I recently read a post over at HDBeat about the fact that Mark Cuban is mulling over ideas about how get people “back to the theaters”. For those of you who don’t know, Mark Cuban is owner of the Dallas Mavericks and more importantly a good businessman. He took the Dallas Mavericks basketball franchise from being pretty poorly regarded to being known as one of the best sports franchises. He updated the arena and gave players the best and latest technology equipment. In a past life, he started a company streaming sports broadcasts and sold it for a pretty profit. (Can’t do his accomplishments justice here, but let’s just say, “he’s a smart guy.”)
Part of me thinks that he’s trying to solve the wrong problem — I think great content would get people back to theaters. But pondering on the issue a bit more, maybe he’s onto something. The advent of peer-to-peer services, Netflix, Pay-Per-View, Cable and Satellite TV and the DVD market has given consumers many viewing options, leaving theaters as one option among many.
Anyhow, Mark wants suggestions on his site (found here) regarding how we can get people back to the movie theaters. And, oh yeah, he’s willing to give you a job if you come up with an idea that tickles his fancy. Hey – I’m not working at the moment. And being a bit of a movie afficionado myself, why not offer my suggestion?
I thought about the issue and posted my response (among about 600 other responses.) Here’s an expanded version of my plan to get movie goers back to the theater. In a word – tchotchkes.
There’s one sure fire way to get folks to the movies. Something that “waiting for the DVD” can’t necessarily give you. Well targeted promotional giveaways. Well defined items for the movie’s target audience that are given out after the credits have rolled, one per movie goer, in exchange for your ticket stub, would create a much closer bond to the film and get people to the theaters.
Often I walk out of a film that I didn’t like looking down at a hand holding a ticket stub and I feel completely robbed. Now, replace that ticket stub with a quality item featured in the movie, and suddenly I don’t feel like I was robbed. I’d have something in exchange for my $9.50.
To illustrate an example of what I’m talking about, perhaps a “golden key” that bad guys were chasing after throughout a film could be given out? Maybe on a commemorative keychain? Perhaps for “The DaVinci code” it would be a model of that cylinder-shaped puzzle that held one of the secrets? Perhaps in the next Matrix movie (God forbid) the theater could hand out one of five collectible figures? Or perhaps one of three collectible books featuring artwork from the movie? Even if I hated Revolutions, I might go back again. Maybe I would force my girlfriend to go so that she can give me her item. And if she doesn’t go, I buy three tickets in hopes of getting three different books, each featuring a different character of the film. Even if the film sucked, it seems like more of a fair exchange. I hated the movie, but again, I have something to show for my $9.50.
NOTE: The logistics of how this is done are very important. I propose that the featured items be such that people can’t request what they want. They get a
white box with one of three items inside. Also the distribution of the items is key. Perhaps a movie rep sits behind a desk and hands them out with each ticket stub? Also, the items can only be handed out at the completion of the movie. (People should be forced to watch the film to get the item.)
Considering all of the ideas that I’ve read above involving the remodelling of movie theaters, this is an idea that will cost significantly less money, but it will be money well spent since this is money tied to the performance of the film. If millions of people come out to see the film, then you pay more, but you also see more revenue from the film.
(One obstacle I didn’t consider when I first presented the idea was the fact that sometimes opening weekends are significantly more than studios expect. I can see myself being yelled at across a boardroom because there are 500,000 cases of Fletch 4 afro wigs that nobody wants. Or because kids are crying because we ran out of Spiderman masks. This is a shortcoming that might need to be “worked out”. But I see the advantages far outweighing these small obstacles.)
The key to the success of this idea is that the items needs to be of a high quality such that they are worth making the trip for. I think this can be achieved by having the items be subsidized by advertising. Instead of having Superman pick up a Coke or Pepsi can, give people a plastic crystal (no sharp edges) like the one in the movie. Put a green LED light in and put in in a box with an inexpensive plastic stand and and now people have a piece of Superman history that they can put on their bookshelf at home. (Ideally the item wouldn’t have a bunch of advertising brandings all over it like some sort of “baseball shirt day giveaway”, but this is somewhat negotiable.)
Looking at this idea long-term, I see movies deliberately planting items in the script as part of the plot. “In the next Indiana Jones movie, let’s have Indy search for a secret artifact and then give away the model as part of the promotion — IN THEATERS ONLY.” This is a sure fire way of providing an incentive that bit torrent or peer-to-peer services can’t compete with. People love tchotchkes. They go to trade shows and sit through half hour presentations for products they know they’ll never buy just to get the cool umbrella.
Picture leaving the Lord of the Rings and getting a well crafted “One Ring” on a metal chain? You could stuff a bunch of coupons and free samples in the box to subsidize the cost of the item.
Well-scoped promotional items do more than draw people to the movies — they can act as a bridge between just seeing the film and then going to the website, or joining a fanclub. Often I’ll see a film that I can’t stop raving about. But after the experience is over, I feel as if I want to extend that experience, and other than fansites with people arguing over movie details, there are few ways to do that. In this scenario, you can perhaps give out a DVD that has the making of the movie featured. The DVD could also contain a few deleted scenes? (Of course well subsidized with a bunch of trailers targeted at that demographic.)
This is no different than what McDonalds or cereal companies do. “Buy a meal and get one of 5 commemorative glasses.” I think movie studios can do a much better job at this same marketing tactic.
This is naturally most applicable to action style movies. I heard that the Iron Man movie was in production — perhaps a well crafted (but cheap enough to be mass produced) model of an Iron Man mask can be given out at the conclusion of the movie?
But this idea is by no means exclusive to action movies alone. Creativity is a huge part of the idea. Perhaps for the next Bridget Jones movie, you could drawing the core audience by handing out a diary that is exactly the same as the one she uses in the movie. Instead of putting the camera on Pepsi cans as cross promotion, show Bridget holding the very specifically styled diary –something that can’t be easily found in stores — and then hand them out. Or maybe one of five short books that continue Bridget’s story as she’s living life after marraige? Inside the packaging, I see advertisements from Loreal and samples and coupons for products females would be interested in. Perhaps a promotion where three special boxes contained tickets to meet Hugh Grant? Or a trip to London?
My point is that a strong promotional item, just like “A free T-shirt to the first 10,000 fans in attendance”, can be a huge draw. Not only would children be dragging their parents to watch Spy Kids 5 to get the special spy device that saves the day that is featured in the movie (maybe even asking mom to go back 5 times to get each of the 5 toys).
The items would be collected and traded and sold on eBay among people like Pokemon.
This is a core idea that can be tweaked until it reaches the desired result. Perhaps you change the giveaway after the movie has been in theaters for a few weeks? (And people go back to see it again.) The key is that you’re not only drawing people to the theaters, but you’re insuring that they watch the film, you’re building an emotional attachment between the film and the moviegoer (through the item) and you’re building the relationship by drawing them to a website.
Ideas of your own? Post them. But this is the rare time that I’ll advise you not to post them here — at least not only here. Go on over to Mark Cuban’s website and post your best idea. And if you get hired, I want some kind of publicity. 🙂