By Bill Gannon, Vice President & Global Editor-in-Chief at Future PLC
Box offices are reopening and studios are shooting again, but the time Americans spent at home has likely changed media consumption forever. Trends that were already underway pre-pandemic — such as media fragmentation and shifting consumption habits — sped up exponentially as consumers stayed home and looked for ways to entertain themselves.
Netflix added 26 million customers during the first half of 2020, a record for the streaming company, and Disney+ added three times as many amid the crisis. The average American now subscribes to nine services — four for video, three for gaming and two for music. What’s more, younger consumers with so many options at their fingertips are spending far less time watching TV or movies than older generations.
“I don’t think the genie will ever be back in the bottle,” Peter Guber, Mandalay Entertainment president, told the Associated Press.
Given the rapid shift in consumer tastes, Hollywood needs to rethink not just how it makes and delivers movies but how it promotes them as well. Trusted publishers can be valuable on this front, helping facilitate meaningful interactions with audiences that remind them of why they love going to the movies.
“Publishers can amplify traditional advertising and make sure it reaches audiences wherever they spend their time,” said Steve Friedman who, as vice president for the Western region at Future, partners with studios on advertising strategy. “The right publisher will offer flexible buying options that pivot to match ever-changing shifts in consumer behaviors.”
To their credit, many studios pivoted quickly amid the crisis and have accepted the resulting changes. They experimented with direct-to-home movie releases and are planning to continue offering them. Studios are also shortening the time between the theatrical and home release of films down to as few as 17 days in the case of Universal. In that particular arrangement, if a film has a strong opening, it will stay in the theaters longer. This adaptive business model demonstrates that Hollywood understands the ground is shifting beneath its feet.
Theaters are also enhancing the box office experience to draw people back to movie theaters, and it seems to be working. According to Fandango, 93 percent of recent moviegoers were satisfied by their post-pandemic experience. Even as home viewing options improve, movie theatres will have a place, particularly globally. Since 2018, China alone has built more than 20,000 theater screens.
In the US, many of the trends becoming visible now have been years in the making. In a recent Deloitte report, Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers all agreed that watching TV was their favorite form of entertainment. Yet among Generation Z, only 10 percent of people said that, while the vast majority placed it behind video games, listening to music, browsing the internet and engaging on social platforms. If things continue this way, the report notes, “The dominant position that video entertainment has held could be challenged.”
Reimagining Hollywood’s place in such a reality requires producing content that crosses platforms and that has already started to happen — The Witcher, Sonic the Hedgehog and Pokémon, to name a few. When it comes to video games, Hollywood is “embracing the medium as the next funnel of blockbuster content,” according to Brandon Katz at The Observer.
“Thanks to finite run times, films have a built-in ceiling in terms of engagement,” Katz writes. “But if a studio funnels an audience member through a video game completion and right into a movie or TV series based on that video game, it is extending their immersion and engagement within the ecosystem that the studio built.”
Advertising and marketing must also shift to where consumers are heading. As they develop multi-platform campaigns, marketers need to pay special attention to the tolerance for advertising and how it varies across channels. For example, Deloitte found greater willingness to view ads with video content than with music or video games. And on social media, ads were influential and even liked.
According to the report, a key question media and entertainment advertisers need to ask is, “How can content providers and advertisers look at advertising holistically across entertainment platforms and segments, while addressing unique consumer tolerances and preferences?”
One answer to that question is by identifying and partnering with the publishers that have access to those audiences across the emerging spectrum of media and entertainment options.