Imagine that you’re a giant media conglomerate, with ownership in both a television network and a film studio. Would it not make sense to drive the fanbase of a film property (which you are distributing) to a new show that needs to build an audience or a series that needs a shot in the ratings arm (which you also own) by showing an exclusive peek or a clip of a new film? Surprisingly, after New Line did this in 2001 with “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings” and Warner Bros. copying this move last year with “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” none of the multi-headed entertainment conglomerates are doing so in the fall 2003 season, as of this writing.
Is corporate synergy, a word that now has a negative connotation in the wake of AOL and Time Warner’s missteps since its merger, dead?
Time Warner has New Line, Warner Bros. and the WB network. Viacom owns Paramount, CBS and UPN. Disney has Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures and ABC. News Corporation counts both 20th Century Fox and the Fox network among its stable. Vivendi’s Universal Pictures will soon be a part of NBC. And this is only counting the 6 national broadcast networks— there are plenty other conglomerate properties to be found among cable television. So why is it that these conglomerates are not taking advantage of their full breadth of platforms?
The intent here by the conglomerates should be to kill two ducks with one stone, metaphorically speaking. Network television relies on advertising revenue, with the bulk of ads sold months in advance, based on a forthcoming show’s buzz or how a series has performed in the past. Obviously, networks want their shows to be watched, so as to not to lose valuable ad dollars in the process by way of rebates— The game is to get as many people watching as they can with what they have scheduled, rather than having to go with their fall-back plan. And giving an advanced look at a film that has a built-in audience is certainly a way to help hook audiences into watching week after week, if the two properties target similar demographics. This is also predicated on the television show being a quality product.
And, along the same lines, such a move can help raise further awareness of a film among a television show’s core audience who might not have had the intent to see the film in the first place, as well as in the general public’s awareness of the film if such a move is promoted properly.
Let’s give an example of this: Last year, Warner Bros. premiered a two-minute trailer for “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” during the premiere of its then-new WB show “Family Affair,” marking it the first time scenes from the movie was shown to audiences. By promoting the trailer through the “Harry Potter” fandom and related mass-media means, the network had its highest ratings in the hour ever at that time and a large sampling for the show. Unfortunately, based mostly on the series being a stinker, viewers didn’t tune in during subsequent weeks and the show was quickly cancelled. Had “Family Affair” been a good product and matched up better demographically with the two products, it’s worth arguing that a larger portion of the viewership tuning in for the trailer might have come back to the WB show in the weeks following, and made it a success.
Only certain films can do this, of course. The benchmark should be that film needs to be based on some tangible factor, such as an A-list star, a name-brand property (such as a popular book), or part of a franchise. Films that do not qualify above still might be able to pull it off, but there must be some sort of support behind it in some fashion.
What film among the winter 2003 crop would have the best chance of success in driving an audience to a show? New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which debuted a full trailer Friday, could have easily helped build the audience for the series premiere of the WB channel’s “Tarzan” on October 5. Or it could have helped open up the new season of “Angel” (a new trailer for the first film helped propel the same TV series in fall 2001, giving the third season premiere the sixth-highest viewership of the season), or with “Smallville,” which has moved to a new night. All are part of the Time Warner family.
Was it Time Warner’s best option to partner the trailer with the second weekend of “Secondhand Lions?” I’d say an emphatic no, although “Lions” is an enjoyable film that deserves to find an audience. It could have done it during the third week of “Lions,” showing the trailer exclusively during any of the above shows, but they get a smaller piece of the pie in terms of how much exhibitors give studios in film grosses.
There needs to be a three-pronged approach as to how the new trailer for the ending act of the “Ring” trilogy. The new paradigm should have a film’s trailer being rolled out, in this order, of a network television show, film and then the Internet, to maximize the assets of the conglomerate. With the amount of money being spent to sell films, the current two-pronged approach of film and Internet needs to be improved upon— why not use the means a conglomerate has been given? Although it is likely that the trailer will at some point be leaked into the latter area, a distributor with the means should be parlaying a property’s interest into another arm of the conglomerate in a way that benefits both.
Some other examples: Warner Bros.’ “The Matrix: Revolutions” could have fit well with the above WB shows as well, although it would mean a shorter lead time until the film’s November 5 release. Disney’s “Haunted Mansion,” a popular ride at DisneyWorld that has been converted into a forthcoming feature starring Eddie Murphy, could fit pretty much anywhere on the ABC schedule. A new trailer for Paramount’s “Timeline,” based on the popular book by Michael Crichton, would easily have complimented CBS’s new shows “The Handler” or “Navy NCIS.”
On the flip side, 20th Century Fox’s “Cheaper by the Dozen,” based upon a popular 1940’s children’s book, could have done well in being paired with Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle,” raising awareness of the film through a popular TV show. This street can work both ways as well as a vehicle to raise awareness.
Bottom line: Media conglomerates can do a better job with their inter-company synergy. They’re missing the boat right now in a lot of ways, and this is something for them to make right in the months and seasons ahead. In a new feature at FilmJerk.com, Chris Faile looks at the way films and television are marketing themselves across a variety of platforms, as well as what the driving trends are in the industry.