TheGrill 2015: Universal, Skydance, IMAX Executives Agree Data Is Key to Higher Movie Ticket Sales (Video)

“This is an industry that has typically been very blind of information,” Will Palmer, CEO of movie marketing data company Movio, told a panel of industry insiders at TheWrap’s Media Leadership Conference

Last Updated: October 7, 2015 @ 10:12 AM

When it comes to innovating the moviegoing experience, a panel of industry insiders at TheGrill, TheWrap’s sixth annual Media Leadership Conference, agreed on Tuesday that consumer enjoyment is directly correlated to maximizing profits.

But in order ensure studios, content creators, distributors and exhibitors are delivering the goods required to entice ticket buyers to get off their couches and walk into the multiplex, they also agreed data must be shared and trusted.

“This is an industry that has typically been very blind of information. The relationship between the end consumer and the person who makes the content, there’s a quite a gap,” Will Palmer, CEO of movie marketing data company Movio, told moderator Thom Geier, deputy managing editor of TheWrap.

“If we can empower the entire industry to have the type of information that a company like Netflix has — the changes across marketing, content creation, optimizing screens of whats playing on what screen at what time, optimizing the data of your films — can all change this entire industry, and potentially give us a lift of 5 or 10 percent.”

Paul Yanover, the president of online movie ticket giant Fandango, says this future is near.

“I don’t think it’s all figured out yet, but we’re at the early stages, and we’re far enough along where it’s clear there’s a path to figure out how to get the right movie in front of the right person with the right convenience factor,” Yanover said, emphasizing his company’s contribution to innovating a major piece of the puzzle.

While studios are continually hoping that a good story will be the biggest draw and exhibitors are offering increasingly luxurious amenities or better food to enhance the experience — a word every panelist agreed is what distinguishes movies as an activity rather than simply watching videos at home — Fandango is focusing on the convenience factor.

“How do we make it easier for people? I think it’s a big deal that people have a box office on the screen of their phone,” Yanover said.

Skydance Media CCO Dana Goldberg said that while the “code” everyone in the industry is trying master isn’t complicated, it’s not easy, either.

Take Skydance’s “Terminator Genisys,” for example. The latest sequel in the science-fiction franchise that launched Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s career (and has continued to provide paychecks throughout it) had all of the promising elements for success, including a built-in audience, an iconic movie star returning the role that made him famous, cool special effects and a new twist on a story fans love.

But the reboot’s $89.7 million domestic haul was somewhat disappointing compared to the $330.4 million it raked in around the rest of the world.

“Do I wish we would have done better domestically? Absolutely. But happily we live in the world where the domestic number had a level of importance 10 or 15 years ago — I’m not saying it’s not important, it is — but we have to play to a worldwide market,” Goldberg said. “In terms of ‘Terminator,’ the worldwide market paid attention, but we’re not taking the domestic number lightly.”

As a result, the company is working with Paramount to “re-adjust” plans to move forward with the franchise, which had been envisioned as a new big-screen trilogy and TV series when announcing “Genisys.”

“We were talking about data and research. We think it’s incredibly important,” Goldberg said. “We’re going to do a worldwide study and really talk to audiences about what they loved, and what maybe didn’t work for them, so that the next step we take with the franchise is the right one.”

Despite the insight from a data analyst on the panel, Goldberg was in agreement with both Roger Pollock, IMAX’s head of international marketing, and Josh Goldstine, president of Universal Picture’s worldwide marketing, that the quality of the films they’re offering is key.

“The product is the driver,” Pollock said, noting IMAX ticket sales are up internationally overall, and as much as 40 percent in China. “Last year, we didn’t have quite as good of a lineup as we do this year, and that’s reflected in deciding whether they’re not going to go to the cinemas, or they’re not.”

Universal had a particularly good year, shattering the all-time record for domestic grosses in one year with $2.113 billion, thanks to hits like “Jurassic World,” “Furious 7,” “Minions” and “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

“The underlying question is, ‘Why is it up for us?'” Goldstine asked, and then answered himself by explaining the payoff of providing a diversity of products that appeal to different demographics, like Universal’s additional box office hits “Pitch Perfect 2,” “Trainwreck” and “Straight Outta Compton.”

“Ultimately, it’s the narrative and the way it works to touch people,” Goldstine said.

While distributors want to crack the code that allows them to target their demographics as accurately as possible, Palmer emphasized the power of broad appeal isn’t fading.

“The tentpole film is still most lucrative film in industry, there’s no question,” Palmer said, noting that 37 percent of moviegoers seek out big-budget movies like “The Avengers” and similar spectacles account for two-thirds of that subset’s annual movie ticket purchases.

“I really am suggesting there is a balance,” Palmer said. “That you keep making those, and you bring those out on a periodic fashion to keep those people coming back, but you also have an entirely different approach for the millennial females or the baby boomers — those probably aren’t IMAX films — but I still think there is an opportunity to optimize what we put on our screens, and to try to balance it.”