Hollywood wants to win over young super fans
Clad in his pajamas, Reid Jones often blogs about Marvel superhero movies. He has ambitions of one day becoming an entertainment journalist.
A few weeks ago, the 16-year-old woke up to that opportunity. He was invited to conduct red carpet interviews with the stars of Marvel's "Avengers: Age of Ultron." He did the interviews during the film's Los Angeles premiere.
"It really felt like it was a dream," says Jones. He traveled to California with his dad. They live in Kennesaw, Ga.
Major Hollywood studios like Disney-owned Marvel are anxious to win over super fans. The studios believe the super fans help build excitement online among other youngsters. The buzz is created ahead of a movie's debut.
The fan connection has long been cultivated. That usually occurs at conventions like Comic-Con or Disney's Star Wars Celebration. Now, young writers like Jones are increasingly being courted at events once reserved for traditional media outlets. Jones' posts have been read nearly 11 million times.
This outreach is important for marketers. They call people like Jones "influencers." That is because they reach an under-25 crowd of frequent moviegoers. The group is not as easily reached by the traditional 30-second TV ads. Advertisers have typically used those to reach parents.
"When you're reaching young people, you have to go to where the authorities on culture exist," says Angela Courtin. She is the chief marketing officer for Relativity Media. It is the studio that has co-financed the "Fast & Furious" series. It is releasing action comedy "Masterminds," this fall. "They're no longer in bylines of The New York Times or the Los Angeles Times. They're now on YouTube and Snapchat and Instagram and Vine."
Many of these influencers write blogs. They can be found on websites like Moviepilot. These websites draw a large following of the younger audience that marketers covet. According to Google Analytics, 37 percent of site visitors are under 25 years old. And 71 percent are under 35.
Moviepilot Inc. CEO Tobi Bauckhage says that last fall, he and his co-founders decided to change the direction of their movie fan site. Now they take posts directly from readers. Usage is beginning to take off. In March, it had 17.3 million unique U.S. visitors. That was more than double that of a year ago. The figures were supplied by comScore. In a single week in April, fan posts outnumbered editor posts 1,431 to 486.
Bauckhage attributes the growing popularity to fans like Jones. For the last year, the Georgia teen has written more than a post a day. The posts appear on Moviepilot.
Recently, Jones pored over a trailer. Then he correctly deduced the hidden nature of the new character, Vision, in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." He also figured out how two distinct weapons are actually part of one giant one. The weapon will determine the universe's fate in the two-part Avengers sequel. That will come out three years from now.
"People like Reid knew more about specifics than some of our editors did," says Bauckhage. He has sold off the original website he founded in Germany. He launched a U.S. version in May 2013. "We realized we really have to empower these kids to become creators."
The company rewards contributors with seats at early movie screenings. It also gives away swag such as action figures, dolls and mugs. The most popular contributors, like Jones, are awarded with paid contracts. His was $1,000 a month. That arrangement temporarily ended when school got in the way.
Some studios pay Moviepilot for access to these influencers. In one deal, 20th Century Fox allowed Moviepilot horror genre blogger Nicole Renee onto its lot. She got a sneak peek at its trailer for "Poltergeist." A few months earlier, she had been given early access to the Lionsgate movie "Jessabelle." Afterwards, she made the comment: "The film gave me chills throughout my whole body."
Fox paid the site a significant but undisclosed sum. The studio received a guarantee that her post about "Poltergeist" would be read 100,000 times and the trailer seen 1 million times, Bauckhage says. Usage more than quintupled the target.
Bauckhage insists contributors are allowed complete editorial freedom. He says the deal was cut before Renee wrote her post. He said the site is also considering a profit-sharing model. That could be with its most popular writers.
"We're trying to empower fans to become part of the conversation ... about the stuff they really care about," Bauckhage says. "Now that seems to match pretty nicely with the interest of the studio. Because they're very dependent on this kind of buzz."
In Jones' case, the teenager's freelance gig with Moviepilot had expired for a short time. But the site paid for his and his father's expenses, Bauckhage says.
Jones says the arrangement is fair. He's looking forward to restarting a paid relationship with the site. His father, Bart Jones, says he's proud that his son took the initiative last year. Reid has turned his love of Marvel movies into a job.
"They've paid him for his contributions. They certainly paid him well with the trip and the experience," says Jones, 47. "I don't see any other avenues offering this type of experience to 16-year-olds. I think it's great."
The younger Jones wrote after the red carpet event that the movie was "infinitely better than the first" Avengers. But he called a scene in the credits that teased future movies "frustrating."
He said it "leaves us with so many more questions than answers."
Critical thinking challenge: Who is it that "influencers" influence?