How Media Buyers Can Support Today’s Auteur Filmmakers

June 28, 2016
by Brian Stempeck – Chief Strategy Officer

Hollywood’s shadow can be a dark place for indie filmmakers. Though independent film quality is better than it’s ever been before, indie studios often don’t have deep pockets to reach into like their larger brethren, who can turn even the most mediocre films into box office hits with TV ad blitzes.

On indie budgets, expensive linear TV spots like the ones big budget films gobble up are questionable. Ads on advanced TV, on the other hand, are addressable, meaning that they’re granular enough to target a specific household. Advanced TV gives indie filmmakers the chance to stretch their marketing budget by precisely and accurately reaching people who are actually interested.

Though advanced TV media buys are limited right now, inventory is rapidly opening up. US media buyers are expected to spend $11.4 billion on programmatic TV by 2019. NBCUniversal just opened some of its inventory to programmatic buying, lending credence to the notion that one day TV ads may regularly be bought programmatically. Advanced TV has a distinct advantage here because there’s more data available to leverage for targeted media buys.

The entertainment industry has a long history of embracing programmatic advertising already, with eMarketer reporting media and entertainment spent around $6 billion on programmatic in 2015.

Indie film media buyers have an opportunity to leverage programmatic advertising’s data-rich platform to gain a deeper understanding of their audiences and use that information to drive stronger box office numbers. First, they need to step back and look critically at coveted primetime media buys, where expense and non-specific targeting are limiting factors.

Niche movies should reach niche audiences

With pressure to succeed in the box office, indie movies like Drive (2011), for example, need to build buzz. Big ad buys seem like an easy and enticing way to draw an audience. But a wide target audience means the ads have to be dressed up for a mass crowd instead of the smaller group that is likely most interested.

The Drive trailer suggested a big-budget, action-packed Hollywood film. The movie, however, was an arty drama punctuated by moments of violence, not necessarily the edge-of-your-seat thriller that people expected. Needless to say, some moviegoers felt misled.

A fundamental problem with mass marketing indie films is that there’s no guarantee you’re reaching the movie’s most receptive audience, especially if you’re spending your budget on linear TV ad buys. Instead, you’re blindly campaigning and prioritizing assumptions about who’s watching and who’s converting over cold hard data that can tell you who actually is.

Advanced TV and other programmatic video buys are more potent options for media buyers promoting indie flicks. Media buyers have the power to know much more about their audience before even showing them an ad. For instance, information like: the last time someone bought movie tickets, what kinds of movies a person looks up on IMDB, which streaming services they’ve signed into over the last few months, the distance someone is from a movie theater can all be used for targeting.

Knowing this much about the person viewing the trailer ensure that your marketing dollars are effectively being used. For studios on a tight budget, this is a huge advantage.

What’s more, you’re reaching people who are more likely to enjoy the movie, greatly increasing the value of your word of mouth marketing. Drive’s C-minus CinemaScore, which measures appeal among theater audiences, is one indicator that people who saw it in the theater weren’t the right audience for the movie. Compare that to the movie’s high (79%) Rotten Tomatoes audience score, which takes into account all movie viewers, and you can see there’s a disconnect between the relative quality of the movie in the eyes of the right audience.

Indie film marketers have a responsibility to make sure ad spend is reaching a wide base among likely viewers. Successfully advertising to the right audience increases the chances an indie movie will succeed in the box office and, over the long term, with new audiences.

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