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Breaking the Blockbuster Code: Audience Evolution Patterns Revealed

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Below is a summary of the research white paper, Breaking the Blockbuster Code: Audience Evolution Patterns Revealed written by Dr Bryan Smith, Movio's Chief Data Scientist.

Most people in the film industry agree that the audience of a tentpole film on opening night is a good indicator of its target audience and who will see it over the full theatrical run. Well, this is arguable.

The Movio data science team analyzed the audience of Straight Outta Compton over time. They found that the audience profile completely changed within the first two weeks of the film’s release, which we found fascinating.

With these insights in mind, we analyzed the audience profile for Star Wars: The Force Awakens from advanced ticket sales, and realized that the opening night audience was heavily skewing male (70.4%) as published in Variety 23 October 2015.

Once the film opened we saw a  dramatic evolution of this film’s audience over the first week. The gender distribution was 72% male on opening night, down 9.7% (65%) by Sunday, and another 7.7% (61%) by the following Thursday. Another way to look at this is the female share of this audience increased by 15% over opening week.

These insights got us thinking. What if audience evolution was not an exception, but in fact, the reality for blockbuster audiences as a rule?

Audience evolution patterns revealed

At Movio we have access to data on the demographics and moviegoing behavior of millions of cinema loyalty members, So, we were able to explore these audience evolution patterns further to discover if in fact the ‘Star Wars’ audience behavior would be replicated with other tentpole films.

Our data science team started by looking at other top-grossing movies of 2015: Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Furious 7 which all showed a similar trend in the time-evolution of the gender split as Star Wars:

  • The female audience increases by 20% consistently within the first three days (38% vs 32%).
  • The opening night audience is three to four years younger than the Saturday and Sunday audiences.
  • The opening night audience sees an average of 2.1 more movies per year than the Saturday and Sunday audiences (12.9 vs 10.8).

These insights suggested that blockbuster audiences do generally evolve over time.

Our next step was to investigate how to characterize this evolution and the factors that drive it. We analyzed the data for 10 of the top 20 grossing films of 2015 and discovered the following trends:

15-30 yo moviegoers

  • Young moviegoers over-­index quite strongly on opening night and during discounted Tuesday promotions
  • Avid young male moviegoers are overrepresented on opening night by a factor of 2
  • Young men are always overrepresented on opening weekend whether or not a movie is targeted at them, and their share of the audience declines over time
  • Young women are overrepresented by 10% on opening weekend for female-­driven films but underrepresented by 10% for male-­driven films

Key takeaway - Your only chance to grab young moviegoers is on opening weekend and discounted Tuesdays, if not you’ve missed the mark.

30­-50 yo moviegoers

  • Middle-­aged moviegoers are best represented on Saturdays and Sundays, and underrepresented on Tuesdays.
  • Both men and women between 30-­50 yo behave more like the average moviegoer in general, with men in this bracket slightly over-indexing early in the film runs and women over-indexing later.

50+ yo moviegoers

  • Older visitors do not appear to have any particular daily preferences, although older women start to be represented from week 2.

Key takeaway - Avid moviegoers are overrepresented by 15% onopening weekend vs. the full film’s run.

Movio Audience EvolutionWhat does this mean for film studio’s marketing strategies?

A traditional scarcity of available data has forced film studios to make assumptions on audience composition based on titles deemed comparable and years of industry knowledge. This anticipated audience is the foundation for their whole marketing strategy and associated media plan for that film. In order for these audience targeting assumptions to be supported, the studios need actual insights on the movie-going audiences. The access to this behavioral movie-going data will open new territory for studios and how they interact with their audience pre-release and throughout the run of their film. So we’d like to ask the following questions to studio marketing executives:

  • How would your marketing strategy change if you understood how the audience was likely to evolve on any given film?
  • Once a film has been released, what marketing initiatives could be initiated based on how the audience pattern is evolving?

The top behavioral patterns revealed in this research are:

Movio Media audience insights

Featured image photo credit - Photo by Rob Latour.

To find out more about our research, insights and methodology download the full white paper below.

This research was originally presented at Variety’s 'MASSIVE: The Entertainment Marketing Summit' held in LA, followed by a spotlight conversation with Variety Co-Editor-In-Chief Andrew Wallenstein. This unique one-day summit is dedicated to the entertainment business and shared ideas between advertisers, studios and TV content partners, digital media brands and next-generation technology leaders. MASSIVE explores the best strategies to advance entertainment and brand awareness as consumers scatter across new media options, multiplying screens and platforms.


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