Does digital data offer indicators that can be used to monitor marketing effectiveness and predict box office success even before awareness turns into intent? We analyzed this weekend's new movies across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google (the methodology behind the numbers is below) over the seven days leading up to their release, when marketing campaigns should be at their peak.
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier"
When it comes to box office power and social-media muscle, the movies of the Marvel Universe are the strongest around right now, with "The Avengers" and "Iron Man 3" the highest-grossing films worldwide of 2012 and 2013, respectively, with both nestling among the top five biggest global totals of all time. The second "Captain America" movie will also benefit from the "Avengers" bump and gross far more than the first movie, just as "Iron Man 3" and "Thor: The Dark World" saw grosses far higher than their predecessors following the mega-success of "Avengers."
Marvel's movies may exist in a single universe, but box office wise they are on another planet, so how does "Winter Soldier" compare to Marvel's latest titles? According to the social stats, "Winter Soldier" should beat out "Thor's" second offering but will lag behind "Iron Man 3′s" arc-reactor-powered $174 million opening.
While we can assume that fans will like several Marvel-related Facebook pages, we can use the Facebook Like counts as a barometer for the general popularity of each character before their latest movies came out: "Iron Man" is still way out in front, with "Captain America" coming in second with 10.8 million, followed by "Thor's" 8.2 million. Reflecting Tony Stark's popularity, his total advanced to almost 18 million after the third installment in his series.
It's safe to say "Winter Soldier" won't be approaching "Iron Man" or "Avengers" numbers, but it is stacking up well against "Thor: The Dark World." "Winter Soldier" not only has a larger Facebook audience than "Thor," but more of them are active, with "Thor" engaging 6% of fans before release and "Winter Soldier" engaging 7%. (This may seem like small percentages but those numbers are brought into perspective by the unusually large fan counts the pages have).
"Winter Soldier" has 77.6 million trailer views to "Thor's" 61 million with similar Buzz, and 527,000 searches to "Thor's" 383,000, so Cap should be set for an opening above "Thor's" $86 million, placing him firmly in position as Marvel's second most favorite Avenger after Iron Man -- whose last movie incidentally drove more than 1 million searches in release week. "Thor" does have the edge on Twitter with 980,000 tweets, but search volume is a better indicator of interest among a wider audience.
Much of the digital campaign has been similar to that of "The First Avenger," with a new trailer debuting in February during the most American of events -- the Super Bowl, where the TV clip teased the full trailer drop on foxsports.com, and clips have also been promoted exclusively with movietickets.com and MTV Movies. As an official partner, Chevrolet released amusing ads featuring the "Winter Soldier" trailer remade starring kids.
Marvel's website has promoted the movie heavily, with Marvel.com carrying lots of Cap material, including clips, spots, backstories and digital comic giveaways to boot. "Winter Soldier" even has its own game app, made available last week. Marvel's social-media presence is, of course, very strong, with 1.27 million followers on Twitter, 765,000 on Pinterest, and action-packed gifs gaining thousands of notes on Tumblr. Marvel has used this leverage to promote "Winter Soldier" heavily across all channels as it seeks to mobilize its fanbase for this weekend's release.
Final Expectations: Social stats suggest "Winter Soldier" will make Captain America Marvel's second biggest box office star.
Tobias Bauckhage (@tbauckhage) is co-founder and CEO of http://www.moviepilot.com, a social-media-driven movie community reaching over 15 million Facebook fans and 7 million monthly unique users. Based on community data, Moviepilot helps studios to optimize their social media campaigns, identifying, analyzing and activating the right audiences. The company works with studios like Sony, Twentieth Century Fox and FilmDistrict.
While individually these metrics may not mean a lot, compared to one another and in context of competition and genre benchmarks, they give a good impression of the performance of a movie's marketing campaign and the audience's appetite for the movie. Needless to say, there are limitations to these data points and the causalities they explain, but as Hollywood just enters the era of Big Data, the potential insight offered by these numbers cannot be ignored.
Facebook fan (or like) numbers are a good indicator for fan awareness for a movie, even months before the release. For mainstream movies with younger target audiences, fan counts are particularly important. However, big fan numbers can be bought and movies with older target audiences typically have lower fan counts. Fan engagement measured by PTAT (People Talking About This) is a more precise but also a fickle indicator, heavily driven by content strategy and media spending. Both numbers are global and public facing numbers from the official Facebook fanpage.
YouTube trailer counts are important for measuring early awareness about a movie. We track all English language original video content about the movie on YouTube, down to videos with 100 views, whether they are officially published by a studio or published unofficially by fans. The Buzz ratio looks at the percentage of unique viewers on YouTube that have "liked" a video and given it a "thumbs up". Movies with over 40 million views are usually mainstream and set to dominate the box office, while titles drawing 10 million to 20 million views indicate a more specific audience. If a movie does not have a solid number of trailer views on YouTube four weeks before its release, it is not promising news. But again, it is important to understand whether trailer views have been bought or grew organically. These numbers are global and public facing.
Twitter is a good real-time indicator of excitement and word of mouth, coming closer to release or following bigger PR stunts. Mainstream, comedy and horror titles all perform particularly strongly on Twitter around release. We count all tweets over the period of the last seven days before release (Friday through Thursday), that include the movie's title plus a number of search words, e.g. "movie" OR a list of movie-specific hashtags. Some titles with common words or phrases like "HER" or "LABOR DAY" are very hard to track in a meaningful way on Twitter. The numbers are global, conducted using a Twitter API partner service.
Search is a solid indicator for intent moving towards release as people actively seek out titles that they are aware of and are thinking about seeing. Search is particularly significant for fan-driven franchises and family titles as parents look for information about films they may take their children to see. We look at the last seven days (Friday through Thursday) of global Wikipedia traffic as a conclusive proxy for Google Search volume. We have to consider that big simultaneous global releases tend to have higher search results compared to domestic releases.
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