Use These Data Analytics Tips to Find Your Film’s Audience

by Jess Fuselier and Liz Manashil

On March 12, Liz and Jess from Sundance Institute’s Creative Distribution Initiative, and Amber Thomas from Polygraph, got together and presented a session for SXSW badge holders on Data Analytics for Storytellers. Making great art is hard, but so is distribution and marketing. However, it’s never been more important to have a grasp on how to build audiences for your work. As the market becomes more oversaturated by the year, the concept of having sustainable careers for independent storytellers becomes more and more complicated.

Our dear film industry is years behind others (interactive and music to name a couple) with regards to access to data, so we designed the panel around using the limited access we have to help all of us build audiences and maximize revenue.

Our department, Sundance Institute’s Creative Distribution Initiative, puts a lot of time into learning about ways we can access and analyze data because of the need to use more quantitative evidence rather than the purely anecdotal. We need concrete facts to define distribution and marketing strategies, as this will be the only way to separate the truly strategic from the pack. For example, for lower budget filmmakers, if efficiently using ad money during a release is a real concern, then running an ad campaign targeting the right audience with the right creative material is paramount. You can deduce what these things are (audience and creative) through data.

So why is there so little access to data in the film industry? Primarily, independent filmmakers aren’t often allowed to share information due to the confidentiality clauses in their distribution agreements. Secondarily, those involved with a mediocre or average to low performing release do not want to publicize their lack of success. Fear. Fear stops individuals from sharing information. Finally, many in the industry still do not understand the waterfall of revenue or how money is disbursed throughout a film’s release. Pure lack of understanding could be the reason why people do not share data — they simply do not know what to ask, or how to interpret the numbers.

What’s the solution? We can start by understanding data’s importance and when and where to gather it!

Let’s break down how best you can collect data at all times throughout your art-making.

Pre-Production

Start with your script: What draws people in? What areas aren’t landing with your potential audience? A lo-fi way to test your script is sending it out to your immediate community with a brief survey that includes questions such as:

  • What characters do you respond to?
  • How did you feel about the duration of scene X?
  • What was your favorite moment? What pulled you in as a reader? As an actor? As an audience member?

This can help you not only identify areas you may want to change or finesse, but also the parts of your story that are best to highlight throughout the marketing and promotion of your film.

If you have financial resources to test your script, there are a few data analysis platforms out there offering script analysis (we met the cool women of Storyfit at the conference who are doing just this).

Caveat: It’s vital to mention that we are not encouraging you to swap your art for commerce. However, making films is mass communication with an audience. Make sure your message is coming across — and do so by testing.

Production

Start building your audience from day one. Set up your social accounts and start posting about the process; bring people along for the ride! Make sure you’re using your authentic voice, because even in the digital sphere people need to feel a real human connection. Monitor who’s engaging with your channels throughout this part of the process. Most likely you’ll be able to identify audience buckets during this phase to target through social media ads during your release campaign.

Pro-tip: Invite friends and family to follow your accounts first. Use them as guinea pigs as you hone the voice of your campaign and get your footing. Then, once you feel confident, start to do outreach to strangers.

Post-Production

Post is full of testing opportunities. Hold test screenings, in-person and virtually, with simple tools like Google Hangout or Vimeo, to not only get feedback on different cuts but also see who your film is resonating with. This is valuable data you can use to help identify which audiences to target when promoting your film. You can also use social media organic posts and ads to test creative. Have two posters you can’t decide between? Post each one separately to social platforms and see which one gets the most engagement.

Marketing and Distribution

Use the audience information you’ve collected thus far to target specific audience buckets for digital marketing during your release campaign. Watch the performance of your social media ads. If they’re not performing well, pull those ads so you don’t waste money. A high cost per result and low engagement typically means your ad isn’t performing well. Maybe you need to adjust your messaging and creative or maybe it’s an audience that’s not right for your film. Watch and listen to the conversations happening around your posts because the way your social media ads perform can tell you a lot about the adjustments that need to be made in your digital marketing campaign.

Use your distribution platforms to monitor who’s watching your content and how they’re watching it. Viewer demographics and viewership trends are helpful features some platforms provide. Also, if you’re using an aggregator, you can monitor platform performance and financial estimates.

Now that we’ve nailed down when (at all times), where?

Amazon Video Direct and Vimeo are two distribution platforms that give storytellers access to viewer data — where they’re located, how long they spend watching your content, and number of views. Aggregators give storytellers access to financial information like how much they’re making on iTunes and Google Play. Even though this information is oftentimes delayed due to variance in different platforms reporting schedules, any access to this type of data helps storytellers assess their most viable digital distribution sources.

There are so many tools out there that help storytellers identify and target their audience. Social media analytics, such as Facebook Insights and social media manager platforms like Hootsuite, should be a go-to source for audience information. Monitor these insights throughout the course of your audience building work. Make sure you have Google Analytics running on your website — this will help you monitor who’s looking at your website and when. Are you running a social media ad that directs people to your website? To measure the efficacy of that ad, check your GA account to see if you had a spike in traffic.

Don’t underestimate the power of a newsletter! It still has higher conversion than social media posts. And with the most recent changes to the Facebook algorithm, it’s imperative that you have multiple channels in place to reach your audience. Use services like Mailchimp to manage your email lists. Crowdfunding, like Kickstarter, Seed & Spark, and Indiegogo, can be a great source of email addresses. Don’t forget about these early audience members — they’re true, invested fans. Add them to your email list and keep them updated throughout your journey. Crowdsourced theatrical is another source for active audience members. Not only is it a better financial split for the storyteller, but platforms like Tugg and Gathr provide storytellers the email addresses of everyone who buys a ticket.

Digital Marketing Techniques

We had a couple questions come up during our panel regarding specific digital marketing techniques. We decided to reach out to Matt Delman from 3rd Impression to see how he and his team used these techniques while running our fellowship film Unrest’s digital marketing campaign.

Pixeling

“For community, OVEE, and special event screenings, we used Eventbrite’s platform which allows you to embed a conversion pixel on the checkout page, which allowed us to track every ticket purchase back to our ads and optimize them for conversion. But not every platform allows you to track purchases.” — Matt Delman

Social Listening or Engagement-Based Targeting

“In a sequenced approach, we can use engagement-based targeting to narrow our audiences further based on who engages with that first piece of content, to make sure they see a second and third. That’s integral to our strategy, and part of why we named our company 3rd Impression.” — Matt Delman

Benefits of Collecting Data

Even the smallest access to data can help sustain storytellers’ careers. Gathering and analyzing data can help storytellers grow and retain their audience, and can help them identify the most lucrative revenue streams and lead to career sustainability. With the saturation of content, more and more storytellers are having to prove their worth. Having proof of an invested audience base can bring the decision makers to you! The more access to data you have the more control you have over the release of your work.

Partners: A List of Cool Data Companies

We wanted to highlight some cool film data companies, including the ones we met at SXSW. These companies are bringing the film industry up to speed in regards to data analytics.

UsherU — The wonderful people at UsherU help make buying movie tickets easier and give information back to the filmmaker, such as the email addresses of the fans who are buying tickets. Their system integrates directly with point of sale systems, which allows people to purchase tickets in-app without having to go to the theaters webpage to purchase. They’re currently only operating in the UK but are working on expanding into other markets.

Powster — The lovely team at Powster also helps filmmakers seamlessly integrate ticketing into their website. They build out ticketing pages that use geo-location to populate the screenings people see listed based on their region. They also give their clients access to an analytics dashboard that provides information on who is visiting their ticketing page. The Powster team built the screenings page for our fellowship film Unrest.

Storyfit — Uses machine learning for script analysis. Get a window into gender parity, sentiment mapping, and the emotional arches of your characters, just to name a few features. Also, it’s a woman owned and operated company, which we think is pretty rad.

Cinelytic — The great team behind cinelytic is using AI to help the industry find better business practices surrounding budgeting, distribution, and marketing.

Parse.ly— Parse.ly isn’t rooted in the film industry but we think the work they’re doing could really benefit filmmakers. As they state on their website, Parse.ly helps you “understand your audience attention online.” One component of their work we’re excited about is their ability to track how many people are actually seeing and reading your earned media. This could be a game changer for indie film PR campaigns.

So all of this leads us to the Transparency Project. At Sundance Institute we’re working to collect more data internally, as well as find outside partners to work with to craft and release data driven editorial content for the field. We want to peel the curtain back on this industry and start to give filmmakers more access to concrete information that can help them identify sustainable pathways for their careers. We’ve started this process through the Creative Distribution Fellowship, where we write and release a case study that breaks down each of our fellows self-distribution journey. We just released the first case study on Columbus. Check it out and send us your feedback! We want to hear from you and make sure the resources we’re releasing are helpful. And if you’re interested in sharing data with us as we seek to find answers and share insights, reach out! Email us at creativedistribution@sundance.org. We’d love to start a conversation.