With viewing habits evolving, movie marketers need to think digital

Renee Bulgin / July 2020

While the film industry has been watching home viewing trends evolve for years, the sudden closure of movie theatres accelerated digital streaming trends. Almost overnight, studios had to either shift title launch dates or pivot to a digital release strategy.

Through the pandemic, people have still been actively looking for movies to watch. Search interest for “movies to stream” increased1 and searches for "shows to watch" have grown globally by over 100% YoY.2 Global watch time of both ad-supported and purchased feature-length movies on YouTube is up 800% year over year, and watch time for live content is up 250%.3 In Canada, more than 10 million people are now watching YouTube on their TV screens.4

Illustrated icon represents Global watch time on YouTube for both ad-supported and purchased feature-length movies has grown 8X year over year.

It's hard to predict exactly how these streaming trends will play out long-term, but research is suggesting that people could slowly ease back to theatres even when restrictions are lifted. According to an Ipsos and Global News survey, only 36% of Canadians surveyed said they are likely to see a movie in theatres if permitted to do so in 2020.5 Media and entertainment marketers have an opportunity to prepare by rethinking marketing strategies, and taking a more flexible approach.

For some, this could mean lengthening the release window. For others, it could mean a combined theatrical and streaming release strategy, or even a shift to digital-only. Either way, with all of the uncertainty ahead, flexibility and agility will be key.

To address these trends, here are two approaches worth considering.

However you're launching, have a digital-first strategy

For years, the traditional go-to-market approach for theatrical releases has been a fixed 90-day window in theatres before a wider release. The promotion of these films relied largely on traditional linear television to convince audiences to watch the film.

Now, some studios are challenging the traditional distribution model, and some are going straight to premium video on demand (PVOD).

For some, this could mean lengthening the release window. For others, it could mean a combined theatrical and streaming release strategy, or even a shift to digital-only.

During the pandemic, Universal Pictures has launched new releases via digital PVOD, including the animated film Trolls World Tour. On April 10, Canadians were able to rent the movie through various digital retailers at home, as well as download an activity kit with craft and decoration ideas for kids to throw their own premiere party. According to news articles, in the first three weeks of its digital release, Trolls World Tour was more profitable for Universal than the first Trolls movie was in its first five months in domestic theatres.

In addition to challenging traditional distribution models, consider challenging traditional marketing strategies, regardless of how the film gets distributed.

Given that over 30% of Canadians have cut the cord,6 having a digital-first planning process can lead to stronger results than TV-first approaches.

A digital-first approach can be more effective at reaching the audiences movie marketers care about, consistently, and at scale. According to Comscore, YouTube is the only Canadian ad supported video platform to reach Canadians across all audiences with a 94% reach.7 In an MMM meta-analysis we commissioned with Nielsen, YouTube had significantly greater ROI than TV in 83% of studies that measured YouTube and TV in 2017-2018.8

Use automation to make data-driven decisions

With this shift in consumer behaviour, studios also need to rethink their full funnel approach. Marketers will need to go beyond branding and awareness campaigns to develop a strategy that links upper funnel awareness to delivering lower funnel business outcomes.

Linking brand building and acquisition strategies allows marketers to achieve multiple KPIs.

Traditional and brand-focused strategies will still play a critical role, but marketers will need to think beyond them. Linking brand building and acquisition strategies allows marketers to achieve multiple KPIs such as driving interest and consideration for the film while also maximizing ticket sales and digital downloads.

Take a movie trailer, for example. Traditionally, this would be created to drive awareness and convince people to go to the theatre. While this still holds true, consumers want choice and marketers have the opportunity to connect with a broader audience, including both those that prefer to watch content in theatres and those that prefer to watch elsewhere. Google’s Smart Bidding automation can help ensure your advertising reaches the right audience at the right time and drive meaningful business results for movie releases, regardless of the distribution strategy.

Media and entertainment marketers should take this opportunity to create agile strategies that meet new realities and digital trends, however they evolve. PVOD is important, but so is the theatrical experience. Digital-first strategies will allow teams to shift campaigns and media plans as necessary, and position marketing teams to meet viewing trends right now and in the future.

Headshot of Renee Bulgin

Renee Bulgin

Head of Telecom, Media and Entertainment Google Canada

Sources (8)

1 Google Trends, Canada, June 1, 2019 - June 1, 2020.

2 Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, US, CA, UK, FR, DE, IT, AU, JP, RU, IN, CN, ES, BR, MX n=1000 online consumers 18+ per market. May 1-3, 2020

3 YouTube Internal Data, U.S., March 11, 2020–April 10, 2020 vs. March 11, 2019–April 10, 2019

4 YouTube Internal Data, CA, March 2020

5 GlobalNews.ca, "More Canadians likely to shop, eat out than go to concerts, sports games in 2020: poll,' May 17, 2020

6 MTM March 2020 as reported by Media in Canada; SVOD Subscriptions Surpass Cable

7 Comscore MMX® Multi-Platform, Persons 18+, Top 100 Properties - Unrolled, March 2020, Canada.

8 Commissioned Nielsen MMM Meta-Analysis, Canada, 2017-2018. Base: all CPG MMMs commissioned by Google and completed in 2017-2018 that contain YouTube and TV results. This list includes 15 MMMs broken out by annual results for a total of 30 studies across CPG categories. ROI is “Retail ROI,” defined as total incremental sales divided by total media spend. TV ROI represents the average across all broadcasters, and TV spends are estimates based on available Industry Benchmark Rates. YT spend is based on rate card across all demographics (18+). For each study, YouTube ROI is defined to be significantly greater based on a one-tailed test with significance level 0.05.

What we’ve learned from a year of COVID