10 Key Takeaways From Variety’s Entertainment Marketing Summit

In the modern entertainment business, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content coming consumers’ way. From the boom of streaming services to the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), entertainment marketers have had to become more nimble than ever.

At Variety’s Entertainment Marketing Summit in Los Angeles, marketing pros came together to discuss their challenges, best practices and triumphs. Here are the highlights from the event, held Wednesday at 1 Hotel West Hollywood.

Competition for Attention Is Fierce

In the summit’s opening session, moderated by Variety co-editor-in chief Cynthia Littleton, panelists spoke about dealing with trying to win viewers amid the flood of content across platforms. “We’re competing with everything… This is no longer a linear-timeslot thing,” said Margaret Walker, SVP, NBC brand strategy and audience growth. Domenic DiMeglio, chief marketing officer of Paramount Streaming, said that staying close with fans on social can help inform content-development strategy. For example, he cited “Teen Wolf,” which ended its run on MTV in 2017 but “had a really engaged, rabid social fanbase.” That led the company to develop a “Teen Wolf” movie for Paramount+ that premiered in January.

In the same vein, Zach Enterlin, head of marketing for HBO and HBO Max, offered this anecdotal evidence of the passionate “Game of Thrones” fandom, “There are several thousand babies named ‘Khaleesi’ and ‘Arya.’” Regarding the upcoming rebranding of HBO Max to Max, coming May 23, he said, “We’re not ‘something for everyone.’ We’re ‘something great for everyone.’” 

Also on the panel, Kimberly Paige, EVP and CMO at BET, said it’s important for media brands to be intentional about building and online presence. “There will be new digital platforms coming in the future, she said, but “I don’t think brands should be on every platform.” 

The Streaming Surge Isn’t Slowing Down 

Streaming TV and movies at home is the No. 1 entertainment activity across all generations — but consumers are frustrated with the cost and are looking to cut their monthly bills, said Deloitte’s Jana Arbanas, vice chair and U.S. telecom, media and entertainment sector leader during the Immersed and Connected Younger Consumers panel. She was citing Deloitte’s 17th annual Digital Media Trends survey, released this week. 

Among other findings she called out from the report: Millennials pay an average of $54 per month on video streaming services — higher than $48 per month overall among American consumers — and they also churn (i.e., cancel) at higher rates. 

Despite new subscription VOD launches, people aren’t increasing the overall number of services they subscribe to; that’s held steady at about four per U.S. household on average, per Deloitte’s research. Arbanas noted that this means that consumers are dropping services in order to add new ones. Meanwhile, she said, Gen Z is “really the first generation completely immersed in digital” and the younger Gen Alpha will have even higher expectations for digital media. It’s a sea change from 10 years ago when Deloitte’s survey found that only 24% of consumers said they expected to watch entertainment online. Today, Arbanas said, “There is no other way to get media.”

Authentic Creators Carry Cachet

In a world where celebrities used have the utmost “influence” with consumers, content creators are swiftly taking on this role. Where major celebrities used to be spotlighted in brand campaigns, nowadays success is not measured by the status a client may have. “Anyone can become famous overnight and the idea that you have a blue check-mark doesn’t mean shit,” said Ian Trombetta, the NFL’s SVP of social and influence marketing. “At the end of the day, it’s the quality of the content… the authentic approach of how [marketers] integrate these creators is so critical.”

Movie Biz Regains Its Mojo

Joe Drake, chair of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, isn’t buying the doom and gloom that has surrounded the theatrical film business since the COVID pandemic began three years ago. “The economics of the movie business are better than they’ve ever been,” Drake said with conviction during his session with Adam Fogelson, vice chair of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group.

Drake backed up his assertion with numbers. “The value of movie titles is up 15% to 30% in free television,” he said. “We can reach consumers more effectively than ever before. Every dollar we spend in P&A, we’re 15% to 30% more efficient in terms of transactions than we were pre-COVID. There are better economics for the risks that we’re taking – and that’s what allows us to take more risks.”

Drake surprised the crowd by emphasizing that Lionsgate releases about 40-50 movies a year around the world, including acquisitions in numerous regions around the world. The company itself produces about 12-15 titles a year but it has bandwidth to handle marketing and distribution for other titles. “We have room to handle 40-50 movies a year and give each one of them the same kind of bespoke love and treatment that our wide [release] movies have,” Drake said.

Fogelson underscored Drake’s point about how marketing expenditures have become much more targeted in the digital age. “It’s important that we figured out how to spend less opening the last ‘John Wick’ movie than what we spent opening the third ‘John Wick’ movie,” Fogelson said.

AI Steps Into the Spotlight

AI was a hot topic among speakers the event as the industry comes to terms with the buzzy tech’s longer-term implications. “It’s coming faster than we think,” said Sean Boyle, VP of brand and originals media for HBO Max. Snap entertainment lead Laurel Duquette, revealed that Snapchat’s My AI feature, and AI-powered chatbot, will now be accessible to all users on the social app. While it was previously accessible only to Snapchat+ users, the chatbot will now allow all consumers to get first-hand experience with AI technology. “I imagine a world where we talk to My AI about movies, getting recommendations on shows,” said Duquette about the new feature (but she declined to discuss whether AI suggestions might be available to sponsor in the future). 

Lisa Vanderpump Translates Her TV Presence Into Marketing Flair

Reality TV show “Vanderpump Rules” has been all the talk since cast members Tom Sandoval, Ariana Madix and Raquel Leviss’ infidelity scandal erupted. “It’s a producer’s dream, but talent’s nightmare,” Lisa Vanderpump told Variety’s Kate Arthur. “It was almost akin to ‘Friends,’ like [if] Chandler and Phoebe suddenly [started] shagging.”

Vanderpump’s popularity ignited when she appeared on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” That led to her spinoff series “Vanderpump Rules,” which follows the staff of her West Hollywood restaurants. The show has opened up a plethora of opportunities for the TV personality and restaurateur, who has boosted her visibility and brand to new heights thanks to the show.

Multicutural Audiences Aren’t Monolithic

Ellene V. Miles, SVP of intersectional marketing at Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group, shared that the importance of multicultural marketing campaigns cannot be measured. “[A] one-size-fits-all [marketing] approach isn’t as viable [anymore],” she said. “I think being authentic to these audiences and meeting them where they live and meeting them with messaging that really speaks to them is critical to success, critical to awareness, and critical to the whole theatrical proposition.” 

Miles reiterated the point that marketers have to view their audiences in a holistic way rather than being a box to check off for representation using the example of the character Miles Morales in this summer’s “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” film. “He’s living a bicultural life, and this film expresses that… these themes are so universal.” 

Peak TikTok

It’s uncertain whether the U.S. will ban TikTok. But what’s undisputed is that the popularity of the app and its content creators has taken off since the onset of the pandemic, something that leading film and TV marketers have leaned into. “[TikTok has] democratized the ability for anyone to have a voice. It has exploded the entire space wide open,” said Christian Parkes, chief marketing officer for Neon. “It’s a place where we’ve shifted a lot of our investment and our advertising dollars there. We’ve been able to manufacture followings far quicker there than on other platforms. TikTok is ground zero right now.”

Dwight Caines, president of domestic marketing for Universal Pictures, revealed that there can also be a downside to social marketing tactics. “The danger with ‘M3GAN’ is that we become a meme, not a movie,” he said, referring to the influx of social status that erupted following the film’s first trailer. “But when notable figures such as Megan Thee Stallion began tweeting about the film, the studio knew they were on the right track.”

Is It Entertainment or Marketing? Same Thing, Says Terry Crews

The “America’s Got Talent” host, entrepreneur, actor and author has an undeniably authentic demeanor, something he said is integral in achieving a successful marketing strategy. “Sometimes people talk about marketing like you’re trying to figure out a way to fool people,” said Crews. “And, no, it’s never that. You really have to give people what they need and what they want… Entertainment and marketing are not two separate things — it’s all entertainment.”

After Crew’s career in the NFL ended, he revealed to Variety’s Elizabeth Wagmeister, he took on a number of other jobs before landing his first acting gig. After auditioning for his first role, he recalled being unsure about the position. “I got the job, and my wife was like, ‘You might be able to do this thing,’ and I was like I guess I have to… I realized that you don’t get to call your future. What you have to do is do the best you can and never worry about the outcome, and that’s been my trick [for] 25 years [in] entertainment.” 

Ultimately, like many other Hollywood marketing execs, Crews credited authenticity to driving successful marketing efforts, recalling a conversation he had with Sylvester Stallone. “He looked at and said, ‘It’s one thing to make a movie, but you got to sell a movie,’” said Crews. “It’s really a part of the same game. You can’t love making it and hate selling.”

Nostalgia: Still a Winning Tactic

It’s a tried-and-true technique to tap into consumers’ fondness and sentimentality for long-loved brands and franchises. “It’s about knowing your audience,” said Josh Silverman, chief franchise officer and global head of consumer products, Mattel. “Part of what we try to do is cater to [our audience]. We want to share that we are servicing them with great products and experiences, extending the emotional connection that [consumers] have to those products, experiences and stories.”

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