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Movie Web Sites: A missed chance to engage audiences?

- January 18, 2011 - 2 Comments

FACT: A box office blockbuster hit movie results in big web traffic numbers at the site managed by major motion picture studio. But the big audience draw at an official movie web site is temporary.

In 2009, I put together this chart on the web sites of three biggest films of 2008. The movie web sites for the top 3 films of 2008 nabbed about 500,000 unique visitors when the movies launched in theaters. About half that traffic number you’ll find on the sites a few months later when the DVD releases for the same film titles are promoted.

Top 10 Grossing Movies of 2010

I recently looked at some ComScore traffic statistics for the web sites of the top ten grossing movies of 2010 ; I discovered the trend of rapidly rising and falling web traffic at movie web sites has not changed since 2008.

In fact, the top 10 films of 2010 drew even more web traffic than ever – most every top 10 film drew over 1 million unique visitors to the official site at the time of film release. After the release, traffic to the official movie web site falls precipitously, maybe returning to about ½ of the numbers at the time of the DVD release.

Despite being a long term franchise, site only experiences traffic when a new title in the series is in theaters.

Eventually the movie sites are abandoned or just stay online and have few visitors. This happens quite often because there is no new content or little social engagement on the movie sites to motivate fans to come back.

As outlined an IDC whitepaper (offered here by the Cisco Media Solutions Group), the average movie promotional web site costs $1 to $3 million to design, develop and host during the theatrical release (typically 4-6 weeks of heavy traffic). Those costs includes all design and development, staffing and technology infrastructure.

It’s amazing to consider all these resources are applied towards a single movie site while the audiences visit, leave and never come back. It makes you wonder what the return on the investment is.

Chris Thilk agrees – Thilk runs a web site On his site, he covers how major movie studios market their films, especially digitally. In a post he wrote for called ‘Why Do Most Movie Web Sites Suck’ (subscription required), Thilk faults studios for not committing to the conversation around their movies on the Facebook pages they’ve created for their movie titles. He also wonders why the official movie sites do not have as much information as the Facebook pages:

I keep noticing big gaps between what I know has been created and what is available on official movies sites, which are (in theory) supposed to be a movie’s central hub of information. Often missing are bios on the stars, other versions of the trailer (especially after you’ve seen them on TV), photo galleries and more.

Chris Thilk also hits on a theme we’ve blogged about here many times he believes a movie marketing web site should be the central hub for the conversation around a film title. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube comments can all be aggregated back on the main movie site, while social tools should be added to the movie site so fans can share content from the main site with their social networks like Facebook (read a related Cisco blog post on how social sharing features can drive audience back to a branded entertainment web site).


In addition, Thilk also talks about a hub and spoke model for film sites – where the studios have a main studio site and individual pages for each film.

There’s a strong case to be made that studios need to rein in their movie-by-movie focus and instead start looking at ways to create a single central online hub where they can promote all their movies, turning the audience for one into the audience for any number of movies down the road.

Dogwoof Films maintains a main site for all of its films, and individual film sites for each title produces a regular blog for film buffs.

Some studios are catching on to this idea. For instance, Dogwoof Films has a main studio site where it presents all of its film titles, while each of its film titles have individual movie pages (Dogwoof’s sites are powered by Cisco Eos).

Fox Searchlight, Fox’s independent film banner, has followed the same approach for its site – a main page, and individual movie sites off the main page. Fox Searchlight also keeps visitors coming back with a blog about all of its film titles. It’s a continuous stream of professional content posted to site that keeps the Fox Searchlight site interesting for film buffs.

Likely one of the biggest opportunities to create branded experiences around film content is when a film is truly a classic.

A recent Billboard article demonstrates how Lionsgate is taking control of the Facebook pages of its catalog film titles. Lionsgate gained ownership of a Facebook fan page for “Dirty Dancing” and drove the page to over 7 million ‘likes’ making it the #6 most popular movie on Facebook. Lionsgate is now trying to monetize the page by adding content, committing to a conversation and by driving people to a commerce site,

But oddly, there’s more updated content related to the film on the Facebook page of “Dirty Dancing” than the actual Lionsgate site – – echoing the point Chris Thilk made in his post ‘Why Do Movie Web Sites Suck’. Meanwhile, Billboard reports “Rambo” (800,000), “Apocalypse Now” (200,000) and “Reservoir Dogs” (270,000) all have sizable Facebook fan bases that Lionsgate hopes to mobilize in the future.

Why do you visit the web site of a movie title? I believe it’s more than to just see the trailer and find out show times. Fans truly have emotional connections to their favorite films and will connect with a film over time.

An official site could have the most popular film scenes, behind the scenes clips, actor bios, set photos, and film trivia, and it would allow for social conversation.

I’m a huge fan of “Animal House” yet I went looking for the official site for the movie and it does not exist. There’s no official Facebook page either, it’s just a ‘community’ fan page on Facebook with 200,000 likes. Yet if you Google “Animal House Movie” you find IMDB, YouTube, and RottenTomatoes all capitalizing on the search traffic and offering advertising around Animal House content. It seems like a lost opportunity for the owner of the content, Universal Pictures.

We’ll keep following innovations in the branded online experiences created by movie studios. In the meantime, please join the conversation below in the comments section and let us know your thoughts about both our movie web site observations and those of site manager Chris Thilk.

The Facebook page for "Dirty Dancing" has attracted over 7 million likes, and Lionsgate is managing the page actively with new content

While the Facebook page for Dirty Dancing is being updated with new content, the actual official site is rather static

Search for 'Animal House Movie' - you'll find there's no official site, but and YouTube are certainly monetizing against the interest in the film


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  1. Chuck, this is a very well written and thought out post. As much as I love Facebook and believe that media brands should have a strong presence on the social network, they are at the mercy of Facebook's terms of service and design changes which often change. We advise that our clients have both a dynamic Facebook page and an amazing online hub. There's also a major opportunity for movie studios to launch online hubs around specific genres especially horror, comedy and documentaries. Bloody Disgusting, a long running horror community, has a scary amount of traffic and a very nice ad business.

    • Thanks Rachel for the kind words. Yes, I had written previously about the Facebook design changes and the problems they can cause media brands here - - thank you for reminding us about that. And good point on the genre sites, I should have included that. I will look into the successes of movie genre sites for a follow up post. Chuck