Academy Row Media

Missed Opportunities

Missed Opportunities

Last Saturday, I spent five hours at what is euphemistically called a horror convention. About 20,000 people descended on a convention center in a city in the Midwest. Celebrities came to meet their fanbase and charged them, on average, $40 for an autographed picture and more for a picture taken with the celebrity. They often were lined up a hundred deep for an opportunity to spend this kind of cash. For the celebrity, this was a much-welcomed source of cash in the middle of a historic strike action.

The most famous appearance is Robert Englund, the original Freddy Krueger. Considering that “Nightmare On Elm Street” hit theaters in 1984, the cultural memory for a movie like this was quite impressive. Thirty-nine years of sustained fandom is staggering when you think about it. From the makeup of the line, it was evident that this movie franchise had tractor-beamed a wide array of demographics.

Now, dressing up as a horror icon or covering yourself in fake blood and toilet paper does not float my boat, but there is a lesson and an opportunity. This is an opportunity that speaks to widening the movie-going base and attracting what seems to be a robust audience back to the idea of movie-going.

Exhibitors should be aware of a profound opportunity currently coming to bear. It is obvious to most people that the lines between theatrical and streaming releases are quickly fading. The studios are tired of the risk of producing these mega tentpole movies. Most major streamers have found themselves laying out a pile of cash-producing movies that they feel will be streaming blockbusters in the hope of building their subscriber base. It is a hit-or-miss situation. The realization is rising that while the streaming blockbuster is excellent for publicity, it has a depth of diverse content that is crucial. After the spending frenzy during COVID-19, streamers are coming back to earth with the realization that to exist, they have to create models for greater profitability. It is now a painful fact that while you can produce blockbuster after blockbuster if you do not present a deeper library, you will soon stumble.

This is where the horror market comes into play. Horror is one of the three most popular genres for younger audiences. The other two are comedy and action. There is a massive interest in horror out there. The breakdown of horror fans’ interest is also intriguing: 32% of Americans prefer classic horror movies, while 21% prefer newly released ones, and 48% have no preference.

Audiences enjoy traditionally lower-budget horror movies and generally don’t rely on overblown CGI effects budgets or expensive actors. In terms of sheer ROI, horror films can be very lucrative, costing little to produce and earning big numbers. The total gross of all horror movies 2022 was $644,774,976, with the movie ‘Nope’ as the highest grossing at $123,277,080. Streamers should take a strategic view in investing in these and other cheaper-to-produce genres. Streaming services may always need blockbusters and big-budget franchises, but they should also look to cheaper genres that can support audience engagement at significantly lower costs.

The highest-grossing horror movies in the United States and Canada in 2021 were ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ $160 million, ‘Halloween Kills’ $92 million, and ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’ $66 million. 56% of American adults surveyed in a poll taken in October 2022 chose ‘Halloween’ and ‘Friday the 13th’ as their favorite horror movie franchises, while ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ followed with a 54% favorability rating. Again, “Nightmare of Elm Street” emerged in 1984, and “Halloween” was initially released in 1978.

Again, much of the mechanics of the exhibition business has been firmly skewed to the blockbuster. In many ways, this has failed the business as a whole and served the needs of Wall Street but not the needs of the industry. I am also scratching my head regarding fan conventions and the opportunity they represent to publicize an upcoming release. It is a profound example of target marketing.

Here is a prime example: Lucasfilm hired Charles Lippincott in 1975 as their vice president of advertising, publicity, promotion, and merchandising. Lippincott, a brilliant marketer, was challenged to breathe life into an awareness of an unknown science fantasy movie, Star Wars. He knew that there were approximately 4 million sci-fi fans in the USA. If the movie was to have a chance, a connection had to be made with these fans. This was a challenge in an age without the internet, the web, or social media.

In 1976, before the movie’s release, Lippincott presented Star Wars at that year’s San Diego Comic-Con, then a small regional convention. Due to Lippincott’s pioneering market, the Convention would explode and become increasingly relevant to Hollywood studios. Now, Star Wars went on to do some decent business.

There are concentric fan communities in anime, sci-fi, Lego, comics, gaming, and horror. These communities present a vast source of both revenue and marketing attachment. San Diego Comic-Con before COVID brought 135,000 people to San Diego, creating a substantial economic impact for the city.

The New York Comic Con brings more than $100 million to the local economy. Even relatively minor conventions, such as Phoenix Fan Fusion, can make a substantial economic impact; this Convention brings in more than $5 million annually.

For a small studio or streamer, these conventions can create market awareness of a previously unknown movie. For theaters, aligning with this Convention and presenting movie screens could be an exciting way to launch almost mini conventions in your lobbies.


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