Studios: announce your films to fans first, not investors

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Major studios are missing a trick if they let fans find out about big new films via the age old method of the investor conference or call.

“Today at a Time Warner investors meeting, Warner Bros.’ Chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara outlined an aggressive content strategy for the Studio aimed at increasing profits while ‘doubling down on outstanding content, working with the best talent and maintaining the culture that makes Warner Bros. so great’”.

So read a press release issued by Warner Bros on October 15th 2014, as the studio loudly banged the drum for its upcoming slate of movies.


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It was a crucial announcement for Warner Bros too, given this was the moment that it brought into focus its response to Marvel’s dominating Cinematic Universe. Here was the tunraround after a difficult couple of years where it was going to lay out its DC Comics movies plans for the years ahead, and to lay out the roadmap in public for the first time. This was the slate that was going to lead its fightback.

Tellingly, it chose to do the reveal itself via a call with investors. That was how the world found out about its official release plans for at least ten films. Some were known about ahead of the call – Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, for instance. But others, such as The Flash, Justice League Part One and Part Two, Cyborg, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Shazam were revealed and dated officially. It teased in the announcement too that new standalone Batman and Superman films were very much on the slate.

You can still read the press release here.

Justice League

The contrast between how Warner Bros went about this and the way Marvel was revealing its films was stark. Appreciating, given the profile of the projects in question, that it was going to make headline news either way, Warner Bros served the stock market first. It’s revised how it does things since, but it still couldn’t help but put across the impression that fans came second.

Against that, also in October 2014, Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige gave one of his fan presentations, outlining where the MCU’s third phase of films was then going to end up. These were announcements being made in public for the first time, and he chose to make them in front of fans. I’m not as embedded in the world of Marvel as much as some people, but I distinctly remember this particular moment and thinking ‘very well played’.

Listen to the roar. Appreciating that the room was hardly going to be filled with Marvel cynics, there was nonetheless utter enthusiasm and delight for the announcement, that rippled across the internet. And you know what? Investors saw that too. Rather than learning the news first, what the investment community got to see was just how passionate people were about it.

To put it coldly: customers of Marvel would have gladly handed over their money there and then. It remains a classy way to announce a film, and nearly a decade on, it still feels as though everyone else is playing catch up.

To this day, Marvel regularly communicates with fans directly like this. I’ve never learned about a new show or film as part of an annual report, or a gathering for stockholders. It’s an extension of Disney’s strategy that’s regularly held fans close through its D23 fan events. As much as Disney may have become the big behemoth in the entertainment space that it’s easy to take pot shots at, I can’t help but think it earned the vast majority of its success. It knows who’s important and zeroes in on those people

In the gaming world. I’d argue Nintendo is the same. It puts out a regular update to fans on YouTube, where updates on games are given and reliable release dates are announced. Fans in turn become part of the conversation about a given release, and it all ripples upwards.

I do accept thought that there’s an element of risk here. Marvel, Disney and Nintendo have passionate, dedicated fanbases. If a studio isn’t quite sure it has fans on board, then maybe a boardroom announcement is a safer bet, it might contend. I don’t agree with that, but I can see why others might.

Perhaps that’s some of the thinking behind changes at Paramount, that were announced this week. In this instance, a lot was actually being announced rather than just some more films. The studio, and its parent company, are going through changes and restructuring, after a quiet few years on the big screen. The studio’s slate has been dwindling for some time, but it’s now announced a bunch of new films, and clarified that future films will be heading to its Paramount+ streaming service once they’re done in cinemas. These changes and announcements were all done in one go, in a room that did not have fans in it.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Appreciating much business had to be accomplished in one go, I still think there’s an opportunity lost for the studio there. It revealed, after all, that we’re getting a trilogy of Transformers films, another Sonic, an official A Quiet Place III, and of course the confirmation of a brand new Star Trek adventure led by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. Could that part have been separated out into, say, a half hour showcase aimed at film fans rather than people in expensive suits who piddle around with Excel documents? To get fans at the very least invested nice and early, even if they’re not fully onboard with the idea of Sonic The Hedgehog 3 at the moment? In the case of Star Trek in particular – whose small screen resurgence is soaring – fans are aching for news of further big screen adventures. I do hope that now the corporate necessities have been done, a slightly different approach might be considered going forward.

In the defence of studios announcing their productions this way, they have more than one master to serve. As much as the audience is their bread and butter, these are all major entertainment conglomerates now where the share price is key. It’s interesting that Paramount has taken a hit for its announcement by that metric, years before any of the movies it announced come to the screen.

But I often read about how the studios are fighting to keep up with the way that Marvel, and the broader Disney, harness fandom. I can’t help thinking that there’s something simple that they’re missing here: put fans at the heart of things. Go back to that roar when Captain America: Civil War’s title was confirmed, and compare that to the reveal of, say, Shazam in a press release and investor call. Even if we’re dealing with this in a cold, clinical financial way: what’s of more value to a shareholder? To have the information that things are coming, or to get a measure of the fan excitement for an announcement on a YouTube clip that’s going to be replayed time and time again for years before the film in question arrives?

Oftentimes, there’s no magic formula that Marvel and Disney are following with the way they announce projects. They’re both market leaders are getting audiences on board very, very early. And in the long run, I can’t help that if the focus is on investors instead, the metaphorical tail is wagging the metaphorical dog…

Lead image: BigStock

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