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Big screen, small screen: how film studios can build social conversation

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Th_nk considers entertainment's changing uses for social media and how it can fuel fandom for film.

In the streaming age, it’s vital for movie makers to understand that social media is not just another display advertising channel, says Gracie Lofthouse...

Adam Levine’s nipples got more airtime than some of the year’s most anticipated films at this year's Super Bowl. The broadcast featured fewer movie trailers than we’ve seen in previous years (in 2018 audiences were treated to 10 trailers, this year it was around half that number). So why don’t film studios want to shell out for ad spots during one of the most-watched events on TV?

Or maybe the right question is: do they need to? Trailers launched purely online get incredible reach, without the cost that comes with a Super Bowl spot. December’s Avengers: Endgame clocked up 289 million views in its first 24 hours on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

But the trailers being released online aren’t the same as the ones we’re used to seeing on other channels. They now come front-loaded with ‘bumpers’ – a few seconds of super-fast, action-packed clips, followed by a title card announcing the release date. These ‘bumpers’ are a lot more effective at getting people’s attention in their busy social feeds.

The studios are doing everything they can to make their big screen content fit the format of the small screen, but what they haven’t managed to do is make it fit in with social behaviours.

Netflix, on the other hand, get user behaviours. They get that people binge-watch their shows, that “Netflix cheating” is a thing. They champion the experience over the content; we don’t just watch a Netflix show, we watch Netflix. And they use social to play these behaviours back to people in a way that’s relatable and, effectively, shareable.

After the Fyre

You could say that a big part of the reason Fyre Festival was so popular wasn’t just the insanity of the show - it was the insanity of the experience of watching it that drove so much conversation online. ‘Me watching Fyre Festival’ memes were widely shared. It kind of became a communal experience that way - with everyone online talking not just about the show, but relating over their reactions to the show. And now you can physicallyshare what you’re watching on Netflix directly to Instagram Stories.

It’s easier for Netflix to sell the experience of streaming on social media because the two often go - quite literally - hand-in-hand. You’re probably second screening while you watch. You wouldn’t in a cinema screen, I’d hope. So it’s harder for film studios. It’s also hard for them to promote something people haven’t yet experienced. While all the Fyre Festival discussion happened post-release, film studios spend a lot of effort building hype pre-release to make sure you get up and go to the cinema on the opening weekend.

Still, though, film studios can learn from Netflix’s approach of building an experience and a social conversation around their content. Instead of simply shrinking down their content for our devices, treating social as another channel box to tick alongside billboards and TV, they should be using the interaction and participation that is inherent in social to expand on the film’s key themes and hooks.

Think again

At Th_nk, this is how we approach social campaigns for our Entertainment clients. We think about how we can use the unique characteristics of the platform to fuel fandom for the film. Social means unprecedented access to a massive community of fans; not just that, but it means direct engagement. So, last year instead of filming yet another junket interview for Avengers: Infinity War, we recruited 25 artists to create 25 unique character posters and then asked the fandom to pick their favourites. While, for Solo: A Star Wars Story we interviewed the two fans who had built a life size Millennium Falcon from scratch. In both cases we were able to capture the excitement, the creativity and the sheer love for these franchises in a way that felt real, fun and accessible.

Studios need to stop treating social as another display advertising channel. They need to stop shrinking their content into bite-sized pieces and instead think about how they can expand and develop it through the lens of a communal experience. They need to learn how to talk to an audience that can now talk back. Until then they’ll find themselves losing out to the kind of creative, community-driven content that fuels our everyday lives (even if this type of content may sometimes contain Adam Levine’s nipples).

Gracie Lofthouse is a senior content producer at TH_NK

This article originally appeared in The Drum Network's latest Entertainment special publication. To find out more about how The Drum Network can help your agency, click here.