Digging Deeper: Movio brings big-picture perspective to cinema audience analytics

Cinemas Features

With comScore (formerly Rentrak) and other movie industry analysis firms primarily focusing on measuring box-office results once a film has already been released, Movio is approaching big-data analytics from a decidedly different and more marketing-centric angle.

Movio’s Mission

A Vista Group International company, Movio has a lofty three-part goal—to revolutionize the way the film industry interacts with cinemagoers, increase box-office revenue, and improve the quality of content produced.

By putting a wide array of cinema audience attendee research results in the hands of movie studio brass (including more nimble, data-driven smaller players such as A24), theatrical content distributors and the exhibition community—including other ancillary participants in the value chain (such as advertisers and their agencies)—Movio is seeking to make an increasingly material difference for everyone’s bottom line.   

How it Works

Movio’s analytics team crunches mounds of marketing data on the demographic, behavioral and spending patterns of 34 million worldwide theatergoers—weighted to also factor in MPAA and U.S. Census data to account for less avid cinemagoers and a more complete picture.

Their integrated point-of-sale software monitors loyalty-program member transactions usage at over 28% of the world’s movie screens (larger circuits with 20+ screens), and over half of U.S.-based auditoriums. Patrons of the two largest domestic exhibitors, Regal Cinemas (Crown Club) and AMC (Stubs), are included.

Without getting too deep into the weeds, Movio’s data scientists pull through analytical data from each customer, individually and in aggregate, sending it back to the cinemas so they can manage and run their own targeted marketing programs.

This intelligence helps drive targeted marketing campaigns, as well as ancillary downstream distribution revenue opportunities, which Movio often advises on. In the compilation process, all personal identifier information is stripped out to produce additional demographic industry trend data and tools that can be extremely valuable to clients.

This big data was originally intended for studios and distributors, but increasingly it is also being sought by peripheral partners, because every element of the business has traditionally been data-starved. Traditional surveys on average target around 500 people and make assumptions about future consumer behavior without the benefit of that small audience of individuals’ past tendencies. In contrast, for one recent assignment Movio crunched data from 111,000 individuals, analyzing behavior across ethnicity, age and gender.

Says Movio CEO Will Palmer, “We can tell the most recent movies a person attended, how frequently they go and all of their patterns. The end goal is to empower our industry to have the same type of information as Netflix and Amazon have on the streaming side. Putting that type of data and data science behind consumer information can help executives make better content, media strategies and marketing decisions that will lead to superior execution.”

He adds, “Empowered by this data, they can also change direction much faster if things are not going as expected and audience response is not meeting what was originally anticipated.”

A Fortuitous Discovery

Movio’s “Audience Evolution” theory—which led to a white paper—initially resulted from a ‘happy’ accident. Palmer attended a California screening of Straight Outta Compton and was intrigued, although not really surprised, about the audience makeup. It was dramatically different from other audiences (of movies he had recently attended) across many categories including age, sex, race, etc. When the film was first released, attendees were primarily young, urban, African-American and predominantly male.

Interestingly and perhaps more surprisingly, by the end of its theatrical run the Compton audience had actually taken a U-turn in terms of demographics from when the title initially played in theatres. If you looked around the auditorium at the end of its theatrical run, you would have encountered an audience dominated by older, suburban and Caucasian females. Quite a contrast to opening week.

“I thought perhaps this difference was due to the specific elements of the film, including the band and their brand of music. But we decided to study how the audience makeup had changed and evolved over time. What was especially interesting was that it was almost a polar opposite from the start to the finish of the film run,” Palmer notes.

Movio’s data-science team decided to delve deeper into the numbers in order to observe what happened over time with audiences of the 2015 blockbusters, which included titles such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World and Furious 7.

What they ultimately discovered was quite astounding. There was indeed a consistent and discernible pattern for how audience demographics of tentpole titles tended to shift throughout the theatrical run and the Compton example was surprisingly the norm. They discovered that you can actually predict in advance with some certainty what is going to happen at key junctures during a blockbuster movie’s release period.

According to Movio, until that time most major studios had been focusing on opening-night audience demographics, driving future marketing plans and budgets. But, armed with the new information Movio had uncovered, an opportunity arose to better capitalize on the evolutionary shifts in audience patterns.

With that and other valuable knowledge, Movio is helping studios to build non-traditional marketing strategies over the course of a film’s release that are much more fluid, embracing expected shifts in who is likely to attend a given motion picture and at what point in its cycle.

That can take the form of either trying to change typical expected audience attendee patterns by altering ad spending and social-media strategy, or perhaps a better way would be capitalizing on the audience evolution pattern by planning a campaign designed to separately address different audience segments prior to a film’s release.

For example, this might entail targeting a younger, male Millennial audience early on, shifting to a more family-oriented advertising strategy following a movie’s opening weekend and ideally extending a long-tail run by focusing on senior audiences later in the release window with a different campaign, perhaps emphasizing good movie reviews.

Counterintuitive Research Results

Some of what Movio has uncovered in their research is not all that surprising, but there have been some interesting findings of the eyebrow-raising variety, including the aforementioned audience evolution patterns.

Most recently, the research-driven company has incorporated ethnicity overlay patterns into their historical data, and they will be tracking this going forward to see if there are any notable trends and future shifts worth exploring.

Horror has proven to be a profitable film genre, and Movio has discovered that it massively over-indexes with young Hispanic females. Palmer points out that there are several cinema industry paradoxes regarding women. Why is it that, although women so often influence ticket-purchasing decisions for themselves, spouses/significant others and children, the overall industry seems to gear so much of their product, marketing spend and even theatre auditorium décor to younger, Millennial audiences?

Speaking of that cohort, Palmer also wonders why unenlightened observers seem to generalize and typecast Millennial audience behavior when in fact they are a transitional group based on where you are on the 18-35 spectrum. For instance, there is a great deal of difference between buying patterns of relatively poor college students and those in their early 30s starting families and achieving success in their working lives and careers, for example.  

On the less surprising front, ticket buying for art-house fare is predominantly dominated by Caucasian audiences.

Coming Attractions

What’s next for Movio? One focus is likely to be geo-locating and exploring regional differences amongst filmgoers that will no doubt be valuable information for both the studio/distributor community and theatrical exhibitors. A studio or group of studios can theoretically optimize their entire annual release slate so that each segment (of moviegoers) can at any time attend a cinema and get something they want to see, without cannibalization.

The end result could be a more profitable box-office year, featuring a more diverse film slate. That’s what Movio is aspiring to. Industry observers will be watching closely to see if their big-data analytical numbers-crunching can indeed provide a material uplift and float everyone’s boats a bit higher. No doubt this would also help drive the case for Movio seeking to share in back-end profits.