CJ Interview: Movio’s Will Palmer Hopes Weekend Insights Will Help Connect Everyone With Their Ideal Movie

By J. Sperling Reich | October 11, 2018 5:02 pm PDT
Will Palmer, CEO of Movio

Now that we’re midway through the second week of October, summer movies are being pushed out of cinemas by a bounty of autumn releases filled with awards potential (see “A Star Is Born”). There is one sleeper hit from this past summer, however, that seems destined to stick around for a while; Movio’s Weekend Insights.

Launched in July, the free service was developed to provide studios, exhibitors and the media with a detailed view of moviegoers on any given weekend. The information Movio is providing through Weekend Insights goes beyond box office grosses to reveal the demographics of exactly who is seeing what movies over a three day frame as broken down into three segments; Millennials, Gen X and 50+.

At first glance Weekend Insights was interesting enough for us to want to learn more about how the concept was put together and where the service is headed in the future. In late August we reached out to Will Palmer, the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of Movio. He was kind enough to give us a comprehensive tour of how the service works, including a deep dive into how the data that goes into its final output is gathered before being sliced and diced for publication.

Palmer told us that the original motivation behind Weekend Insights was an attempt to paint a clearer picture of the box office numbers regurgitated by the media at the end of each weekend. “Traditionally on a Monday morning you’re hearing all about the box office results for all the films in Hollywood, but it’s very hard to find out what made up that audience,” he explained. “Our objective here is to ask who was behind that audience? What did they look like? Who came out in droves to watch these films and why? Really we want to be an audience authority and we want the media to start using it to craft stories that focus on who’s going to the movie, not just how much they made at the box office.”

Movio, which is a Vista Group company, has a long history of sifting through data in the cinema space, working with some of the world’s top exhibition chains and most of the Hollywood studios. Weekend Insights was an effort of Movio Media, a product offering only available in the United States presently and whose target customer is studios, distributors and their associated media agencies. Movio Cinema is the company’s other core product offering which is geared toward exhibitors. “Both products have a common purpose though, which is to connect everyone with their ideal movie,” said Palmer of Movio’s products. “That’s almost our centering narrative. We make software that connects everyone with their ideal movie and we focus on the moviegoer and understanding lots about that moviegoer so their experience around what films are made or what marketing goes there way is far more personalized than what it has been traditionally and far more based on behavior rather than demographics.”

If that sounds like a sales pitch for Movio, that’s intentional. It’s Palmer’s job to not only get exhibitors and studios to work with the company’s products, but also understand the importance data analytics can play in promoting releases more efficiently, thus increasing box office. And in promoting Movio’s capabilities what Weekend Insights delivers is merely an abstract view of the data the company gobbles up and dissects for exhibitors and studios. After Palmer raised the curtain on the full breadth of Movio Media data, we quickly understood that Weekend Insights allows us only to peek into their system through the tiniest of keyholes.

Movio receives data in near-real time from the point of sale systems as tickets are sold in a third of the cinemas in America, with all 50 states represented. This data is then linked to the demographic (not personal) profile of a moviegoer through an exhibitor’s loyalty program. While a majority of current moviegoer surveys are limited in scope to a few thousand participants, Movio’s data comes from upwards of 14 million customers. On any given weekend hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of ticket buyers cam be contributing to their reports.  Though they might exist, we have yet to see firsthand a platform targeted at the motion picture industry with such a rich dataset.

Movio Weekend Insights
An example of the Weekend Insights report for the Gen X report over the Labor Day weekend. (Source: Movio)

To give us an idea as to the extent of Movio’s data, Palmer pulled up the figures for “Crazy Rich Asians,” which had opened to USD $26.5 million over the previous weekend. Out of a potential sample size of 14 million moviegoers, 139,862 had purchased tickets to the film. “We have the background data on their history of what they’ve watched previously,” said Palmer. “We can start seeing what kind of audiences have come along to watch ‘Crazy Rich Asians.’ What other films have they watched? What is their age? What’s their gender? What’s the ethnicity? What’s their frequency? So we can really understand quite a lot about that audience. Then if a studio was wanting to market a similar film or sequel to ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ we will be able to give them a lot of insight into what that audience was all about.”

Naturally, all of the data in Movio’s system is anonymized so it’s not tied back to any individual moviegoer. As well, Movio normalizes the data to resemble the American population at large. All the major studios are using Movio Media’s reports and system to understand what the audience is for a film and what it’s likely to be.

“They’re using it in advance of the release of the film to do their media planning,” stated Palmer. “They’re using it to understand, post-film release, what the audience was and whether they reached the areas that they spent their marketing money on. They are using it on large films for presales, to understand what their presale audience looks like and how that compares to previous presales. They’re using it to study audience evolution. How does the audience evolve from opening through to week one, two, three, etc.? Which is really interesting because audience evolution actually is quite predictable and shows that different demographics and segments attend films at different times during its release. So there’s quite a few things that you’re starting to see studios using this information for to drive mainly their media decisions along the way.”

Palmer quickly pulls up “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” onto the Movio Media console. Despite the third “Avengers” film being one of the highest grossing films of all time, only 17% of Movio’s millions of moviegoers went to see the movie. Palmer pointed out, “You hear studios talk about four quadrants and a film that everybody wants to see, but even ‘Star Wars’ only had 24% of the audience watch it, which means 76% of regular moviegoers weren’t interested in that film. It’s interesting to learn that every film, no matter how big, is only going to appeal to a certain portion of the audience and that’s something that, once you understand, you can refine your marketing and your messaging.”

The marketing and messaging Palmer is referencing can be both targeted and sent through Movio’s system in the form of customized and branded emails. Both studios and exhibitors can cross reference titles with previous releases that have the biggest overlap in order to predict potential audience size for an entire run or at a certain point in its theatrical window. This comes in handy when a cinema operator needs to know how many screens to book for an upcoming release. Meanwhile, studios can use the same data to make production and distribution decisions.

Will a film about a giant prehistoric shark eating everyone in sight (see “The Meg”) attract female moviegoers between the ages of 35 and 50? If so, how many? How many frequent moviegoers versus infrequent moviegoers might such a release attract and at what point during the run? To answer these questions, Movio Media’s algorithms would crunch the data from movies like “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” “Kong,” and “Rampage” to present comp figures. Additionally, the platform gives studios and exhibitors the power to market a release directly to those most interested in seeing such a movie.

To be sure, not all of this functionality, and we’re only scratching the surface here, is available in Movio’s free Weekend Insights. But Palmer said the product would evolve over time and hopes the company can eventually break the data into more non-traditional demographic segments. “I think what we’ll also do is give benchmarking,” he predicted. “We will try and provide a lot more insight into how the specific segments have behaved compared to how they normally go to the movies. The idea is if all six segments were over performing, than more of them attended the movies over the past last week than normal, that would surely mean that the theatrical business is thriving because it’s got something in the market for everybody.”

If Palmer gets his wish, box office pundits will go beyond spouting the final tally of each film’s weekend grosses, crafting their stories around precisely who was showing up at cinemas and for what movies.

“I want to center it all the time with what centers us, which is connecting everyone with their ideal movie,” he said of Weekend Insights, repeating Movio’s mantra. “I know I keep saying it, but that’s all we think about. It’s about the moviegoer. It’s about getting great films made for them, getting great marketing that attracts them, getting to them through the channels they consume and if we can keep that ethos going all the time, the industry is going to be in a position like Netflix are in right now, which is where they have so much information they’re able to predict how successful each piece of content is and what they should pay for it and how much they should budget it. I think we can put the theatrical business in the same place.”

J. Sperling Reich