When we finally get out of the lockdown phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the industry moves into the recovery phase, a number of things are going to be different at least for a short period of time.
Film Dating will be one of them.
Dating films has always been a risk management and revenue optimisation exercise. Distribution executives try to pick the best dates, to minimise risk by staying away from competitive titles and maximise revenue by picking a release window with enough market capacity. Typically, this is an exercise that happens 6-18 months before the release, or longer for the bigger blockbusters. The big titles set their flags in the sand and the market gradually takes shape around them.
To minimise risk from competitive titles, distributors need to become as familiar with competition as possible: they need to get as much information as they can about the title, the cast and the production. In some cases, they have already read the script and they have a very good idea of its business potential. In other cases all that is available is a vague plot line. They have to watch any materials available online or at trade shows, run comparisons, come up with a target audience and ultimately an estimate. They can then assess the threat this competitive title poses to their own film.
To maximise revenue from the release window, distributors not only need to know the competition they are up against, but also the potential size of the market during this window. This is usually achieved with historical data.
The weekly calendar volatility was typically due to a new film coming into the calendar, or an existing production falling behind and moving into a later date. The rest of the market would then adapt around them. Film Dating is not a “set-and-forget” process. Distributors are constantly assessing the market and are ready to fine-tune their dates. We would typically see 20-30 date changes in the calendar per week per market, so we are talking about well over 1,000 date changes in the calendar per country per year.
This was the norm before the pandemic.
Right now, during the lockdown phase, there is a lot movement in the calendars. This is expected, as some films originally set to release during the lockdown period and delayed productions that won’t make their current releases are moving to later dates. Of course, as always happens, the rest of the calendar moves around them.
We are in a period of extreme calendar volatility. In addition to this, there is more uncertainty around key questions, such as “when will the cinemas open”; “will our audiences be happy to go to a cinema immediately after the lockdown”; and “when will the theatrical market recover”.
Because of this high level of uncertainty, I believe we should treat the release dates on the current calendar as placeholders.
As soon as the majority of the cinemas in the top 20 markets around the world open for business and distributors feel confident the market is recovering, we will observe what we call “High Frequency Dating”. Basically, the calendar from late Q3-2020 all the way to Q2-2021 will be “re-dated” over a period of 4 weeks. Using FORECAST, the release date optimisation platform by Gower Street, our clients can run dating simulations in seconds. This is going to be particularly helpful during this High Frequency Dating period.