We spoke with Movio's co-founder, William Palmer, reflecting back on his long and storied history with Movio since its inception, the growth of the industry around the business, and where the future may take Movio and Will himself as he departs the company.
It has been over a decade since you founded Movio; why have you chosen now to make this new move?
Probably because I’ve never felt more confident that the business—and the movie industry—is in safer hands.
For a long time there’s been the question around release windows, and what was going to happen when one day somebody decided to collapse the windows. Would it be the death knell of the industry? It was something that hung at the back of our minds across the whole cinema sector for a long time, but fast forwarding through the pandemic, now studios are trialling that, and have landed on a place which is far more sensible for both parties. It might sound crazy given we’ve been through a massive pandemic, but that’s made me confident that the uncertainty has gone away.
But not only am I confident in the theatrical business, but the second reason is that in my heart, I’m an entrepreneur. I thrive developing new products and solving new problems. The challenge of connecting moviegoers with their ideal movie is far from solved, but the Movio leadership team has been with me for more than seven years, and they deserve an opportunity to stamp their mark on both Movio and the industry. It felt like an opportune moment to hand that baton.
Looking back for a moment to the beginning of it all; what was the catalyst for starting Movio all those years ago?
The catalyst was, frankly, empty cinemas. Both myself and my co-founder, Peter Begley, were cinephiles, and we both went to the movies all the time. I remember watching a fantastic film, great seat, great sound, and realising it was only at about 18% occupancy. Which, after investigating, turned out to be the average at that time. That just didn’t make sense. How could you have such an amazing experience, and yet so many people were missing out on seeing these films in theatre?
The insight quickly became, if you could work with the exhibitors who had access to the data—whether through a loyalty program or an online ticketing system—you’d be able to use that to identify and segment audiences, then work with distributors, who had all the marketing money, we could create better results for the whole industry.
We were pretty determined to see if we could make that work, and that’s been the quest from the beginning.
After a decade of helping to connect every moviegoer to their ideal movie, there have been a lot of changes across the industry. What sits among the most significant of those that you’ve observed? And how did you lead Movio to adapt to those changes?
The biggest changes have actually occurred very recently, and they’re still playing out. There’s been advancements and definite improvements in data capture and marketing, and numerous changes over most of those ten years as everything evolved until we arrive at the pandemic. Then I think everything has been shunted forward ten years or so.
The biggest changes are happening as we speak; integrated offerings with studios and distributors, seeing universes created between the streaming platforms and what’s happening in cinema, creating a symbiotic story between the two. I think it’s really interesting. There’s the long-game that you’re seeing with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The proliferation of channels that people can now choose to market through, and the growth that’s been required in digital marketing—there’s been huge change in the way things are marketed.
They’re really big changes for companies like Movio, where we’ve got so much more moviegoer data coming through, and more ability to influence people through more digital channels. I think there’s a lot still to come, and it will definitely still take some time to play out.
As you look back on your time with Movio, what jumps out as some of your proudest aspects?
Again, recently, Movio’s collective response to the pandemic was remarkable. You know, we lost 70% of our revenue almost overnight. We were on phone calls with all of our customers immediately, trying to work through together. How would we survive this? How long was this going to last? Was this really going to be the end?
And amongst all that uncertainty, all of our staff and all of our teams had to work from home, as so many others. But during that time, the Movio team completely rebuilt the entire platform that we started 11 years ago from scratch; and it’s due to be released sometime around Cinema Con next year. Not to mention, they did it all remotely. With less staff and release resources than ever before. I'm immensely proud of how the team pulled together to make that happen.
I believe that Movio is in a better position now after the pandemic than it ever was prior.
What parting thoughts or advice would you give to the industry?
I think the focus has to remain on the moviegoer. There’s so many things to think about in the industry, but if everyone’s focus was on the moviegoer collectively, and on bringing them back to the theatre, then I think we’re going to have the whole industry pulling in the right direction. It starts with working together on awareness—getting moviegoers’ attention.
That’s going to get harder and harder. There are so many channels that people learn about new content through; I think how we reach them is going to become one of the biggest challenges. It’s critical to try and bring new moviegoers into the cinema as well as bringing people back. Awareness and attention would be my number one.
My number two would be making it easier to buy tickets. Once you’ve got my attention, you have to get me to buy a ticket as soon as you have it. Integrating tickets, pricing that’s more dynamic based around content’s appeal, accessing tickets in various places—I think those are all really important.
Experience is going to come down to the last thing, too. The cinema experience has to be able to exceed that of the living room. It’s going to be a higher and higher bar over the coming years, but that can’t stop the industry working on making service better.
It’s those three things: getting the consumers’ attention, making it easy for them to buy tickets, and always improving the experience. Together, those things will win the moviegoers back, and ensure the industry thrives.