How One Direction, Miley And Bieber Made Concert Movies A Profitable Business

You don’t have to be a Directioner to have heard of “This Is Us,” the 3D movie by the British boy band One Direction. Since its release in the final week of September, the movie raked in more than $60 million worldwide, easily exceeding its $10 million production cost and becoming one of this summer’s box office successes. 

One Direction is just the latest pop act to dabble in the concert movie business. Everyone from the likes of Led Zeppelin to the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, has previously released a concert movie. 

While concert movies are not exactly new, one thing that’s different this time is how these movies are actually highly profitable. Historically, concert movies never did particularly well. Occasionally a documentary might come out about a major, multi-act concert (like the Monterey Pop Festival, The Last Waltz, or The Concert For Bangladesh), but single-act concerts were mostly kept to TV, filling up premium channels like HBO.



Miley Cyrus led the way in this phenomenon in 2008 when her Best of Both Worlds Concerttook in $65 million domestically. And then in 2011, Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never made over $98 million globally, becoming the highest-grossing concert movie of all time. Even Katy Perry’s Part Of Me did decently, managing to attract $25 million in North America in 2012 and easily recouping its production budget. 

Looking at these movies, it’s easy to see that they have some note-worthy similarities. These movies: 

  • Feature pop stars who are very popular with teens When Miley Cyrus released her concert movie in 2008, it was right at the peak of the Hannah Montana craze, and before Miley “aged up” her image.
  • Debut right at the peak of the pop star’s fame Part Of Me was released in the same era when Perry’s Teenage Dream was cranking out Billboard chart-topping hits. 
  • Don’t break the bank While a typical Hollywood tent pole movie can cost $100-250 million to make, these movies are produced with a $10 to $13 million budget, if not less. 
  • Provide some type of exclusive, behind-the-scenes content They’re not just about the concert itself; they give a glimpse into the glamour and the challenges that come from being a pop star. 
  • Open with big numbers before quickly trailing off For example, on its second week in North America, This Is Us brought in only $4.1 million, a steep decline from its $18 million Labor Day Weekend opening. Concert movies tend to be about making a big initial impact than having “legs” with sustained playability.

So what’s driving the profitability of these concert movies? Why are they much more profitable now than they have been in the past? 

  • Their huge following among a niche group—mostly tweens, teens and college-age young adults—certainly helps. These events are built for social media: As their core audiences are the social media-savvy market, everybody wants to see these movies on opening weekend to talk about them online. 
  • The universal appeal of pop music today is also at play here. These popular acts are considered rated G or PG, and parents feel okay letting their kids support them. 

You don’t have to be in the movie business to learn from One Direction. Successful concert movies offer the following lessons to marketers and researchers: 

  • Look for opportunities to produce, market and release smaller-scale offerings Even with their smaller budgets, these movies make money because they are produced quickly and marketed at the right time. If there’s an opportunity to super serve a niche audience with an inexpensive, fast-turnaround product or service, marketers should do so. Not all projects need to be expensive or epic to be profitable. 
  • Create integrated, buzzworthy events When Katy Perry released Part of Me, it was around the same time as the re-release of her Teenage Dream album. Around the same time, she also released a single with the same title. One Direction’s “Best Song Ever,” the lead single from One Direction’s third studio album Midnight Memories, was released just ahead of This Is Us. It’s no accident that these stars have timed their movie release with a new single, a new album, and concerts. If you can create synergy across all of your marketing efforts, you’re more likely to make a huge splash even with a smaller budget. 
  • Stay in tune with the ever-changing taste of your audience These movies show the importance of timing: If you can release a concert movie while a star is near the peak of her career—while people most love her—you’ll have a better shot at maximizing revenue and profit. For smaller-scale products or campaigns to work, brand needs to keep their pulse on consumer preferences. Marketing and insight teams need to be able to do research at the speed of business and be prepared to react to people’s dynamic preferences over time. 

The new breed of concert movies highlights that this genre doesn’t need to be so segmented. In fact, this type of content can be beneficial for both artists and fans. For fans, it’s another way of connecting with their favorite pop stars. For artists, this is another way of extending the reach of their music and generating more revenue. But the history of this genre also emphasizes the importance of great timing and an understanding of consumer taste when launching new projects and marketing campaigns. 

1 comment about "How One Direction, Miley And Bieber Made Concert Movies A Profitable Business".
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  1. Ed Kahn from MetLife, October 10, 2013 at 11:10 a.m.

    I don't think we should ignore the changed access to concerts. It's more expensive and more difficult to get live show tickets than it was 20-30 years ago.

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