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Pathmatics Blog
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Return of the Blockbuster: Digital Advertising, Post Pandemic

May 12 2021 by Matthew Bozin

In one of the larger business model shifts during the pandemic, Warner Brothers announced it would host its entire 2021 film slate simultaneously in theaters, and on HBO Max, causing quite the stir in the industry, and an equally joyous reaction from movie fans. 

Paving the Way during Covid

While we were all in the throws of the Covid-19 pandemic, and theaters were shuddered, Movie studios had to make tough decisions. The first blockbuster to test the streaming waters (don't worry, there are more puns ahead) was Wonder Woman 1984. Originally slated for August, 2020, then pushed to October, the decision was finally made to send it to HBO Max for a Christmas release to subscribers. With more than half their digital spend devoted to Instagram, it seems to be an early indicator that the channel might be utilized more, going forward. However, WW84 was promoted with a significant amount of Facebook spend, differing from what we'll see in their 2021 releases.


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Post-Pandemic Strategy

As we emerge from the darkened theater of quarantine, The Little Things, Warner's Godzilla v. King Kong, and Mortal Kombat are 3 monster-size movies we got to sink our teeth into. See, we told you there'd be more puns. 

The Little Things was the first of the Warner's films to be released from the 2021 slate, as WB focused 85% on Desktop Video, all of that on YouTube. With the Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto vehicle having plenty of star power, HBO Max seemed to opt for an all out blitz in one channel - a stark contrast to WW84's strategy.

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A very different story for Godzilla vs. King Kong. Starting, even before the new year, HBO Max was advertising teasers for the upcoming SFX-driven tentpole, with a nearly $2MM spike in Desktop Video, as well as Instagram and Mobile Video, just in time for the holidays. But the big push came before the movie's release, and even more interesting, is the first film which has continued digital investment through the end of April - more than a month after its release.

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HBO Max, however, employed a far different strategy, channel-wise, and investment-wise for their next feature, Mortal Kombat. HBO Max teased the movie 2 months before its release, but spent far less, utilizing a heavy dose of Instagram spend leading up to the April 29th premier.

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Only in Theaters

But let's take a step back in time (one of the sub-plots of our final movie analysis). Possibly setting Warner Brothers on the path to HBO Max - one of the only theatrical releases to debut during the lockdown - Tenet. Choosing to release it first Internationally August 26th, before select theaters in the US on Sept. 3rd, the film was delayed 3 times - reportedly each costing between $200k-$400k in marketing costs for each.

In what feels like a rollercoaster of spend, Warner Brothers ebbed and flowed between digital channels for 6 months, with a total estimated marketing budget of close to $350MM. Total domestic gross: $58.5MM. Even with international earnings of over $300MM, this is the kind of situation that keeps studio execs up at night. 

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While there are many factors that go into film marketing, each of the 5 films above had vastly different strategies. But, we can say the big Channel winners: Desktop Video and Instagram. The surprising loser: Facebook. 

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However, after learning their mistake with Tenet, the 2021 HBO Max releases have garnered huge subscription and viewing numbers so far. And, with a 1-2 month lag in the streaming releases, it's allowed HBO Max and Warner Brothers to advertise the films for weeks past their premier date, much like it would in a non-Covid theatrical release. 

And with 14 additional movies heading to the streamer this year, we can't wait to see what the ACTION PACKED insights and TEAR JERKING trends tell us through the rest of 2021! Sorry, we're big movie buffs. And if you're looking for more insights CLICK HERE

About Author
Matthew Bozin

After earning his BS in Communications, Matt cut his teeth in the entertainment industry, spending fifteen years writing everything from feature screenplays for A-List directors, to celebrity bios for some of Hollywood’s top actors. That creative drive made it an easy transition to Marketing, bringing his eye for storytelling to the digital advertising ecosystem.

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