Over two years ago Steve Buck, Rentrak’s SVP of theatrical business relations, was tasked with the assignment of correlating box office to films’ social media buzz. We often hear stats such as ‘so-so star has over a million followers,’ or their tweet generated 1,000 retweets. It was Buck’s job to bring some context to these thrown-around figures, particularly for an industry that depends so heavily on such numbers. Quite often casting decisions are greatly influenced by an actor’s social footprint, and producers make those determinations based on an actor’s ability to move their audience. Buck found himself at lunch with his friend David Herrin, the head of UTA’s research department, relaying the nut he had to crack.
“It turned out, he was working on a similar project for UTA’s clients. A program that understood big data in relation to social. He created unique algorithms that were revolutionary and took into consideration the nuances of the film industry,” says Buck.
Using social media data, Herrin had built a mathematical approach in July 2011 that correlated social chatter to films’ marketing campaigns. This marketing monitor could measure the strength of a film’s campaign up to 52 weeks in advance of its release based on its social media buzz. The agency would use the information they gathered internally from the system to share with their clients.
UTA and Rentrak combined forces so the output of the algorithms, which they named PreAct, could live on the box office portal that Rentrak’s studio partners access. PreAct became available to Rentrak clients in March of last year.
“Social data is often cumbersome and lacking in context, and therefore it’s difficult to extract insights. The goal of PreAct is to give the social conversation meaning by creating a common language that studios can use. PreAct converts data into intelligence that allows studios to understand – and more importantly, articulate – what’s working and what’s not,” says Herrin.
With social media data on 700 films since 2011, PreAct measures the social media conversation on a particular title against other titles months out. The perk is that it allows a studio to correct their marketing initiatives if a particular stunt failed to move the needle. Let’s say a studio drops photos online for a costume design on a future superhero film. PreAct would measure whether fans responded positively through a percentile index. Two of PreAct’s primary indexes are “consumer” and “push”. “Consumer” measures the organic conversation happening on a film (ordinary consumer conversation), while “Push” measures how much a studio is promoting a film. “If the consumer number is higher than push, that’s a good sign,” says Buck. Essentially, what that means is that a film’s buzz is stronger than the studio’s marketing muscle behind it. However, whenever “Push” is significantly higher than “Consumer”, that’s not a good situation because it means that the studio is aggressively pushing a film and consumers aren’t responding. Such an instance would indicate that some component in a pic’s marketing is in need of repair.
Studios even use PreAct to help them determine a release date; they’re able to scope out the size of the competition in the marketplace.
When Lionsgate was releasing Divergent a year ago, it was a relatively unknown young adult franchise going toe-to-toe with Disney’s Muppets Most Wanted, a sequel to a successful kids movie. PreAct indicated weeks out that Lionsgate had nothing to worry about; that Divergent was tracking stronger than a kids’ film. Remarkable, considering how many ancillaries that the Muppets had in the marketplace. Divergent wound up beating Muppets Most Wanted during their opening weekend at the B.O., $54.6M to $17M. While PreAct’s index scores don’t translate into box office dollars, what they do measure is how the strength of the conversation yields top notch B.O. results.
Recently when the trailer was dropped for Southpaw, the consumer needle moved significantly in a positive direction. Also hitting high on the consumer buzz index was May 15 glee club sequel Pitch Perfect 2. Among June 5 wide entries, Insidious Chapter 3 is outpacing Entourage and Spy in terms of social chatter (this was prior to the Paul Feig film making a big splash at CinemaCon). But again, PreAct gives you an early read on your campaign and whether you are stalled; it’s not a indicator that one film will outpeg the other at the box office.
Says Rentrak media analyst Paul Dergarabedian about the perks of PreAct, “It tracks the evolution of a film’s buzz and allows the studio to change or augment their campaign. The advantage of long lead intelligence is to allow the studios to course correct. With intelligence that is six to twelve months out, you can spot when material isn’t working, and you can also find the surprise hits.”
“PreAct tells you immediately what the feedback is whenever you drop a trailer, one sheet or announce a picture’s release. We would have to cull that social data to find a positive or negative reaction to our materials. PreAct gives you an index of measurable numbers and tells you how formidable your competition is going to be well in advance,” adds Weinstein distribution chief Erik Lomis.
Currently, PreAct is in use by a number of the major and mini-majors studios, not just in their distribution departments, but marketing and interactive media that are in need of such long lead insight.