamt of doing in my life". I remember the first couple of time I fell for that hype while watching an interview - Madhuri Dixit announced that her favourite song was from one of her upcoming movies and Salman Khan announced that a particular movie he was doing was Neelam was his dream come true. And both the movies were absolutely crappy movies, but thats what they were doing, they were marketing it. And then, all those stories about fights on the sets, chemistry gone wrong - the whole thing is just marketing. All so that you make that one trip down to the multiplex.

However, it is not a solitary force. As the marketing machine grows, there are other forces that counterbalance it. The power of reviewers. Apart from the ones who write in newspapers, there are some pretty good web reviewers and then there are the bloggers and many influencers - who influence friends into watching or not watching a movie. So, between the space of a few shows, all the marketing effort could go down the drain.

So, if you are sure or even if you arent sure of the audience reaction (how possible is it to predict?), the trick is to get that one trip in for the maximum audience. Hence, now, the smartest thing to do is to release as many prints as possible in as far off places before the reviewers and the mavens do their trick. Whereas earlier, the producers tried to create a short supply of prints and wait for the people to come in. Now, the prints go all out. Indeed, newer channels are opening up - web downloads, foreign markets, dubbed prints - anything to maximise that first chance...

And for a great review of movies in 2007, heres where you go...


Anand said...

Well, there is actually very little evidence to suggest if a larger release significantly increases overall revenue.

Information sharing amongst the audience, which is an area of immense complexity, and therefore potentially a lot of study, is what drives the success or failure of a film.

Simply put, a smaller release prevents quicker information sharing, therefore both negative and positive information feedback for the film is slow to disseminate (not as simple as that in reality, but a good approximation nevertheless).

Likewise, a larger release, while exposing the film to a larger initial audience, and therefore potentially to a larger supposed positive information cascade, also has the built-in check of also allowing very quick spread of negative word-of-mouth.

UC Irvine's Prof. De Vany's research helps understand this better. His research points to things like how larger releases, presence of big stars, etc actually does not really help in the overall revenue generation in films.

Global Media intelligence's Roger Smith recently published a paper on 'Do Movies Make Money', and a boiled-down version of his findings point to the fact that most new films irrespective of the brand placements, tie-ups, large marketing efforts etc, actually lose money (even if they are regarded as commercial successes). The studio's main source of revenue is from their 'back-catalogue'. This is where new media, DRM, inability to understand residuals in this era, etc. all ends in the current Hollywood writer's strike.

Now this might seem as if it is only Hollywood that is subject to this kind of economics, but it certainly is not the case. I have very little actual evidence (wish I had) but the current 'growth' in the Indian media/film industry has more to do with increasing amounts of money pouring into the industry, but until the big guys start making any money out of what they've created, this is not very sustainable.

That is why it is scary that producers are rushing into this large-release, and skimming-off-the-top model of moviemaking. This attitude does not result in creating media 'assets' of the sort the old Hollywood studios have been able to develop over the years.

Neelakantan said...

Firstly, thanks for taking time to leave a great comment. What you say here is right, "the current 'growth' in the Indian media/film industry has more to do with increasing amounts of money pouring into the industry, but until the big guys start making any money out of what they've created, this is not very sustainable."

I was actually observing a trend, which actually seems to be the case and you have kind of endorsed. I also suspect that this is a phase and once the easy money wears off (this being growth time), it will move in a different direction.