By Caressa Douglas
The summer blockbuster season is in full swing, yet films traditionally pegged as such are coming out on their own timeline. “Guardians of the Galaxy 2”, “Alien: Convenant” and “Fast and the Furious 8” all premiered before Memorial Day – weeks ahead of the traditional timeline between June through August. According to numbers from Cinema Blend, this year's first release of summer blockbusters only managed to bring in $176M, the lowest recorded theater ticket sales in 18 years. It appears the summer blockbuster window has started to disappear, leaving brands to wonder how they will reach their audiences. The notion of theatrical summer blockbusters is clearly shifting, and both production studios and brand marketers need to adjust where and how they're spending money.
2017 may be the year we see a shift from big theatrical releases to OTT productions.
Marvel, one of the biggest luminaries in content production today, made the decision to unleash “Dr. Strange” on the world in November 2016, rather than targeting a summer release. Based on a character that non-comic book aficionados had probably never heard of, the film defied convention. It had a late autumn release and cast an unlikely superhero in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch, and yet grossed four times its budget worldwide.
Marvel turned an arguably second-rate superhero into a global hit and most compellingly of all, the company is now taking these learnings and applying them to the streaming world. The latest example of this is “The Defenders,” a Marvel-hero super pact series along the lines of “The Avengers” that is custom-made for the TV screen rather than the silver screen, set to premiere on Netflix this August. The trailer alone has garnered over 8.3 million views on YouTube.
It’s fair to say that Marvel isn’t alone in its curiosity about streaming. The reality is content producers from all walks of life are now viewing over-the-top (OTT) platforms as one of the most powerful communication channels available to them. The launch of major shows on Netflix or Amazon Prime increasingly mirror those of major movie releases for their high-profile, pronounced impact – with the idea being to create an "event" around a new content launch. Fans have watched the trailer for the new season of “Stranger Things” over 8 million times, while anticipation for known characters and titles, such as “The Departed” and Tom Clancy’s “Jack Ryan” on Amazon Prime or Marvel’s “The Defenders” and Marvel’s “The Punisher” on Netflix, lead the way in streaming with projected audiences over 10 million each, according to custom research by Survata.
Similarly, as viewing figures continue to accelerate, OTT shows are now genuine rivals to traditional broadcast networks in terms of the mainstream audiences they can pull in. During April, that same Survata research revealed Netflix’s four most popular shows – “Orange is the New Black” (OITNB), “Stranger Things”, “House of Cards,” and “Fuller House” – each had estimated audiences of over 13.8 million, with “OITNB” topping the list with a staggering estimated audience of nearly 20 million viewers. In comparison, the top four broadcast shows between January and April 2017 averaged audiences of 16 million, with CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” leading the way (19 million) and “The Voice” (NBC), “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC), and “Blue Bloods” (CBS) all vying for second spot with average audiences of 14 million over the same period.
What OTT really has on its side is binge watching, the ability to pull viewers in and keep them there for hours on end.
For a content producer, this means an opportunity to dig deeper into character development, using sustained viewer attention to turn supporting roles into fully-realized stars.
In the Marvel Universe, the same principles apply. We’re now seeing the second tier of Marvel characters – those whose stories didn’t fit into the three-act cinematic universe Marvel has mapped out for its film properties - elevated to prominence on Netflix. The rationale is simple – on the one hand, many of these characters have their own existing fan bases wishing their favorite heroes got some screen time. On the other, Marvel’s mainstream pull is now so strong that viewers will explore a new Marvel show even if they’ve never heard of the character in question.
Even more compelling is that Marvel seems to be platform agnostic, instead using different OTT platforms to reach a variety of audiences. While the production company has six shows on Netflix from “Daredevil” to “Jessica Jones,” it is also targeting teens through Hulu with “Runaways,” and of course using ABC’s broadcast reach to transform new audiences into Marvel fans through “Agents of SHIELD” and “Inhumans,” both of which are geared towards family audiences.
For brands looking to get in on the Marvel action, this also means new avenues of opportunity. Where once a small handful of the world’s biggest brands might compete for seconds’ worth of exposure within the annual 120-minute Marvel movie, there are now content formats allowing repeated exposure to relevant audiences via OTT that may ultimately provide similar impressions to blockbusters. In the past four years, Marvel Studios’ films have brought in a whopping $2.8 billion in box office revenues for parent company The Walt Disney Company. However, custom Survata research found its television properties have delivered more than 3.5 times more impressions - an incredible 1.25 billion impressions from six broadcast and OTT properties compared to the 350 million impressions provided by Marvel’s films. Marvel’s OTT properties alone outpaced film in terms of impressions, with 544 million impressions generated for Netflix’s foursome of Defenders superheroes.
While brand giants certainly stand to benefit, the possibilities for all parties remain endless – a diversity of shows and characters provides authentic integration opportunities for more brands. Using products that are an accurate match for each superhero’s unique personalities adds realism and depth to the Marvel Universe in a way that brings that fantastical world to life for audiences across platforms.
Caressa Douglas serves as the senior vice president of content and branded integration and at BEN (Branded Entertainment Network), a Bill Gates Company. She is a founding member and contributor of BEN where she has a passion to seamlessly integrate brands into the fabric of Hollywood storytelling. With over two decades of relationships in the entertainment space, Caressa and team execute successful placement programs for global clients such as General Motors, Heineken, Dunkin Brands, Microsoft/Xbox, Honda, Hyundai, and Dyson.
Previously, Caressa served as Vice President of Branded Integration at Norm Marshall & Associates, a pioneer in the space of product placement and responsible for some of the most memorable brand campaigns of all time, including General Motors in "Transformers," Xbox in "Big Bang Theory," Chanel in "Sex in the City," and Persol in the James Bond franchise.
Caressa has been a leader in the entertainment marketing space and has a sterling reputation both with brands across categories, and throughout the production community.