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Is there Gold in the Trash? Lessons from the Film Industry

Recently at the Consumer Electronics Show I had a enlightening conversation with the head of a major movie studio.  He told me that they spend close to $1 billion annually to “acquire the same customer over and over--people that go to movies.”  That’s because the natural goal with each movie is to maximize box office revenue.  Since web properties deliver little incremental revenue today, all their effort is placed on the traditional revenue streams.

They create web properties and social engagement platforms primarily for promotional purposes that live for about four to six weeks after the in-theater window.  Then, they are abandoned and they start over on the next film.  With the cost of the average Hollywood movie promotional website running about $1-3 million, the studios lose an opportunity to understand, engage and monetize that audience.

The lack of recognition on digital opportunities goes even deeper.  At the Digital Media Wire/Variety Future of Film Conference, a tech startup that does social widgets for film sites said they loved coming to Hollywood because it was “like printing money--every film studio wants to ‘do social.’”  They said they were surprised at the end of each engagement because they’d try to transfer the audience data they collected via the widget back to the studio, and they’d be told to keep it; that the use of that data wasn’t the studio’s “job” and that they wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway.  The startup said it was fascinating to watch studio CFOs scrutinize the ROI on every campaign as measured by impressions, click through rates, etc, but then walk away from the most valuable assets--the data and the relationship with the consumer--that the social app was generating.

Movie studios perhaps are optimizing around revenue today (box office) but not yet optimizing around the revenue and asset of tomorrow.   That asset is data.  By having a source of data about their audience that can do useful things, studios can both decrease marketing costs and develop new revenue sources around that audience and film property.

While Cisco Eos can help studios accomplish short term promotional goals via a socially enabled entertainment experience, the real added value is over the long term.  That value is realized in three ways: Read More »

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Movie Web Sites: A missed chance to engage audiences?

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, Shrek.com 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 MovieMarketingMadness.com. On his site, he covers how major movie studios market their films, especially digitally. In a post he wrote for AdAge.com 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).

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Cisco in the Movies!

As we’ve discussed on this blog, Cisco Eos® is a social entertainment software platform built for Media & Entertainment companies. The platform is being used by media companies in multiple entertainment genre — from music to T.V….from sports to film. Dogwoof, a leading distributor of independent films in the UK, such as Restrepo and No Impact Man, has been running on Eos for almost a year. Today, I’d like to introduce you to a new site that’s enabled by Cisco Eos, Variety’s Screening Series Video Q&A site: http://cisco.varietyscreeningseries.com/screenings/.

The Variety Screening Series is an exclusive series of invite-only screenings of award-contending films. Each screening consists of a showing of the film, accompanied by a live Q&A with directors, producers, writers or actors associated with a particular film. The screenings take place in three cities: Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. The series is in its eighth year, but this is the first year in which they are utilizing Cisco Eos to extend the experience beyond the audience at the physical screenings.

Visiting this site is your opportunity to be a VIP and see the Q&A videos with your favorite stars, directors, etc., from the comfort of your own home (or at least laptop). For example:

If you register for the site, you can become part of the virtual audience — rating the videos on the site, sharing the videos with your friends via Facebook, MySpace and Twitter; you can even upload your own photos and videos related to the films and screening series.

The screening series runs through December, so be sure to check back frequently for updates. New videos are being added weekly and we’ll definitely be seeing more from L.A., N.Y. and a handful in S.F. The videos are a great resource for you film fans to get an additional fix as we go into the award season since many of these films, actors, directors and producers are likely candidates for nomination. Happy viewing!

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