Due to the pandemic, the cinemas are closed and we have no choice but to rely on virtual streaming. But will it equate the cinema experience?
Big movie makers are planning to release movies in theaters again, possibly as early as July, studio marketers have to get creative to reach audiences since the COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out in-theater trailers and live-sports advertising, the top avenues for promoting a film.
“Early information is of value to filmmakers,” says Screen Engine CEO and founder Kevin Goetz. “The audience may not experience the same scope, but you will get 90 percent of the information.” While Screen Engine can’t reveal its clients, Goetz says the service is being used extensively to test TV pilots and programming from streamers as well as smaller films. “Studios are becoming more cool with it,” he says. “Tonight, we are testing a title from a major motion picture company. So they are slowly coming around.”
However, movie studios including Disney, Paramount and Universal are waiting for cinemas to reopen so that they can release their big films such as Mulan and Wonder Woman 1984, were tested pre-pandemic. But many fall flicks, like 20th Century’s Death on the Nile, which is set to open in October, weren’t yet in the testing window when the industry wide shutdown hit in March.
Warner Bros. premiered the second trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet on May and the studio debuted the spot on the popular online game Fortnite for better marketing. Moreover, Artemis Fowl, a big-budget sci-fi movie Disney+ inherited from one of the company’s theatrical divisions, aired on ESPN during a 28-year-old rerun of a Michael Jordan NBA game
The movie critics are looking for solution on how to balance the feels of going on a movie night compare to the home movie marathons.
“Movies are still escapist, and people want to get away more than ever,” says Russell Schwartz, an ex-marketing exec at Relativity and New Line Cinema who now teaches at AFI and Chapman College. “But now the marketing effort will be 20 seconds to sell the movie and 10 seconds to sell the audience on the idea of even going to the theater.”
According to iSpot.tv, hollywood studios, most likely they have spent 52.9 percent less to market movies on TV this year than they did during the same Jan. 1-May 28 period in 2019. In May, the traditional start of the summer box office, spending is down 98.7 percent from last year. This has brought a lot of drastic changes in a larger scale for entertainment.
“The entertainment landscape is going through an evolution because of COVID,” says Stuart Schwartzapfel, iSpot’s senior vp media partnerships. “This has never happened. Home entertainment used to be a tiny piece of the pie. Is PVOD here to stay? It’s too early to say.”
Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (Warner Bros.) and Russell Crowe-led Unhinged (Solstice Studios) are among the first films expected to reach theaters after the COVID-19 shutdown.
Studios are hoping cinemas will reopen in time for late-summer tentpoles that include Tenet (July 17), Disney’s Mulan (July 24), Paramount’s The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run (Aug. 7) and Warners’ Wonder Woman 1984 (Aug. 14).
While the challenges are formidable, there is an opportunity — the Unhinged trailer has 210 million media impressions to date, much more than the expected 50 million. “There aren’t 25 movies competing for attention,” says Solstice Studios chief Mark Gill, the former Miramax and Millennium Films executive. “What this tells you is people are looking for good news. They want to believe the world is coming back to normal.”
“It’s really about the audience. I call it ‘mask-worthy movies,’ ” says one studio marketing chief. “Are people willing to put a mask on to see your movie?”
Poll after poll has found that consumers would be inclined to visit the multiplex if they could be assured certain safety measures are being taken, such as staggered seating and increased sanitation (35 percent of people recently surveyed by National Research Group said they would go to a movie today). The major theater chains are expected to spend millions of dollars on ads explaining what precautions they will take before flipping on the lights, while the National Association of Theatre Owners is enlisting top filmmakers for a series of PSAs.
Due to the pandemic, many companies have created spots talking about the promise of tomorrow or what they’re doing to support frontline health care workers and promote social distancing.
“Messaging is really tricky,” says one marketing veteran. “We might tweak campaigns to make them a little more positive and a little more fun. That’s what people want. They don’t want stress. They want escapism.”
“One of the things we’ve found is that people are looking for something that causes them to heavily engage, whether it is the most romantic story or the most funny story or the most diabolical thriller. They just want to be distracted,” he says. “We did a poll, and the No. 1 genre in terms of forgetting the world was thrillers.” Gill said.
“The next 12 months are going to be odd,” says Gill. “Next summer will be crazy and fiercely competitive.”