How to drive and measure movie ticket sales—when 75% are bought at the box office

Consumers are complicated—and every moviegoer’s path to purchase is unique. According to a 2019 survey of more than 100,000 moviegoers, offline purchases at the theater still make up the majority of ticket sales:

  • While online ticket sales are on the rise (18.7% increase in 2018), in-person box office sales still account for 75% of all sales.
  • Of those people that bought tickets online, 36.8% bought them on the local theater’s site or app. Almost 54% bought from third-party ticketing sites.
  • Offline ticket buyers search for showtimes all over the place—37% with third-party ticketers, 31% on the theater’s site, 23% on Google, and 18% looked after they got to the theater.

Movie studios therefore combine a variety of separate media partners to generate buzz for their blockbusters. The idea is to provide air cover for all possible paths to purchase. But what’s working, and what’s wasted spend? How much overlap are marketers paying for across partner campaigns? Difficult to say—and even more difficult to keep track of and report on it all.

If you’re looking for a more targeted and measurable approach to activating your media budgets, let’s talk about an action plan to better reach, engage and measure every marketing dollar.

Download the report: The new era of box office digital marketing

Studios spend with numerous digital marketing partners

Without robust first-party data, movie studios currently look to a combination of several separate media partners to promote each film. Each has their strengths, but overall, they can only build a view of the customer on their platforms, which creates a disparate, fragmented approach and limited understanding of what’s working across channels.

  • Online ticketers. Online ticketers offer solutions to reach people on their owned platforms, including their website, email communications and mobile app. They can also target site visitors and loyalty members with programmatic advertising across other websites.
  • Exhibitors. Studios also partner with exhibitors directly. In these cases, studio budgets fund campaigns on social, programmatic and search—all built on the exhibitor’s customer data. These partnerships provide access to purchase data from exhibitor loyalty members.
  • Walled gardens (e.g. social and search). These platforms offer big reach to logged-in users within the walls of their platform.
  • Loyalty data partners. These media partners aggregate and sell loyalty data from theater chains to serve as a seed audience for lookalike modeling with other vendors for digital campaigns.
  • Do-it-yourself. Many movie studios are also looking to have more control and activate promotions on their own. They are building their own customer databases with any data they can get to make it happen.

Disparate media leads to a fragmented view of the customer

Studios have lots of potential partners—but none of these partners offers a comprehensive, single view of the individual moviegoer that unifies online and offline transactional data. Each partner only has a limited view of what a person is doing in their owned ecosystem (think website, email, app, etc.). A third-party ticketer, for example, only knows what each person is doing on their website or within their app. You lose connection to individuals everywhere else they visit—online and off.

The person browsing on that third-party ticketing site may have looked up showtimes on the website, and then purchased offline at the box office—which is a big blind spot for most partners. An exhibitor’s loyalty member might choose to view at a competitor’s theater to meet up with a friend. Your partners can’t see these people anymore when they cross over platforms.

With a partial customer view, no one really understands how each person views and interacts with the marketing messages across online and offline platforms. You’ve got access to just a fraction of each customer's lifestyle, purchases and actions. That’s not a lot to work with when it comes to efficiently (and accurately) activating customer data, and it makes it nearly impossible to get a complete understanding of each person’s past ticket purchases. It also makes it difficult to understand the unique reach and frequency of each campaign across platforms. Is your exhibitor’s campaign overlapping with your 3rd party ticketing audience, for example? Where do you attribute the transaction, if you can at all?

Connect the data dots with identity-based digital marketing

You don’t necessarily need to eliminate any of these partners to solve for these challenges. But you do need a more holistic view of the customer to connect all of these plans together—so you can create a more relevant and effective experience and accurately measure what worked and what didn’t. You can do it with identity-based digital marketing.

We recommend a three-phased approach to bring identity—a comprehensive understanding of each moviegoer—to your digital marketing.

Phase 1: Reach a unique, incremental audience

Start off by using identity-based digital marketing to efficiently reach new people that are highly likely to be interested in your film. This works by reaching:

  • People that have bought tickets to similar movies in the past from the small theaters you cannot partner with directly. This also means suppressing messaging or having alternate messaging for the people reached by your other partners.
  • General, non-loyalty guests that have made offline purchases at larger theater chains. Loyalty members might have gone to that movie anyways, so you want to speak to new people who can be more influenced by the messaging.

Then accurately measure online and offline ticket purchases to prove your return on ad spend (ROAS).

Phase 2: Multi-partner measurement

The next phase is to use identity-based digital marketing to understand how all of your separate campaigns are performing. Forget trying to make sense of and dedupe different reports from each of your media partners. You can generate a single source of truth for reporting across partners by aligning consumers’ online and offline transactional data to a stable and persistent identifier.

Having a single source of truth will help you to understand how your digital campaigns interact together, including how many unique people you reach across campaigns and how that impacted revenue with each partner. Basically, if John saw your ad on a third-party ticketing site but purchased at the box office, you’ll know about it.

Phase 3: Run always-on, integrated campaigns

At this stage, you’ve proven incremental revenue. You’ve got a feel for how each of your individual campaigns is performing (or not). It’s time to evolve from single campaigns to an always-on approach that builds persistent connections with consumers—and builds your customer data platform.

With an always-on identity platform, the technology makes smart marketing decisions across all your titles and campaigns. Essentially, you’re replicating the people-based marketing that walled gardens are so good at and scaling it outside of those walled gardens. And you’re tying it all back to ticket sales. You’re able to achieve a unified view of each customer and bridge their online and offline experiences throughout the buyer’s journey, all while being in control of your data’s security, privacy and usage.

Cookies don’t watch movies

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that cookies and device IDs do not go to the movies. Don’t get so wrapped up in channel performance that you forget about the very real person you’re trying to reach. Identity-based digital marketing helps you generate excitement and drive (measurable) ticket sales for your next flick by understanding each individual and catering to their unique interests and buyer’s journeys—no matter what media partners you’re using.

Interested in learning more about what an identity-based box office campaign looks like? Learn more about digital marketing for movies.

And in the meantime, download our report, The new era of box office digital marketing, to get more insights on proven best practices for box office campaigns.