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Film producers take to market research to test project viability

In the face of increasing competition, especially from web shows, independent film producers and studios have started using market research to gather intelligence on the viability of their projects including star cast, scripts as well as box office potential. While they employ in-house talent for market research, larger studios use the services of special agencies such as Ormax and Yuvaa.

Content production companies like Dharma, Yoodlee, Excel and Applause Entertainment, among others, are testing their content as OTT platforms target audiences with better quality content. The pressure to research is prompted by intense competition from them and to assess the kind of films that will work in theatres as audience tastes evolve. Research is being employed both for creating films for streaming services and those for theatres.

“Consumer feedback at idea, scripting and first cut stages has been an industry practice for a while now. Often, creators are seduced by their own ideas, and internal echo chambers only confirm such biases,” said Sameer Nair, CEO, Applause Entertainment, explaining why market research is relevant. “This kind of neutral consumer research helps in objectively assessing comprehension and likeability across multiple target groups. It allows for course correction and fine-tuning before spending the big bucks commences.”

Such tools have been employed by advertising and television projects even earlier.

Over the last three to four years there’s been a significant increase in awareness towards testing scripts and films, according to Shailesh Kapoor, CEO and founder, Ormax Media.

The pressure on filmmakers mounted as streaming services research their web-series and original digital films.

Kapoor said Ormax can intervene both during script development and edit. At the script stage, a producer wonders if he/she should greenlight a particular script. “This is an investment decision. Two, how can I make this script work better? This is content development work that gives inputs on characters, plot points or key scenes,” Kapoor said.

Ormax research gives producers the lifetime box office potential of a script with different stars to make informed investment and content development decision.

“At the edit stage, we test the actual film to predict its lifetime box office, and suggest changes that can help enhance business prospects. Other marketing inputs include finding the right target audience for the film and positioning it for them,” Kapoor said. If test results are not satisfactory, writers return to rework the scripts based on customer feedback.

For Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India, which owns boutique studio Yoodlee Films, the company’s internal research team provides such insights. “Data definitely drives decisions these days.”

Studios today genuinely want to make their audiences and consumers feel more seen, more heard, and more represented, said Yash Pise, head of brand strategy and research at Yuvaa, a youth media, data insights and community engagement platform.

There are new matrix to measure success of a film other than box office. “For example, whether a movie or show is trending, or if the content is meme or Reel worthy,” said Phise. As more platforms emerge and more content is produced, it’s difficult to stand out. “Producers are not just competing with other films and TV shows, but with every trending topic, comment thread, YouTube video and Instagram reel,” Phise said.

Yuvaa has a youth and student network in 100 plus cities and over 300 colleges in India. It has worked on multiple projects at the script and character-building stage.

“If a show is based on a person from the LGBTIQA+ community from a small town in a specific state, we find young people from that area with similar backgrounds to understand if the writing and the story are relatable and representative of their lived experiences. If not, we help guide the studio on what can be changed to make the story reflect the lived realities of the character better,” Phise said.

One of the biggest challenges is customer stickiness and retention. As viewers are open to trying out multiple services, keeping them hooked is difficult, said Divya Dixit, senior vice-president, marketing and revenue at ALTBalaji. “Any media consulting firm provides a gamut of services, including qualitative research, perception studies, concept, and pilot testing across areas of viewership or listenership analysis, marketing, and programming strategy, and business planning. That helps to rethink the structure of working if required, in order to entertain the audience in a holistic way,” Dixit said. Live Mint

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