Elevating Content into an Experience

By Rupert Burnham | July 11, 2018

Content is king so the mantra goes. But in this day and age it seems as if content alone is no longer enough. What if an opportunity is being missed by not going beyond the content? What if the greatest opportunity actually lies in the ancillary products and experiences that can be generated off the back of the content?


Nothing particularly new here, popular franchises have always given rise to branded merchandise. And in some cases this can be highly lucrative. It's worth remembering that George Lucas made his billions not from the Star Wars films themselves but from the licensing and merchandising rights. Convinced the original film would be a huge flop, 20th Century Fox let Lucas pass up on an additional US $500,000 in directing fees in return for keeping the licensing and merchandising rights for himself. Great for Lucas, but terrible for Fox. To put this in context, in 2011, a year in which no new Star Wars movies were released, Star Wars toys brought in more than US $3 billion.


What’s in an experience?


In this sense content merely acts as a vehicle for greater returns that can be achieved past the duration of the film. But is licensing and merchandising the end of it? The answer is no. Experience is the key, and a crucial difference is that experience can’t be pirated in the way that content so easily can. More so than licensing and merchandising, experience, in the case of a film, ensures that its prospect’s can continue past the duration of the film, simultaneously helping to ensure the continued popularity of the film. Examples of this include, the highly popular Harry Potter Warner Bros. studio tours in London, Lord of The Rings and Hobbit tours in New Zealand and recently, Fast and Furious Live which debuted in London.


In the last example, former Top Gear creative director Roland French transformed the film franchise into the Universal Studios affiliated Fast & Furious Live—a £25m arena show featuring 11 stunt performers and around 20 vehicles. Admittedly, there have been mixed reviews, while appealing to fans, critics have been less than impressed. But then the nature of supercars is that they’re to be driven fast, they’re less impressive when travelling at 7mph – despite special effects suggesting otherwise. Critical reviews aside, Fast & Furious Live is notable for opening up the content in a whole new direction and providing a new revenue stream. That said, the successful franchise—totalling eight films and returning more than £3.5bn so far, with at least two more films in the pipeline—seems to be doing well enough as it is.


Can you keep a secret...


It is also notable for elevating the content into a live experience. And it is not alone in this endeavour, take the Secret Cinema concept. It takes popular films and elevates them into something more. As the founder Fabien Riggall describes it, "Instead of watching a film, you essentially are in the live the film." For some of the events, the movie is a mystery when tickets go on sale (the company's slogan is "Tell No One”). Each ticket holder is assigned a secret identity, and told what to wear and where to go, usually in a series of cryptic messages. For Dr. Strangelove, they took the form of army dispatches, whereas For 28 Days Later, the company sent out invitations as hospital appointments.


And it’s popular too. The Dirty Dancing event hosted in 2015 proved so popular that it gave Dirty Dancing a new lease of life and pushed it back into the U.K. box office top 10, some 30 years after it was first released. And it’s not just popular, it’s lucrative to. 2015’s Star Wars show attracted 100,000 people who spent the evening in an abandoned printing factory complete with Stormtrooper patrols and a replica of an Imperial ship. At £75 a ticket, the company generated box office takings of roughly £7.5 million.


Risky business


Clearly then there is money to be made from ‘experiences’, but with exceptional production values, this comes at a cost—risky business unless you can be certain that you can pull in the numbers. Secret Cinema has held one off events in New York and Berlin—natural choices considering there’s likely to be avid film fans in both cities. But is there scope to expand the concept beyond capital cities / cultural hubs? Certainly, if the risks could be mitigated and it were possible to know that the intended film had a ready-made audience.


But then how do you find fans? Well one way to find fans of content is to look at who’s watching which films or TV shows. The BitTorrent network can provide this information by showing us where the content is being downloaded. Although the content may not have purchased legitimately, it is able to provide the means to know in which country and even which city a film or TV show is popular. This alone would not be sufficient enough evidence to mitigate the risk, but there’s every potential of combining it with other data to provide a highly accurate picture of where an experiential screening could be successful.


Secret Cinema’s latest performance is Blade Runner 2049 and success can be assured in London, but where else could a successful live experience be hosted based on where it’s being downloaded?



Top 10 countries


Data collected from Nahuru’s proprietary software between 3rd Jan 18 and 30th Jun 18
Top 10 cities

Data collected from Nahuru’s proprietary software between 3rd Jan 18 and 30th Jun 18

Obviously Blade Runner 2049 is a film that would work well as a live experience and the same has held true for revisiting other classic titles and creating experiences with them. However that’s not to say that every film or TV series for that matter would work successfully. Some films and TV shows may not be suitable as they may not have content that would readily translate or transfer to a live experience. Alternatively the audience may not be suited or the type to want to attend a live experience.


What does the future hold?


Well Secret Cinema may have hit upon something here. Riggall (a filmmaker himself) believes that his company has tapped into what could be the future of cinema. He's developing a movie that would be shot specifically for Secret Cinema—a film designed to be watched in a setting. Judging by the numbers some of the company’s screenings have pulled in, this could be a very lucrative prospect indeed.


But there’s scope for more, much more. What about post franchise experiences such as pop up events. For example, what if there was an unofficial Hunger Games that allowed fans to compete against each other to the death, subject to health and safety regulations? Maybe not the best idea, but perhaps content makers should be taking a leaf out of the books of marketing and branding agencies that special in experiential marketing and events to advertise products, goods and services. If content is no longer enough and there has to be more to ensure its success, then experiential will undoubtedly form a key part. The best thing about pursuing this direction? The only limit is our imagination—anything is possible. As Michelangelo said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”



Tags: bladerunner bladerunner 2049 secret cinema sony pictures