By Steve Canepa
Hollywood is big business and like any business today, understanding your customers in greater detail is a key imperative. InHollywood, you must know your audience – their likes and dislikes, what interests them and what inspires them to act, to buy a ticket at the theater.
With the pressure to deliver consistent profits, it is no surprise that sequels have become a popular format for Hollywoodstudios. In 2011, a record 27 were released, and nine of the 10 top-grossing films worldwide that year were sequels, led by the final Harry Potter installment.
In November 2012, we’ve seen the domestic debuts of the final of five Twilight movies, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, and Skyfall, the 23rd installment in the James Bond series, with two more sequels set to open this coming weekend. In 2013, we’re expecting the next installments of several major film franchises, including The Wolverine, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, among other sequels.
Why sequels? Partly because sequels hold the promise of an audience who will return to a trusted brand franchise. And, whileHollywoodstudios work diligently to launch and sustain momentum for major film franchises, the battle to connect with and captivate audiences, and ultimately to cultivate an intensely passionate fan base, is becoming more difficult than ever before.
So how can movie studio CMOs be certain they’re guiding a film franchise down a chart-topping path?
Social sentiment analysis is a key part of the answer. With advanced analytics technologies, Hollywood studios have the ability to gauge the opinions and preferences of their consumers –and react to them – on levels that haven’t been possible before. Think about a focus group the size of the web providing real-time feedback.
The vast amounts of (unstructured) data that consumers are sharing through social media conversations can be used by CMOs of organizations from movie studios to retailers, to video game creators, to more effectively engage and influence their target audiences. Such social conversations can help CMOs evaluate in real time whether their marketing efforts are paying off, or whether they need to change course to drive better sales outcomes.
This is why IBM and the University of Southern California Annenberg Innovation Lab are analyzing public tweets to identify and track the social sentiment around certain moments in time.
The ongoing collaboration marries advanced analytics with natural language processing to understand positive, negative and neutral sentiments, distinguish irony, and even apply ‘machine learning’ to figure out which tweets are just background noise and which are truly important in terms of predicting an outcome or in representing a shift in consumer feelings as a result of some occurrence.
We’ve tracked social sentiment for the Oscars, World Series, Super Bowl and major retail moments in time, and our ability to distill insights keeps improving. Today for example, we unveiled the results of our Film Forecaster, a Social Sentiment Index, which compared the social sentiment around new films leading into the extended five-day Thanksgiving weekend with the actual box office results.
Both Skyfall and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 generated considerably more online chatter than other films opening or playing during the Thanksgiving weekend, with The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 leading the pack at 4.25 million tweets, followed by runner up Skyfall with 700,000. This is likely due, in part, to the fact that both were part of popular franchises with well-established follower bases. Interestingly though, their core audiences are quite different, which demonstrates that social sentiment can play a role for almost any audience segment.
On Wednesday, Nov. 14, Skyfall dominated the social chatter, but as soon as The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 began playing, the volume of chatter shifted, with the latter movie generating more than a million tweets on opening day. This highlights a key moment when movie marketers should be looking for ways to maximize their audience’s engagement to drive even more people to theaters.
Social media sentiment analysis can provide countless insights into an increasingly fractured and more discerning audience, helping CMOs ensure these investments provide a return. And what if the sentiment tide around sequels starts to change? That’s certainly a shift Hollywood doesn’t want to miss.
Later this week, I’ll join Rob Friedman, co-chairman of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, the studio that released The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, and other experts on a panel moderated by Jonathan Taplin, USC professor and director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab to discuss how social sentiment analysis will potentially shape the future of the film industry. Stay tuned for a post on that topic and video clips from our discussion.