- June 23, 2020

The Digital Box Office: Examining COVID-19's Effects on Blockbuster Season Through Social Data

Tania Yuki
Tania Yuki
Chief Marketing Officer
Comscore

Summer blockbuster season – it’s a staple in American film culture. Those summer months where school is out and days are long create the perfect release window for Hollywood’s biggest and most ambitious popcorn fare. Budgets are massive, film rights to fiction’s biggest draws like Spider-Man are contentious, but the rewards are worth the risk as increased demand can nearly guarantee huge returns for even subpar films, so long as they can offer $10 worth of spectacle for general audiences. The box office is king, so what happens when there is no box office? With ticket kiosks shuttered, the projectionist isolated at home and not in their booth, and when the corn remains decidedly un-popped? Shareablee, the world’s premier social analytics service, takes a look at COVID’s effects on the film industry through the lens of social media.

Shareablee categorizes millions of social handles into industry categories. Categories start broad, like “Media & Entertainment”, and break down into more specific subcategories like “Movies” or “Video Games”. Examining our U.S. Movies category, which includes both films and the studios that make them, reveal how much effort went into promoting new movies on social media – as well the attention or engagement those efforts received. 

State of Social Movie in 2020

From January 1 through the June 15, 2019 Shareablee captured 91 thousand posts made across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in the U.S. Movie category. These posts earned nearly 554 million likes, reactions, comments, shares and retweets – otherwise known as “Actions”. For perspective, this is one-third higher than the total Actions earned by the Video Game industry (game titles as well as the companies that make them), which is impressive considering the monolith that gaming has become in recent years especially in terms of online engagement.

Flash forward a year, highly anticipated summer movies like Disney’s live action remake of Mulan, Christopher Nolan’s mysterious Tenet, and the MCU standalone Black Widow should be at the height of both promotion and fan hype. Alas, with COVID-19 shutting down theaters across the country, releases delayed indefinitely, the marketing efforts for these films have been dialed back. Looking at the same January 1 through June 15 date range, but for 2020, paints a much different picture of the film industry on social: 71 thousand posts and 282.9 million Actions. It’s a 22% drop in posts made, but a 50% drop-off in total engagement, meaning even the posts that are made are earning less and less attention – 2,000 less Actions per Post on average.

Now, savvy movie going audiences will understand that this is not the fairest comparison. Regardless of COVID-19, 2019 was a much bigger year for movies than 2020 was ever planned to be. 2019’s release slate included two different live action remakes of Disney classics (Aladdin and Lion King), Quentin Tarantino’s movie-making swansong Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,  Adam Sandler’s equal parts meme- and award-worthy venture into drama Uncut Gems, and of course perhaps the most anticipated film of all time in Avengers: Endgame. So why not look further back: Looking at the same time frame in 2018, the Movie category earned 368.8 million actions. 2017? A comparable 393.8 million. Movies in 2020 earned 23 to 28% less engagement than they had just two to three years ago. On social media, where Actions have always increased year-to-year since its inception even during COVID, that’s not a great sign. Especially with other forms of entertainment, like video games, being able to add another 15 million actions to their 2019 figure.

Without a flood of film trailers to like, share, and comment on, what have movie fans been engaging with? Using Shareablee Affinity data, which measures cross-engagement behavior on social media, here’s what Rotten Tomato’s social audience have been shifting their time to – gaming and online media. In fact, movie fans were 10 times more likely to engage with video game content, and eight times more likely to engage with properties in the Online Media industry, which includes blogs, forums, social networks and more than the average person on social.

A slightly different story emerges for IMDb engagers: they were 18x times more likely to interact with Online Media, but showed no additional time spent with video games. The Hollywood Reporter’s audience was seven times more likely to engage with TV Networks, eight times more likely to engage with online media, and a massive 19 times more likely to engage with Government entities on social like political parties or action committees. It would seem there is not much of a through line for how movie fans have diverted their time on social media.

 At the time of writing this, there is some hope on the horizon for the future of cinema. AMC theaters have plans to start reopening, albeit some flip-flopping on their masks policy, and film production has resumed in the UK, which is great news for anyone excited for the Robert Pattinson lead The Batman and the next Jurassic World. The question remains, how will movie marketers regain their footing on social? That loss of momentum, that gap in audience building on top of release dates being pushed outside that glorious summer blockbuster window mean studios will have to rethink how they use social to promote their movies. With more people engaging with content on platforms like Twitter and Instagram now than ever before, it’s a part of the media mix that can’t be a second thought. It will be interesting to see just how the movie industry will attempt to push their way back onto our feeds. In the meantime, there’s always Netflix.

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