Commentary

Strong Movie Marketing During Recession; Better Marketing In Good Times?

The movie business seems to have found the right script this year, but not every piece of news is positive.

Box-office revenue is 8.6% higher so far this year in the U.S. and Canada, and should top $10 billion overall. But the better story is higher attendance, a 4.5% improvement, so far, over a year ago.

Those attendance figures are a big deal. In the past, raising overall box office revenue has been easy for film marketers: just raise individual ticket prices. Studios have been doing for a couple of decades now. But analysts say this doesn't yield core interest among movie-goers. A more complete positive picture is about getting more "butts in seats," as the saying goes.

Why are more people going to movies? Some say it's the quality of the films, some say it's the recession that historically drives people to the movies, while others say movie marketing is again fueling the fire.

The downside is that all this good news comes as the real breadwinner for movie studios -- DVD sales - still continues to tumble, down 13%, so far this year.

While it may seem that film marketing only benefit the initial theatrical release, actually these efforts really equate to true upfront marketing, giving long-tail spin in helping sell home videos -- as well as buzz for other windows.

Perhaps the good news in theatrical releases will eventually translate into improved DVD sales going into the first quarter of 2010.

Still, there are other disturbing trends. Recent Oscar-targeted marketing dollars had been at a collective $20 million level in any particular season. But this year many expect film producers to spend just $5 million.

Much of this money goes to the business-to business marketing efforts in the Hollywood trade publications, which in turn, can deliver awards and buzz to bring more movie goers into theaters. (Another consideration: The Academy Awards often focus on small or mid-size budgeted movies, which don't have big marketing dollars to begin with.)

Overall, movie marketers have done well in these recessionary times. So then the real marketing test comes when things are good -- when the economy gets back on its feet.

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