Wolk’s Week in Review: Bad news for movie theaters, Youtube pushes Youtube-friendly measurement standards

Wolk's Week In Review

1. Bad News For Movie Theaters

Our friends at PCH Consumer Insights, in conjunction with Evan Shapiro, have a new study out today that finds, among other things, that Maverick is pretty much the only Oscar Best Picture contender that most people have seen, that 50% of the survey’s 17K respondents did not go to the movies at all last year and that two-thirds of them would rather watch movies at home on their TV.

This is not good news at all for the movie industry, which had more or less stuck its fingers in its ears in an attempt to blame all its woes on the pandemic.

But in the cold harsh light of day it seems that all the pandemic did was to accelerate a whole bunch of pre-existing conditions and that the movie industry will need to deal with them sooner than anticipated.

Which is good news if you’re a streaming TV service.

Why it matters

None of this is surprising.

None of it.

People preferred watching movies in theaters back when the alternative was a 27-inch Sony Trinitron with spotty reception.

But an 85-inch OLED TV with a surround-sound system is another story.

And that’s before you even consider the actual in-theater experience.

$20 for a tub of popcorn and a coke. Sticky floors. Fellow patrons lighting up their phones and talking during the movie.

The pandemic-related closure of many smaller theaters leaving larger multiplexes as the only option.

The “Golden Age Of Television 2.0” where the kinds of stories once relegated to indie films are now on TV.

The increased fractalization of American society. 

And that’s just off the top of my head.

The other reason why this matters, of course, is that the Oscars are this Sunday night. 

All eyes will be on the ratings for the event, whether viewers are tuning in to see a show about films they haven’t seen and (quite possibly) never heard of: as per the report, 38% of respondents have not seen any of the nominated films. 

What’s more, a full 70% said that even a Best Picture award would not increase their desire to see a particular movie.

So there’s that and then there’s the good news for streaming.

40% admitted to subscribing to a streaming service just to watch a particular movie and close to one-third admitted that the contents of a streaming service’s overall movie library was a big factor in deciding whether to subscribe and/or stay subscribed to a particular service.

Which, given how little emphasis there’s been on highlighting the size and quality of those SVOD movie libraries to consumers as a sales tool should be a further wake-up call.

What you need to do about it

If you are a theater chain, you need to pull your head out of the sand and start making some major changes. 

What those adjustments actually wind up looking like is a year-long multimillion dollar project for McKinsey or BCG, but you need to get on top of it today.

If you are a Hollywood studio, you need to make movies relevant again. It’s telling that so many respondents have not seen any of the Best Picture nominees. Embrace the fact that much of your audience is never coming back to theaters. That there will be a hardcore 30% that still loves the theater experience but that the remaining two-thirds are usually happier to see the movie at home and adjust your expectations to those numbers.

If you are a streaming service, you need to double down on your movie content as a way to obtain and retain subscribers. (That goes for SVOD and FASTs.) That can be as easy as reworking your marketing so as to emphasize your movie library. Investing more money in movie content. Finding good indie films, making them exclusives and promoting them. (You know the drill.)

If you are interested in reading the full PCH Consumer Insights study “Americans At The Movies” you can download it here.

You’re welcome.

2. YouTube Pushes YouTube-Friendly Measurement Standards. 

The OpenAP-spearheaded JIC (joint industry committee) on measurement has been picking up steam, with general industry consensus that the project is a much-needed step in the right direction.

Google, however, would like to disagree.

They’ve been beefing with both OpenAP and with the VAB (Video Advertising Bureau) about this pesky distinction both seem to be making around how there needs to be a line between UGC content and professionally produced television content.

This mirrors something I wrote about a few weeks back, on how difficult it is to actually draw a hard and fast line between the two, with the conclusion being that while there will be some content that falls into a gray area, that should not deter us from treating them differently.

A valid argument if you are a TV network or streaming service, pointless chatter if you are Google.

I’m going to side with the TV industry on this one though. Here’s why.

Why it matters

There’s no hard and fast line that separates digital video from television. This is especially true for YouTube, which now has its own FAST service plus a sizable movie library to go along with all that UGC “creator” content shot on iPhones.

We (TVREV) usually define “TV” as “professionally produced content of at least 20 minutes or longer.” And by “professionally produced” we mean using talent who have worked enough to be part of SAG and other industry unions, shot using the same type of cameras, lighting and make-up as Hollywood movies and network TV shows.  

That works most of the time, but there’s a category where it gets tricky, something we call “Pro-Am” (professional-amateur) where people with Hollywood credentials make their own web-based content.

To wit: my friend Scott Lowell recently launched a web series called Adoptable on YouTube. Scott has worked on TV regularly for the past 20 or so years, appearing on a range of network and premium cable series. His co-star in the series is Noah Wyle, of “ER” fame, and Sharon Gless, Jim O’Heir and Gale Harold, all of whom are well-known enough to have their own Wikipedia pages, have supporting roles. Episodes run around 15 to 18 minutes and it’s very funny, so in addition to helping me make a point, consider this a shameless plug.  

But is it TV? Digital video? A little of each?

The thing is, it really doesn’t matter. At least not at this point. 

Shows like “Adoptable” constitute a minute percentage of what is watched on YouTube. 

And until such time as the majority (or a sizable minority) of what is watched on YouTube is not UGC watched on mobile phones, then YouTube is digital video and should not be counted in the same way as TV.

Especially not for advertising purposes.

Yes, it is easier to count all your video advertising together, especially if you’re using the same creative on YouTube that you use on NBC.

But no, it does not have the same impact on an iPhone screen as you’re waiting to watch a video explaining how to get your refrigerator to stop making that humming noise as it does on an episode of “Abbott Elementary” watched on a 65-inch OLED TV.

That’s just common sense and advertisers will want to understand the difference as many of them will use the different mediums to achieve different goals. (e.g. TV is ideal for high-level branding campaigns, digital video is better for direct response.)

That’s not to say that cross-platform metrics aren’t valuable, just that they need to take the differences between TV and digital video into account.

What you need to do about it

If you’re Google, nice try and no one can blame you for taking the stand that you did. In fact I’d argue it would be a dereliction of duty if you hadn’t. Especially since there will be agencies and brands who opt for the ease of lumping all their video advertising together, so in the long run it’s probably a win for you.

If you’re the VAB and the JIC, stand firm. Most everyone gets that quality matters, that consumers (you know, the people whose minds you’re trying to change) do not consider watching YouTube on their phone and watching Netflix on their TV to be the same activity and well, context matters. So don’t give in. (It’s not like Google was going to be a willing JIC participant anyway. Far be it for them to start sharing all that data.)

If you’re one of those people who reads Nielsen’s The Gauge reports and thinks that YouTube has more viewers than Netflix, think again. That number includes their vMPVD, YouTube TV, which means those people were watching CBS, CNN and NBC on their TVs, not MrBeast on their smartphones.

Big difference.

Alan Wolk is co-founder and lead analyst at the consulting firm TV[R]EV. He is the author of the best-selling industry primer, Over The Top: How The Internet Is (Slowly But Surely) Changing The Television Industry. Wolk frequently speaks about changes in the television industry, both at conferences and to anyone who’ll listen.

Wolk's Week in Review is an opinion column. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of Fierce Video.