A photo of Greg Buell

Why we Need to Rethink Tentpole Strategy

Greg Buell on June 29th, 2018

It's no secret that studios are evolving their business models to both increase the frequency of large budget IP driven tentpoles and open more titles beyond 4000 screens. The trend toward "Tentpole" strategy has engulfed the entertainment landscape like never before. But at what cost? It’s true that such a strategy has anchored Disney to record grosses, but are they sustainable and, if so, what effect do they have on the rest of the industry? Current data suggests that all studios have to rethink their release strategy in light of these increased ultra wide releases. Let’s take a closer look at the volatility that tentpoles can create in today's market.

What’s Happening in the Market

Tentpole strategy used to be what studios relied on to ensure their slate of titles would remain profitable. However, in the past 2 years with the rise of Netflix and on demand content, plus a consolidation of the media landscape, studios have shifted to tentpole driven vehicles to create events around release. From Disney’s tentpole-only strategy to Warner Bros. opening their movies ultra-wide, there is now an incredible oversaturation in the market. Tentpoles are now stealing audience attention away from both each other and from smaller movies causing headaches across marketing and distribution.

If we look at Vault's Meta engagement platform to track and analyze which titles own what percentage of total audience engagement in the week of release, we can clearly see tentpoles generating more attention at the expense of the rest.

Deadpool and Solo

Recently, Solo: A Star Wars Story opened to a significantly lower than expected opening weekend. Whilst certainly Deadpool 2 didn’t take as much of a hit as Solo, the fact that they opened so close to each other definitely hurt each others bottom line. No more is that true than when we look at Deadpool 2 vs. Solo's engagement market share data. The below graph demonstrates the level of engagement 10 weeks before release.

Both titles converge one week before release, however, Deadpool 2 goes on to break out to just below Deadpool levels, whilst Solo barely moves the needle. With Deadpool 2 already in theatres, audience engagement is still focused on Deadpool 2 creating a huge problem for Solo’s release. It use to be that tentpoles would avoid at all costs opening in the same weekend. Clearly, the rule book has been thrown out.

Tentpole's are changing

Historically speaking, the only release strategy problems that tentpoles encountered were standoffs on opening in the same weekend. For example, if two blockbusters came out on the same weekend, such as Star Wars and The Avengers, both would see diminished audiences because they are competing within the same market. Sounds pretty simple, right?

These days, the game has evolved and become more complex. There are so many huge IP driven tent poles coming out that studios are finding they have competition everywhere — thus everyone is suffering in terms of audience size. At Vault Analytics, we have seen a huge uptick in tentpoles sucking up market engagement for 2 and 3 weeks after their release, creating a massive lag effect on the market. The below data represents the average market share of engagement being consumed by different budget ranges over the three week opening period (week before release, week of release, week after release).

Clearly, we are now seeing a trend for the larger budget movies to continue to affect movie goers.

The bottom line? Tentpole's aren't going anywhere. With Netflix and other players coming into the mix, it will become harder for marketers to engage audiences to help smaller movies break out. Indeed, studios need to rethink how data can help shape their release strategies to actively combat the tentpole problem and find anomalies in the market.