The Social Side of Sundance

The Oscars were kind of lame last night so I decided to multitask and finally wrap up my research from Sundance. Last year I attended the Sundance Film Festival for the first time, and was struck by how much I relied on fellow festival goers to decide which films I should go see. You’re standing in line for one film and overhear the couple ahead of you debate the merits of another; you’re browsing the #Sundance hashtag; you’re perusing the Sundance website to read reviews; you’re noticing which film venues are trending on Foursquare. These aren’t the traditional cues for movie selection. The one picture or poster associated with the films probably hasn’t been market tested and is almost certainly a little rough around the edges. All of the descriptions sound interesting. Celebrity actors probably won’t be a good predictor of which film will be the break out everyone’s going to be talking about.

I returned to the Sundance Film Festival this year with the intention of diving into the role of social media in independent film. It’s taken awhile, but I’m finally wrapping my head around some of the numbers. I also had vague notions of trying to see if social media buzz is a good predictor of sales to distributors and/or Sundance awards, but haven’t gotten around to building that model yet. Today I’ll share some impressions of the Sundance FestivalGenius website & Facebook. Later this week: Twitter & other uses of social media.

From what I’ve seen this year, Sundance films were (and could be) using social media in a variety of ways:

  • In the absence of a website, a Facebook page can be a great place to drive audiences during the festival circuit for more info about the film
  • An audience plugged into social media probably increases awareness about a film during screenings
  • A large & passionately engaged social media fanbase might be the kind of social proof that tips the scale for a distributor to buy the film
  • The Music Never Stopped has a “request this film in my city” section of their Facebook page. Even pages without this function at least know the geographic distribution of their fans, and could use this data to plan screenings.
  • The role of filmmakers and actors on social media to promote films is significant. Though I’m interested in (for example) the relationship between Carol King‘s personal Facebook page and the Troubadors Facebook page–there’s a wide disparity in the number of Likes between the two.
  • YouTube/Vimeo are being best utilized by critics & fans to promote/curate lists of films they love/hate.
  • The relatively unsophisticated “search” functions of social media sites can be a real hindrance, especially when you have films with generic titles (Homework?!), blogs with incredible SEO juice, and films whose websites forget to link to their social media sites.
  • Distributors with a strong social presence have the benefit of time to build a captive audience, but it’s unclear to me how well audiences travel between films (for example I’d be fascinated to see on the Fox Searchlight Facebook page if the folks who interacted with Black Swam content also interacted with Cedar Rapids content).

Big Picture

More films have a Facebook page than a website. About half the films that are using social media, don’t link to their social profiles from their website. This proportional relationship among social media site popularity with the films roughly matches how large a fan base the film festival itself has on each of the social media sites:

On the Sundance Film Festival Website

In thinking about the FestivalGenius data, I got interested in the idea of a conversion funnel: essentially that a person wouldn’t likely review a film unless they had also added that film to their online schedule, and so on, like this:

And indeed the graphs bear some of this out. Before the festival began, about 16% of folks who viewed a film added it to their online schedule, and this relationship explains about 83% of the variance among films. By the time the festival ended, only 9% of folks viewing a film had added it to their online schedule, and the explanatory power of this relationship drops to 68%. A couple of possible explanations: more non-attendees are looking at the FestivalGenius site during the festival; or attendees are incorporating more information into their decision to add a film to their schedule (like maybe some of that social media buzz?).

The conversion funnel didn’t work as well for the Views > Facebook, Twitter shares; or Adds > Facebook, Twitter shares. I won’t bore you with the graphs, but suffice it to say, there were external factors impacting why someone who viewed or added a film would choose to Like or Tweet about it. We’ll get to those in a moment.

But the bottom end of the funnel works a little better. On average, about 3% of folks who add a film to their schedule end up rating it, and in theory (remember these are correlations, not causation graphs), for any given film, there were about 1/3 as many reviews as star ratings.

Note: I had to take My Idiot Brother and Red State out of all these graphs because they were the extreme outliers.

Now what’s most interesting to me about these graphs isn’t the trend line itself, but which of those films are falling so far *away* from the trend line. In fact, about half way through the festival, I noticed that Senna and Buck had the most number of reviews and ratings, even though both are relatively obscure films. I hope to get into that more in a future post on predictive metrics.

Facebook

During the 11 day Festival, Sundance films posted over 1,100 status updates to their Facebook pages. Fans of these pages in turn responded back with almost 11,000 likes; 1,900 comments; and 1,400 of their own status updates. Only 22 films *don’t* have a Facebook presence, and by far those that do are dominated by films with pages.

Median page size sits at just about 500 fans, but a significant portion break into the 4-figure realm. Top 5 pages include Red State (represented by Kevin Smith’s personal page), Fox Searchlight (representing Cedar Rapids & Win Win), The Future (represented by Miranda July’s personal page), Submarine, and Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest.

Somewhat predictable that Premiere and Spotlight films have significantly more Facebook fans than any other film category, but interesting to note that Park City at Midnight, NEXT, and US Docs are all making big strides on Facebook.

Because there were so few Filmmaker or Distributor based pages, and so few Profiles or Groups, the only types of pages I could find meaningful differences in were between pages with custom URLs (facebook.com/movie) and those without custom URLs (facebook.com/pages/movie/123456). You can see films with custom URL pages tend to be about twice as large as those without–based on some of my previous research this is typically because folks who know about the custom URL option tend to be a little more social media-savvy.

How often a Facebook page was posting status updates during the festival made a significant difference in the number of fan responses Jan 20-30. On average, pages were posting daily, and received 116 likes, 20 comments, and 15 fan posts.  The 5 most active Facebook pages were Kinyarwanda, The Music Never Stopped, Buck, Pariah, and Hobo with a Shotgun.

The number of Facebook fans a page had was only somewhat correlated with how many Facebook Likes the film got on the Sundance FestivalGenius site.

Some pages stuck out for how passionately engaged their fans seem to be. There’s no easy way to track this, but if we assumed (as an upward bound) every like, comment, and post was made by a unique fan, then 6 pages saw more than 50% of their fans take action on their page during Sundance (All Your Dead, Buck, Pariah, Lord Byron, Bellflower, and These Amazing Shadows–especially impressive for Buck & Pariah considering they have more than 1,000 fans each.)

A few Facebook pages had interesting features:

  • Rebirth also has a Causes page that raised close to $3,000 from over 1,300 members.
  • You have to Like Submarine‘s page before you get to see their trailer
  • Kaboom and The Music Never Stopped both have kind of fancy embedded apps
  • Pariah‘s page had a Livestream component during the festival
  • 7 pages land on a tab other than their wall
  • 9 pages were created during or after the festival
  • 4 pages have protected profiles (can’t see the wall unless you become their friend)

Twitter

Here’s a little preview of what’s to come. An awesome graph from Research.ly showing the huge growth of Twitter during Sundance in the last 3 years.

Finally, some definitions and background:

  • I started on the Sundance FestivalGenius looking at the number of views, adds, reviews, ratings, showings, Facebook shares, and Twitter shares; as well as which films were linking out to which social media sites. I collected data at 3 different points before, during, and after the festival. I decided to focus only on full-length features playing in traditional theatres (ie no shorts, installations, or panels).
  • I searched for the “official website” of all 117 films, and noted which social media sites they linked out to.
  • If the FestivalGenius or official film site linked to a social media site for a distributor, producer, or filmmaker promoting the film, I included that in the data; otherwise only Facebook pages, Twitter profiles, and YouTube channels specific to the film were used (ie Kevin Smith was promoting Red State via his personal twitter handle)
  • I searched Facebook for all film titles as of Feb 14, and (manually!) recorded all status updates, comments, and likes that took place Jan 20-30, 2010 on films’ pages.
  • I searched Twitter for all film titles as of Feb 14, and used (soon to be defunct) TwapperKeeper to find all tweets that took place Jan 20-30, 2010 using the #Sundance hashtag.I realize you’re now incredibly impressed with my valentines day plans.
  • I searched YouTube & Vimeo for all film titles as of Feb 27, but unfortunately there’s no good way to find how many views occurred during the festival.
  • Kickstarter, MySpace, Flickr, and blogging were mentioned on fewer than 5 of the films’ official websites, so I didn’t do extensive research on these other platforms, but I do have a few tidbits to share. I didn’t get the timing right for Foursquare venue check-ins, but I have a few anecdotal observations.

Tune in later this week for more…Until then, I’m swimming in data–500,000 pageviews, almost a million Facebook fans, 40,000 tweets. What do you want to know?