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Finding Moviegoers In The Numbers: Production and Distribution

Box office numbers may be the movie industry's measure of success but ultimately, it’s the audience that drives the revenue. Understanding moviegoers’ demographics and behavior at every stage of the movie value chain is vital to a movie’s success. Movio goes beyond the box office to analyze audiences, target them and measure the incremental financial impact of such activities.

By accessing, analyzing and acting upon moviegoer data, producers, distributors, exhibitors and those in home entertainment are best-placed to attract audiences and drive returns. In this two-part series, we look at the industry's entire value chain; the first being for movie makers and distributors prior to and during the process of production and distribution.


Audience data can assist producers with greenlighting decisions, including assessing potential audience size and the potential impact of casting one actor over another. To show the impact of data on these decisions, we've highlighted an example below.

Movio’s Data Science team recently worked with AARP to undertake a study of older American moviegoers and, whilst doing so, identified an emerging niche: Mature Action movies. These high-octane movies like those in the Taken and Jack Reacher series, November Man and Criminal are fronted by veteran actors such as Liam Neeson, Kevin Costner, Pierce Brosnan and Tom Cruise. Their audiences are largely older, male moviegoers who have been loyal to these actors for decades.

Hollywood is well known for trying to adapt a successful movie to a different, ideally-larger audience, Rough Night as a female Hangover, for example. With this in mind, it was unsurprising that there was an attempt to see whether a younger actor in a similar Mature Action story could break out and generate greater box office, and attract or create a new audience. Collide, released February 2016, walked and talked like a Mature Action movie except the lead was the 27-year-old Nicholas Hoult rather than a 50+ veteran.

As we can see when comparing the audience profiles, not only did the movie fail to attract a younger audience, it only attracted the most enthusiastic Mature Action aficionados. Collide earned $2 million in box office - around one-tenth of recent Mature Action releases. Data suggests that simply attaching a younger actor - or at least this actor - to an older-skewing genre does not create a new market and can alienate the very audience that made the genre a success in the first place.

Audience comparison Source: Movio Media


Moviegoer data gives distributors a more insightful way of creating comparative or ‘comp’ titles, resulting in more precise targeting. The traditional way of comping a forthcoming release involves grouping together prior movies with similar content, tone, actors or classifications. However, this approach assumes that an audience only likes one kind of movie or actor. Movio uses data science to provide comp lists based on how an audience spends their time and money.

Let’s look at the genre-bending Sausage Party.

If we were to imagine Sausage Party will be released six weeks from now and tickets are yet to go on-sale, we could build a target audience using the traditional approach, looking at other recent R-rated, gross-out comedies such as Neighbours and The Night Before.

Sausage Party Traditional

However, Movio uses data science to provide similar titles based on how audiences spend their time and money. To do this, Movio’s data scientists devised an algorithm which produces a Similarity Score based on the overlap of audiences of all pairs of moviegoers in the database. The algorithm assigns a score between 0-10 based on the strength of that overlap. A score of 0 means there is no overlap, whereas a score of 10 reflects the best fit. The results can be very different to what traditional comping might reveal.  

Sausage Party Similarity Algorithm Source: Movio Media

Comparing the results of the Similarity Score to the traditional way of comping audiences reveals a number of differences. Whilst there are still two gross-out comedies, Neighbors 2 and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, there are also two edgy superhero movies and a horror. Had we continued in the path of traditional evaluation, our efforts would have missed a large number of interested moviegoers.

Audience Evolution

At the moment, many US distributors launch a movie on a Friday and then move onto their next release. There isn’t much time or money devoted to in-season, chase marketing. But what if data can show that the audience not only evolves over time, but does so in a predictable way? Combined with the ability to respond with agility in a digital world, it would allow distributors to delay their marketing to those moviegoers who naturally see movies later in their seasons, as well as to adjust communications if actual audiences differ to what was expected before the movie opened.

We have conducted numerous studies into the way audiences evolve, including our Breaking The Blockbuster Code white paper, and audience evolution reports for Deadpool and Wonder Woman. These reveal that audiences for major releases do, in fact, evolve predictably:

Aged 15-30

  • Opening night - Young moviegoers aged 15-30yo over-index quite strongly
  • Cheap Tuesdays - Avid young male moviegoers are overrepresented by a factor of two
  • If you haven’t attracted younger audiences by opening weekend or discount Tuesdays, you’ve missed them altogether.

Aged 30-50

  • Saturdays and Sundays - Middle-aged moviegoers are best represented on these days. They are less likely to see movies mid-week because they are more likely to have families, more onerous work commitments and less reliance on discounted movie tickets.

Aged 50+

  • No preference - Older visitors may be as committed to seeing a new movie as younger cinemagoers, but they do not want to come in the opening days when the sessions are busiest. Instead, they reliably visit from the second week onward. They prefer daytime sessions and are less motivated by discounted Tuesday tickets since many exhibitors offer then Senior discounts more widely.

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In summary

The movie industry has long succeeded on instinct and experience and we believe this will be the foundation going forward. At the same time, access to deep data relating to audience demographic behavior provides a very powerful enhancement. Paired with agile digital channels, this enables producers and distributors to more effectively and measurably understand and motivate moviegoers to see their movies.

In part two of this blog series, we’ll look at the next stage; the use of data to improve exhibition and home entertainment campaign targeting.


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