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How Google Search Drives Moviegoing

When I sit down with a filmmaker to discuss their latest project I almost always discover that in their rush to build an audience and leverage the power of social they have completely forgotten about search. This baffles me — you only have to look to your own browsing habits to know that the major search engines are the portal through which most of us experience the web.

Google collects untold amounts of data about our search habits and viewing patterns as we use their sites. They then take this enormous sea of data and analyze it to try and establish links between what we search for and our consumer behavior. This, in turn, is highly profitable for Google because they demonstrate their power in both the on and offline marketplace.

Google recently published the fruits of a particular piece of analysis in a white paper entitled “Quantifying Movie Magic with Google Search”. This publication contains the results of their work in the field of moviegoing, particularly box-office ticket sales. For a geek like me, the information they present within is really exciting, but for a filmmaker with their eyes set firmly on direct distribution, it is potentially nothing short of fried gold.

The first assertion that Google makes is that moviegoer decision making is highly research-led. Their data shows a 56% year-on-year growth in movie-related search. When researching movies, 61% of moviegoers claim to turn to online resources to guide their decision. This really isn’t any major shock, we all do it, hear about a new movie or decide we want to go see a Sunday matinee and turn to Google. The chart below shows the correlation that Google established between film-related search index and box-office index.


In other words, the more people search for films, the more people show up and buy a ticket at their local theater. Again, this is no major shock given contemporary consumer research habits. However, this is where things start to get interesting. In analyzing specific film title keyword searches Google found that it was clear that users’ film searches primarily focus on title keywords during the release window of major tentpole films, like The Hunger Games, Avengers, and The Dark Knight, for example. However, during periods where major pictures are not traditionally released, search terms become far more generic, indicating that the audience A) don’t know what is playing and B) are far more open to suggestion.

This presents an interesting opportunity for audience-building indies. In quieter release periods (i.e. January – April and September – November) there is an opportunity to build audience by targeting more generic search terms. This isn’t to say that the same couldn’t be achieved by targeting search keywords also related to tentpole pictures during busier times. But given the specificity of the search terms during these periods, I think you would be hard pressed to capture the attention of a Hunger Games fan on a mission to find screening times at their local AMC. But, nothing is impossible.

Google next goes on to explicate how it can, rather impressively and with 92% accuracy, predict the box-office performance of a given film through analysis of search data. In order to achieve this Google takes into account search query volume and search ad click volume for a seven-day period prior to release date. They also include the number of theaters the film is opening in and whether the film has an associated franchise status in the equation. This startling statistic alone should prove to filmmakers the importance of search in the marketing of their film.

But, it gets more interesting still.

Trailer search, we’ve all done it — your partner or a friend suggests seeing a movie and you instantly jump on Google to check out the current trailers. Google has discovered that, within their data, trailer search is the strongest signifier of intent to purchase. They’ve determined that the four-week period prior to release is the time frame in which this trailer discovery is most influential over intent to attend a screening.

So what does all this tell us? What are the practical take-aways that filmmakers can turn to when marketing their film? Well first up, educate yourself about search marketing. It is a enormous field but with a basic Google Adwords campaign and some careful analysis you can drive serious traffic to your site. Ensure that you have a goal — what do you consider a conversion? Is it another sign-up to your mailing list? Is a ticket purchased on Tugg, or perhaps a direct download of your film? Whatever it is, ensure that you have an end game for your search marketing activity. Finally, it is vital your film is discoverable and search is one of the primary sources of discovery for moviegoers. Social is important, but whether your film reaches its’ audience or not is not going to be carried on the back of social alone. My advice, read Google’s white paper and apply their findings to your film project.


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