In the wake of the ‘Year of the Bible Movie,’ has the industry learned both from its victories and its setbacks in the faith and family genre?
As the faith and family entertainment (F&F) world prepares to gather next week at Variety’s PURPOSE Summit on June 25th in Beverly Hills, there’s one question on everyone’s mind: In the wake of the “Year of the Bible Movie”—how did we do, what did we learn, and where do we go from here? (Ok, that’s more than one question.)
While we’re going to tackle this today, you should also know that we’ll deeply wrestle with this issue live—in person—at the PURPOSE Summit in a a special spotlight conversationwe are hosting called “Winning the Pastor and the Pew: How to Get the Must-Reach Faith Driven Consumer™ Audience to Endorse and Support Your Project.”
This conversation will feature high-powered guests Mark Ordesky (the guy who produced THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy while at New Line); MPower Pictures President John Shepherd (BELLA, MACHINE GUN PREACHER, THE DROP BOX), whose partner Steve McEveety produced the absolute F&F gold-standard film THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST; Derrick Williams, the executive who runs Bishop T.D. Jakes Film and Entertainment Division; and brand strategist Chris Stone, founder of Faith Driven Consumer ™ and go-to guy for journalists hot on the entertainment beat.
And with that shameless plug behind us, let’s get into it.
There were some big winners last year. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, GOD’S NOT DEAD, UNBROKEN, and SON OF GOD all turned in strong numbers. There big were losers too. EXODUS: GODS & KINGS was an epic film that failed, well, epically. And NOAH, the first Bible-themed movie that had the potential to compete with records set by THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, left untold tens of millions on the table—maybe even hundreds of millions. Last week, we talked about this at length in our post looking at content and how to get it right.
Fail with content, and fail completely.
But there’s another factor in the F&F space that matters just as much. It’s that ominous “M” word—marketing. You can get the content right, but without great marketing it doesn’t matter because the core Faith Driven Consumer audience will never hear about it.
Let’s lean on some American Insights data to set the stage:
Clearly, supply is not meeting demand. If you are in the content business, this is incredibly good news.
We know for a fact that FDCs are more dedicated entertainment customers, and we also know that 25.4 million of them will watch 3 or more ADDITIONAL HOURS of content every single week if you give them what they want.
“Given these facts,” you ask, “almost every F&F movie or TV show should have a great shot at success, right?”
Yes, that’s right.
Knowing what you’re thinking next, we’ll just throw it out there. How is it then, that there were so many disappointments last year?
WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL was arguably one of the strongest F&F offerings of 2014 from a content perspective—and it did all right at the box office with a $30 million dollar haul—but it certainly could have done far better and definitely didn’t reach the level of a HEAVEN IS FOR REAL. Then, there were great films like THE SONG and MOMS’ NIGHT OUT that didn't do as well as everyone had hoped in the box office, despite strong Faith Driven Consumer ratings. And finally, there were F&F movies that were really, really good and did really, really poorly like THE IDENTICAL and LITTLE BOY (2015)
So, where’s the disconnect? How can everything we have laid out be true if so many of these projects fell short?
While the answer is complex, at the 60,000-foot level the process of elimination leads to one conclusion—failed marketing. If good marketing is the bridge between an entertainment product and its core audience, bad marketing leaves a vast gap that never closes the deal with the same audience.
Let’s start with three things we know:
- The Christian audience (70% of U.S. adults) is not the right place to start. To refer you back to our original post, the Christian market is too big, too diverse, and too unmanageable. And even if that were not the case, the P&A dollars needed to reach such a mega-market would frankly rule out most projects. You’re looking at something on a scale of a NOAH (if you can imagine a faith-compatible version that resonates instead of what it was). To create the perfect ripple effect, you have to hit the center of the target—Faith Driven Consumers—and then let them help you get the word out to Christians, Family audiences, and finally General Audiences. In an age of microtargeted market segmentation, it’s inefficient to try any other approach.
- The industry hasn’t figured out how to speak the general language of Faith Driven Consumers, let alone the subtle dialects distinct to specific sub-groups within the market segment. People know when you are patronizing them, and they also know when you are showing genuine respect and appreciation for their culture. As an example, Hispanic marketing agencies understand how to develop messages that resonate with their unique target audience while recognizing the subtle but vitally important distinctions between Cuban, Mexican, and Argentine audiences, for example. With FDCs it’s the same: they know when you are missing the mark in communicating with them.
- Firms who have marketed F&F films in the past may not be the right partners at present. Full disclosure here: We do marketing. As an example, we marketed Universal’s UNBROKEN: Legacy of Faith DVD—the first such offering by a major studio specifically targeting the Faith Driven Consumer audience—which is front and center in another Variety PURPOSE Summit panel we have nothing to do with called “Engaging with Today’s Faith-Based Audiences Across Platforms.” But it is precisely because we do marketing that we see the cracks in the pavement.
We have noticed—looking around the industry—that many faith-oriented marketing firms have been doing the same thing in the same way for a long time.
The problem with this is two-fold.
First, the content has finally gotten better, which means the marketing needs to step up to whole new level of sophistication. And second, the rapid tribalization of the marketplace requires ever-increasing specialization in niche segmentation and precise targeting. Again, hitting that general “70 percenter” Christian audience just isn’t cutting it anymore, especially when you can directly reach the most dedicated customer with less effort and expense.
We are going to continue this subject in the next post, and dig even deeper into solutions. We’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly – we have watched some win and many others lose. At the end of the day, the goal is to see everyone succeed in this space, because a rising tide truly lifts all boats.
Catch our panel at Variety’s #PurposeSummit on June 25th at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills. For more information, click here.