It’s that time of year when you find yourself dedicating all your time, talent and sweat equity toward the single most pressing responsibility you face at work … namely, getting your NCAA bracket picks submitted on time. So with the Yale vs. Baylor face-off behind us and Iowa’s OT buzzer beater win still resounding in my brain one week later, what other type of handicapping could possibly stir up the kind of interest that a Wichita State, Stephen F. Austin or Mid-Tennessee State NCAA Championship first-round upset generate?
Well, if you’re a media buyer, how about superheroes? Over at USA Today, they’re running a fun feature called The Mothership: Ultimate Superhero March Madness Elite 8 in honor of the upcoming hero-fighting-hero films "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" (opening today) and "Captain America: Civil War" (opening May 6). And with good reason! Coming off one of the biggest years ever at the movies, "Batman v Superman" is a lock to be the biggest hit of its first weekend, "Captain America: Civil War" is expected to earn $1.6 billion worldwide and the upcoming "X-Men: Apocalypse" is estimated to bring in $800 million globally.
Historically, such a heroic slate would have gone head-to-head on a holiday weekend, but the fact that all of these films are peppered throughout 2nd quarter really speaks to the emerging trend of Hollywood spreading out the release of its tent pole films rather than clustering all their marquee releases together and cannibalizing consumer choice. Hollywood studios have finally learned that they can all peacefully co-exist throughout the entire year, especially when they now have a new level of insight into their audience through data that can help them best match key demographics with their film content.
So imagine my surprise when I saw a headline from the March 6 issue of Marketing Week that read, “Disney admits it has ‘no idea’ who went to see 'Star Wars'.” While the full story is far more nuanced than the headline, as someone who makes his living quantifying who goes to the movies for the benefit of the advertising community (when I’m not picking my basketball brackets, that is), the very idea was bewildering to say the least!
Studios and cinema advertising companies have actually made great strides in identifying exactly who is going to see what movies at the local multiplex. The tale of the tape for movie-going both in 2015 and 1st quarter to date in 2016 belongs to Millennials, and "Star Wars" was no exception. Millennials and Gen X'ers comprised the lion's share of that film’s audience with some 72% of the "Star Wars" audience falling between the ages of 18 and 49, the “sweet spot” of advertising. Millennials make up the largest frequent movie-going age group in the U.S.; in fact, most of the attendance growth among adults 18-49 for the last two years has been driven by Millennials. And when it comes to "Star Wars" and other continuing sagas like super hero flicks, the Millennials surveyed by Civic Science tend to be more passionate than the average moviegoer about film franchises, and are often fans of multiple franchises. In fact, Millennials on the whole are 50% more likely than the general population to say that movies are “a passion.”
And this year, Millennials will have ample opportunity to indulge in that passion, especially with all the major comic book-based films scheduled to hit the big screen. First up was "Deadpool," which held the top box office spot for three consecutive weekends this past February grossing over $700 million worldwide and proving that an R rating did nothing to stop it from setting both box office and attendance records, especially among the Millennials who like their media content authentic, gritty and, apparently, snarky. The predictions from Civic Science for the upcoming "Batman v Superman," "Captain America" and "X-Men" movies are following a similar pattern with all three films indexing at twice the intent level to see them among Millennial moviegoers than the US population.
Just as Millennials love the same super heroes as earlier generations, they are also “streaming” into their local cinemas at ever increasing levels. It is important to understand that while Millennials do have a host of media content and viewing options to choose from, movies will always have a place in their social lives. Since the movie-going experience is not one that can be fully replicated at home, there is opportunity to leverage the unique appeals of theater viewing. Meeting Millennials’ desires for a larger “night out” and providing them with the right tools to plan their theater trip ahead of time will continue to draw them to the theater seats.
So, with Batman and Superman duking it out in theaters tonight, who are we picking to win? Well, I’ll wager that the big winners are likely to be the advertisers that are running campaigns on the big screen this weekend! Based upon NCM’s exclusive Behind the Screens movie-going community that we regularly survey, those who saw "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" are 64% more likely to see "Batman v Superman" than the typical movie-goer. So, in this season of March Madness if the advance buzz and Millennial bent to this type of movie fare are indicators of the expected level of success for this two- franchise mash-up, I’d take the bet all the way to the Final Four.
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