Post-Pandemic Oscar Campaigns Will Still Be Digital First (and Often Virtual)

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Why Post-Pandemic Awards Campaigns Will Still Be Digital First (and Often Virtual) | Pro Insight

Say hello to forensic watermarking on digital as well as physical promotional assets!

The shift from promoting movies during awards season physically to doing so digitally was well underway even before the coronavirus came along. But the pandemic has dramatically accelerated this evolution. The status quo is officially history. COVID-19 has forever altered how we influence audiences and garner attention for movies. And suddenly, as we enter the homestretch for the Academy Awards, the movie industry is feeling some pretty severe growing pains.  

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As a result, all the key players with a vested interest in awards season — from studios and exhibitors to guilds, film festivals, distributors and publicists — are confronting more than a few dilemmas. With the game changing so drastically, how green should you feel obligated to go? How secure is secure enough when it comes to security? How much should you budget for advertising and marketing? And how can you get your movie shortlisted? 

The trend toward deploying an ultra-sophisticated, high-tech approach to the awards race is only going to intensify. Virtual screening rooms, allowing voters and industry insiders to livestream upcoming movie and TV projects, have fast gained in popularity. They also feature opening remarks and conversations with stars, filmmakers and studio heads — who don’t have to travel to a specific location.  

Such virtual events are the new reality. They spread the word, generate fan engagement, boost box-office take — and deliver buzz. 

  

And that’s just for starters. Virtual red-carpet premieres will feature lively question-and-answer sessions. Advertiser-sponsored virtual lobbies will show trailers, behind-the-scenes footage and blooper reels to excite movie fans about upcoming films. Photos that showcase these entertainments are being uploaded to Instagram through the latest AI filters. More microsites touting individual films will materialize. 

With millions of dollars riding on every movie release, security to protect your product comes at an ever-higher premium. If you watch a movie from an encrypted link mailed to you and then pass it along to someone, technology can shut down that link to prevent anyone else from watching it. Log-ins and screen grabs are likewise blocked. Everything is authenticated. 

Companies like Vision Media operate at the epicenter of award season, functioning behind the scenes as third-party brokers for studios, guilds and distributors. Our fulfillment center, for example, is a 180,000-square-foot warehouse where we package and ship all the paraphernalia – posters, DVDs, standees — that tout forthcoming blockbusters and independent ventures alike. But this brick-and-mortar facility will eventually face obsolescence, doomed to join the videocassette and 35-millimeter film stock. That’s because the industry commitment to slowing climate change is charging full-speed ahead to shift away from producing physical goods.  

In the short term, movie promotions will continue to be a hybrid of in-person and digital. Say hello to forensic watermarking on digital as well as physical promotional assets! Exactly what percentage will be physical versus digital is of course still hard to predict. But make no mistake: in due course, the industry will be fully digital. 

Viewing trends have dictated this seismic shift in the supply chain. In 2019, the year before the pandemic outbreak, the average time viewers spent watching over-the-top content — programming delivered over the internet, without an operator controlling distribution — grew by 23%. That same year, traditional TV providers lost 6 million customers. 

Luckily, some organizations saw this shift coming, and pivoted accordingly — and innovatively — to benefit clients such as large studios and independent distributors. The advantages of going aggressively digital are many. Your movies break through to audiences — such as the millennials and Gen-Zers — who live largely digital lives and soon will represent the changing of the guard in Hollywood. 

Digital award campaigns are already proving to be successful — and are clearly going to continue long after the pandemic subsides. The Television Academy has already gone fully digital, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decreed that this will be the last year it accepts physical mailers.

While a hybrid approach will likely continue in the near future, studios that are the most “ambidextrous” with the ability to execute both physical and digital campaigns will be best positioned to prevail. But make no mistake: The day is coming — likely within the next five years — when all-digital campaigns will dominate. 

Jon Selman