The shape of movies to come

The Interview

So The Interview got its public showing on Christmas Day in the United States in spite of hacks on Sony Pictures’ computer systems, angry denials by the North Koreans that they were behind the hacks, and intervention by the US President.

The political comedy film stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as journalists who secure an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (played by Randall Park), and who are then recruited by the CIA and instructed to assassinate him.

In what would have been a farce if the situation hadn’t been so serious, the North Koreans accused the US government of state-sponsored terrorism and said the release of the movie would be an act of war. There were also dire threats by shady online groups during the past few weeks to kill cinema-goers if Sony Pictures did release the R-rated movie.

Well, release it they did in spite of announcing a clear intent in the previous week not to release it at all.

Much of the media reporting I’ve seen focuses on the cinema release – The Interview was showing at 320+ independent cinemas across the United States starting on Christmas Day, with box office takings to date reportedly around $2.8 million.

Yet what I found far more interesting were the other distribution methods Sony Pictures employed to make the movie more widely available. This is how Sony announced the movie’s public availability:

Fans can watch The Interview on several platforms including:

Google Play: the movie is available to buy or rent at play.google.com, and can be watched in the Play Movies & TV app on Android and iOS phones or tablets, or streamed in the living room via Chromecast, Roku or the Nexus Player.

YouTube: the movie is available at youtube.com/movies and can be watched on the web, in the YouTube app, or on select living room devices like Chromecast, Apple TV, PlayStation and Xbox.

Microsoft’s Xbox Video: the movie is available to buy or rent on the Xbox Video app on Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and XboxVideo.com.

SeetheInterview.com: In addition, The Interview is available at the dedicated website www.seetheinterview.com, which is sponsored by Sony Pictures and powered by Kernel and with payments through Stripe, a secure payment platform.

In addition to Google Play, YouTube, Microsoft and www.seetheinterview.com, The Interview is also being released in more than 300 United States theaters on December 25th.

It struck me straightaway that digital and online are front and center in the distribution infrastructure, with the physical (cinema) release very much the supporting act. And, releasing a movie this way – enabling people to access and view it through online rental or purchase – is the first time a major studio has done that on the same day of its cinema release.

Although the US box office has produced the lion’s share of viewing sales so far, it’s being speculated that revenues from the movie on the various digital platforms could potentially make this method likelier for movie distribution in the future, if not for the specific reasons surrounding The Interview.

And let’s not forget one thing – all of this is available only in the United States (of course there are workarounds if you’re outside the US) and it’s an R-rated movie, restricting the audience potential in cinemas at least.

It’s a big hit with content pirates, too.

In any case, could this be a clear signal on what we are likely to see in future for movie releases, whether by big studios or indie producers? I’d say it’s a sure bet that digital and online will play a much more prominent role if not the leading role in future.

Imagine – you want to watch the latest Hollywood film on your 50+-inch Ultra HD TV in the comfort and privacy of home? You have many choices of the delivery methods (see above). Then imagine services like Netflix joining the streaming distribution party.

Or, you want the IMAX or other big-screen experience with the popcorn and cokes? Head to your nearest multiplex with its digital audio-visual immersion.

And all the choices happen at once – no more staggered releases.

Traditional mainstream movie distribution and marketing focused only on the cinema and subsequent Blu-ray/DVD sales just got turned on its head.

Finally, what about the PR surrounding The Interview? There’s been commentary and opinion galore over recent months suggesting the whole thing is just a huge PR stunt, with others offering opinion to explain why it couldn’t possibly be a PR stunt.

How long?

Whether it was or not, one thing is sure – Sony Pictures has gained publicity for a movie that has been panned by critics yet looks very likely to receive widespread attention as a result of all the publicity about it (and the bigger picture about the extensive hacking of Sony Pictures that extends beyond The Interview).

Will I watch The Interview when it’s available here in the UK? Probably, just to see for myself what all the fuss is about. And especially if I can stream it to my TV or computer rather than go to the cinema.

Good PR result.

[Update Dec 29:] The Interview has managed to rake in $15 million since its online debut on Christmas Day, reports Mashable:

“Through Saturday, December 27, including all of its online distribution platforms, The Interview has been rented or purchased online more than 2 million times,” read a statement from Sony Pictures. “Total consumer spending through Saturday for The Interview online is over $15 million.”

“[A]fter only four days, The Interview already ranks as Sony Pictures #1 online film of all time,” read the statement from Sony Pictures.

Recode reports that Apple has now joined the ranks of distributors:

It took Apple a few days, but it’s joining the club: Starting [Sunday December 28], iTunes users in the U.S. and Canada can rent and purchase “The Interview,” Sony’s controversial comedy.

The movie became available at Apple’s store at 1 pm ET [Sunday].

The Interview was a huge online success, says Quartz – but for Google rather than for Sony:

Sony’s big internet video gamble seems to have paid off: The Interview, which the company offered for online rental and purchase on Christmas Eve, earned more than $15 million during its first four days on the internet. The film was rented or purchased more than 2 million times from Dec. 24-27, making it the studio’s most successful online release ever, while also grossing an additional $2.85 million from 331 independent North American theaters over the four-day holiday weekend.

[…] The film’s online success might be a qualified moral victory for Sony, but it definitely won’t be a financial one—and that’s even before calculating the significant financial fallout from the hacking scandal, which could be as much as $100 million.

Instead, the biggest winners from the weekend are the internet outlets that first streamed The Interview in North America. Google’s two sites—Google Play and YouTube Movies—were responsible for the bulk of sales, and Google also benefitted from exposing its platforms to consumers who regularly choose iTunes, or other VOD platforms that did not carry the film.

Undoubtedly further analysis will come in the following days.

Social marketing and social PR: never the twain shall meet?

Webinar

Earlier this month, I took part in a one-hour interview about social media marketing and social PR for a webinar organized by Cision UK and Vocus UK (both, incidentally, now part of the same enterprise).

The event was promoted as “The Big Christmas Grudge Match: Social Media Marketing vs Social PR” although I saw it very much as comparing and contrasting the two elements that, in many respects, are different sides of the same coin.

Whatever you call it, I thought it was a terrific discussion. Moderator Paul Miller, head of digital at Cision UK, did a great great job at leading the conversation along a clear path to address five key specific points:

  1. Can social PR ever be more than outreach to journalists/bloggers/etc conducted by social media?
  2. Are there particular channels which are better suited to marketing or PR?
  3. What about PR and customer service – and to what extent does that make social PR “a cost of doing business”?
  4. What are the consequences for social marketing/PR of the recent issues around display inventory? What about the Oreo product placement ruling from the ASA?
  5. Public relations (more than) suggests engagement with the public, but traditionally any engagement was filtered through third-parties (eg, journalists, analysts). To what extent does social technology allow PRs to go direct to their publics, and (to what extent) is the technology still acting as a filter?

I prepared some talking points for the five questions, mainly to help me stay focused on those questions in order to address them fully. You can read them in the embed below, or download a copy from Scribd.

Cision Vocus Webinar 9 Dec 14: Talking Points by Neville Hobson

The interview was conducted live as a webinar, in which I gather well over 150 people listened in, with a further few hundred registered and who will hear the recording, now available.

As we concluded our discussion, Paul asked me which would I pick as key, if I had to choose between social marketing and social PR. You can listen to the recording to learn the answer :)

Thanks again, Cision and Vocus, for a worthwhile discussion on a broad topic that does attract lots of different views. We had quite a few questions in the live event – some of which were tweeted via the event hashtag #SocialPR – and quite a few more that I will be commenting on that Cision and Vocus will publish.

The Hoover metaphor

A report last week in The Guardian about the UK digital ad market includes this text:

hoover up

Google and Facebook will hoover up the market between them, it says.

“Hoover up?”

This is not new by any means, but it is another instance of how the once-dominant vacuum cleaner brand name Hoover – note the capital ‘H’ – has become a generic descriptor (with a lower-case ‘h’) that’s used in metaphor as a verb like The Guardian’s use, as well as often applied when talking about any brand of vacuum cleaner.

It’s also what can happen to a brand where the owner has not taken the legal steps required in order to protect his rights to the intellectual property in the brand and name.

I tend to write ‘Hoover’ (with that capital ‘H’) whenever I use the name as a metaphor. Just a way of tipping the hat to a name that is in common use today but not as the brand owner foresaw.

And let’s not even talk about xerox, kleenex and many more

Marking eight years of Twitter

Signing up for TwitterI remember when I first started hearing about Twitter, in the summer of 2006 less than six months after the service started earlier that year.

As the year progressed, the name kept popping up in blog posts and comments – what social media was, really, back then – until I decided to see for myself what this thing was all about.

And so, today marks my eighth #Twitterversary – eight years ago on this day, I signed up with the handle of @jangles. My Twitter ID number is 47973. (Did you know every Twitter handle has a corresponding ID number?) I’m still not sure if that number has any significance that makes it generally interesting.

For instance, does it signify that I was the 47,973rd person to sign up on Twitter? It sounds like it could be, given the numbers in 2006, growth since then (especially since 2010) and compare that to today with over 284 million monthly active users worldwide. But I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter.

twitteractives

Incidentally, I often get asked what my Twitter handle means or where it came from. It’s actually the first part of the name of my avatar in the virtual world of Second Life, a place I was spending a lot of time in during 2006.

In any case, over the past eight years, Twitter’s analytics tell me that I’ve created almost 76,000 tweets. In averages, that works out at…

  • 9,500 per year
  • 792 per month
  • 26 per day
  • Just over one per hour (make that 3 per hour if we look at an 8-hour workday)

Are such metrics what Twitter’s about? Isn’t it more about the people you connect with? Well, according to Twitter, I have…

…so I suppose it is about that (assuming at least 50 percent of followers are not bots) as this chart suggests.

Engagements

Yet what is Twitter, really? Is it…

  • A social network
  • A tool for writing very short posts
  • A place to connect and engage with others online and chat
  • A useful means of sharing links to content of mutual interest or potential interest
  • A way to talk out loud and share your thoughts with the world wherever you are at any time
  • A channel for anyone to broadcast messages about anything and everything
  • Another channel for marketers and advertisers to promote their brands
  • A way for people who want to change their society to connect and communicate often more safely than they could otherwise
  • A tool for politicians and activists to spread their words
  • A means of communicating abuse and threatening others online

It’s all of those things, the good and the bad (and the ugly), and much more. If you use Twitter in a way that I’ve not mentioned, then that’s what Twitter is to you.

Twitter is also a mirror on society, reflecting the behaviours and actions of people that really is little different to behaviours in the actual world. There are consequences in what you say in a tweet and Twitter has come of age in this regard where the law is catching up with the wild west.

Twitter also came of age when it became a publicly-listed company on the New York Stock Exchange in September 2013. And naturally, it announced its intention to file an IPO in a tweet.

And so Twitter today is very much part of the mainstream, used in all those different ways by people to express opinions, share interesting things and engage in dialogue with others. I’ve always believed Twitter is what you make of it.

I like to look on the bright side about Twitter and human behaviours. And I can think of no better way to illustrate that sentiment than this terrific video from Twitter on the 2014 World Cup through the collective lenses of millions of tweeters.

One big milestone on the continuing journey.

Mobile can grow, but publishers are losing out on revenue

A guest post by Simon Birkenhead, CEO of Axonix, an advertising technology company backed by Telefonica and Blackstone.

Location-based mobile adFacebook recently announced its Q3 results and, for many in the industry, the most headline-grabbing statistic was that mobile ads now make up an incredible 66% of the social network’s total advertising revenue.

And yet, I reacted to the announcement with little surprise.

After all, it shouldn’t be news to anyone that mobile advertising is growing at a remarkable rate – especially when you consider there are currently more data connections in the UK than there are people. In August this year, mobile internet usage in the UK overtook desktop, meaning a majority of website visits now come from tablets and smartphones.

In the first half of 2014, mobile advertising in the UK exceeded £700 million – that’s around 20% of all digital ad spend and a whopping 68% growth over 2013. That’s more than radio and cinema advertising combined, and is fast approaching the scale of outdoor advertising.

However, despite this explosive growth of mobile advertising, I believe brands, publishers and consumers are still not being well served by mobile ads, and this is preventing mobile advertising from growing even faster.

Facebook, it seems, has done a great job at figuring out how to best present ads within their users’ mobile newsfeeds. However, most publishers I speak with say they invest a tiny fraction of their time thinking about how to optimise their own users’ mobile ad experiences. This is despite some publishers admitting they now see close to 50% of their traffic from mobile devices.

Facebook mobile ads

App developers also continue to stick rigidly to the tiny banner ad rather than exploring more engaging, and valuable, alternatives such as video and full-screen interstitials. Throw in the fact that mobile ads are often poorly targeted and it is no wonder brands struggle to find success through mobile.

So how to get it right? The winners will ultimately be those publishers who can provide a platform where brands can run engaging mobile ads that reach the right person with a super relevant message at the right time. On mobile this is even more critical, and even more difficult to achieve, because of the very mobility inherent in mobile device.

The heavily-touted silver bullet to this challenge – and one of the buzzwords of 2014 throughout all forms of advertising, not just mobile – is programmatic.

Programmatic advertising through ‘ad exchanges’ brings the ability to buy and sell advertising in an automated fashion in real-time, one ad impression at a time.

And it’s struck a real chord.

Publishers and brands alike are embracing programmatic advertising as the primary way business should be conducted. It enables real-time audience targeting at scale, a benefit that’s even more relevant for mobile because of its uniquely personal characteristics. Better targeting means improved ad relevancy, increasing the value for both consumers and advertisers, and delivering a higher price for publishers’ media space.

There are also significant cost efficiencies generated by outsourcing most of the heavy lifting to computer algorithms and reducing the dependency on expensive media buying/sales teams. Unlike the ‘secret sauce’ of ad networks, ad exchanges like Axonix can provide full transparency to both buyer and seller of the media space.

Such immense mobile growth in such a short space of time was always going to bring both challenges and opportunities for app developers and publishers. So now is the time to get equipped with the facts and best practices to capitalise on the opportunities presented by programmatic mobile advertising.

Whether an app or mobile content is free, freemium or paid-for, monetization of mobile ad space through ad exchanges allows publishers to optimise ad revenues whilst slashing costs.

Just as it is inevitable that consumers’ usage of mobile devices will continue to grow, so it is inevitable that marketing budgets will continue to follow those consumer eyeballs.

So get ahead of this disruption. Just as Facebook has rebuilt its entire ad business around mobile, it will be those publishers and app developers that harness the programmatic opportunity and offer a platform for more intelligent mobile advertising who will find themselves in the best stead to capture these budgets in the future.

Simon BirkenheadSimon Birkenhead is CEO of Axonix, a leading mobile ad exchange that helps mobile publishers to maximize their ad revenues. He has 20 years experience in digital marketing, mobile advertising and business management, the majority of which has been within high tech companies at the cutting edge of their industries.

He has launched three digital advertising start-ups, including Axonix, and was the first hire into Google’s Global Agencies Team in 2008, establishing this as the benchmark sales team for engagement at global exec level with the Big 6 advertising agency groups.

Simon is a mentor and Board advisor to a number of new technology companies and is a regular speaker at industry conferences, including Mobile World Congress, Festival of Media and Ad:Tech.

(Starbucks image: via Forbes; Facebook ads image: Facebook via Wired)

Where does social marketing end and social PR begin?

Social media webinar

Can you really separate out social marketing and social PR? Or are they just two sides of the same coin? And are there actually start and end points?

I’ve partnered with Cision and Vocus to address these elements of a big topic in a free webinar we’re presenting on December 9 that will help you bring a clear focus to your social communications planning and execution in 2015.

Here’s the heart of what we’ll be doing:

Discover the communications strategies, tactics, and channels used by marketers and PRs to identify the best – and worst – practices. Along the way, we’ll be asking the big questions, like:

  • When should PR and marketing work together?
  • Where is one more effective than the other?
  • Can they and should they be separate at all?

Save your spot at the webinar to make sure your social communications are ready for 2015.

Some big expectations! But I’m confident you’ll get some insights that will help you.

Join us on Tuesday December 9 at 14:00 UK time for 60 minutes of great discussion. It’s free, so sign up now.

Save My Spot

[Update December 21:] My thoughts about the webinar: Social marketing and social PR: never the twain shall meet? Cision and Vocus have posted the webinar recording.