Big Air Studios is leveraging technology to improve the movie business and let audience members connect with films like never before.
by Aaron Lazenby, August 2013
The movie business is based on an outdated model, says Michael Arrieta, CEO of Los Angeles–based Big Air Studios. Just think of the thousands of movies that get produced each year and how few find theatrical release. What amazing stories are being told that most audiences miss out on?
“Consumers are constantly trying to get one step closer to Hollywood, but traditional movie distributors keep them out,” Arrieta tells Profit. “What Big Air is trying to do is break down that wall, to allow consumers to choose the types of films they want to watch, get broader access to films that they haven’t been able to see before, and then choose the way they want to consume them.”
Arrieta and his team are partnered with Oracle to build Big Air Studios into a big-time Hollywood player, including leveraging social tools and data analytics to better understand movie consumers and deepen the company’s connection with customers. Here, Arrieta talks to Profit about Big Air’s vision, how technology can help niche audiences find the movies they want to see, and how moviegoers can expect to experience films in the future.
Profit: How is Big Air Studios different from a traditional movie distributor?
Arrieta: When you see somebody catch “big air” in extreme sports, they’re basically leaving the safety of the ground and flying. In some ways, that’s what we’re doing. We’re executives working to transcend traditional distribution and innovate the way films are marketed and distributed. We’re taking advantage of cloud-based distribution and new forms of marketing and data capture enabled by digital technology.
Big Air is a twenty-first-century film distributor, so we believe in theatrical, DVD, and digital distribution. Our overall mantra is, “We’re here to improve everything.” We’re not radically changing the entire movie business from end to end. We’re restructuring it to make consumers the number one priority and to make more films profitable.
We are talking directly to moviegoers and making sure they can enjoy media in ways they haven’t before. We enable consumers to connect directly to the industry, letting these consumers choose what form of entertainment they want to watch. So, if people want to go to theaters, we want to enable that. If people want to watch on DVD, we’d enable that, too. Big Air will prefer digital, of course, because that’s where we think the future is.
Profit: How do you use technology to connect with customers?
Arrieta: We are building a community of film lovers, because once we establish a direct relationship with them, we can do things that other movie studios can’t.
First, we can market directly to them and sell them new products. We want people to consume our films and buy our products multiple times. We’ve learned a lot from the gaming and music industries about add-ons: our Big Air partners and consumers have access to multiple formats of a film. Sometimes they’ll buy a theater ticket. Sometimes they’ll decide they also want a digital copy of the film. And those options will be specially priced and customized for them.
It’s always better when you have better product, but every film that has ever been made has an intended audience. Now, it doesn’t mean that every film is going to win an Academy Award—that’s certainly not the case. But there are fans out there. Sometimes they’re the brothers, sisters, moms, and dads of the producers, and sometimes there is a niche audience out there with a similar mindset that will connect. We want to enable that connection.
Second, we want our consumers engaging with us online. We want them interacting with our Facebook pages, our websites, and other social content, and we want them to share this content with friends. The more we involve our fans and consumers, the better our overall business will be for Big Air. Through the use of social monitoring, social listening, and social syndication, we build an audience to help us market and distribute our films. Consumer participation helps us reduce marketing expenditures and increase sales.
With social monitoring, social listening, and social syndication, we can build an audience to help us market and distribute our films.
Profit: How is Big Air using data capture to drive business?
Arrieta: We take in the data from what consumers are actually doing, and use it to make business decisions that can further help us entertain them. We are figuring out ways to get one step closer to the consumer and actually find better, more-direct sources of data. We are looking for more than simple trend information, but rather individual, actionable data about a consumer’s preferences, reactions to our marketing campaigns, films, opportunities—and what actual actions that consumer took on our sites.
Profit: How specifically does Big Air use this data?
Arrieta: We can cross-index the types of films you like, the actors and directors you like, the types of platforms you use to consume films, and give you special options that are customized to you. We might know that you have an iPad, so we’ll give you a copy of a movie for your iCloud. We might know that you love the theater experience, so we can give you a discount on a particular package of movies or a particular location. We can also give you incentives to buy films that you might find interesting, such as if we know that you’re a horror fan or a fan of a particular actor.
Profit: Why did Big Air’s executives decide to choose Oracle?
Arrieta: The partnership with Oracle was very much a collaborative decision. Ideally, we wanted a technology partner that understood our vision, offered the technology we needed to execute against that vision, and was committed to working closely with us on an ongoing basis to disrupt the industry status quo. Oracle, the industry leader in back-office enterprise solutions, was looking for new opportunities to grow into the media and entertainment sector. It was as much about Big Air choosing Oracle as it was Oracle choosing Big Air.
The goal of Big Air is to change the movie business. We want to grow to be one of the largest players in the industry and empower consumers with more choices around what, when, where, and how they experience filmed entertainment. Having a world-class technology partner like Oracle that shares that vision is extremely helpful and very rewarding, and ultimately, when we grow into a Fortune 100 company, we have a highly scalable platform and an application set to grow with us.
As a startup, putting in enterprise-scale applications is a significant investment. It requires more time and care up front, but we believe it’s the right thing to do to grow the company to the scale that we ultimately want. We’re making the investment up front rather than having to replace an inferior system down the road.
We’ve licensed a number of products from Oracle, such as CRM [customer relationship management] systems, loyalty systems, commerce applications, and back-office ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems. On top of that, we’ve worked with Oracle to evolve those applications to meet our specific business requirements. Together, we’re building entirely new applications to create a complete platform that truly turns Big Air into the distributor of the future.
Getting a more complete data set requires complex systems to capture, clean, secure, and utilize the personal data we want to collect. This is at the foundation of our relationship with Oracle. Another reason we’re so excited about our relationship is because we were given the opportunity to work with Oracle to integrate some of their newest social media acquisitions into the platform. The company’s social engagement and monitoring applications represent some of the most advanced social media marketing tools on the market and enable us to further our social agenda and make social marketing a cornerstone of our release strategy for films. These products allow us to reach and empower more customers.
Profit: How do you see technology and customer engagement continuing to change?
Arrieta: There’s going to be a higher level of interactivity. We’re finding that today’s audience doesn’t always want to sit back and passively consume media. One of our tasks will be to figure out ways to harness the level of participation and interactivity.
There will be a broadening of options. For example, in theaters, people might be able to interact and have a communal experience on second-screen applications, with gaming components built in. Also, consumers are going to have social experiences that go across all forms of devices, like their mobile phone, which right now are not enabled this way.
Also, through technology and new business models, we can actually alter the way the films are financed and created. We’re going to see a lot more of fans participating earlier in the financing, sourcing, and even in the origination of projects that they want to see. This is perfect because then there’s an audience built in.
We need to be able to leverage superfans—those movie consumers with the power and propensity to influence others. People who are very passionate about a media property will be willing to spend far more than the $10 cost of a movie ticket. They might be willing to spend up to $10,000 for some kind of related experience, like actually being in the film, for example. Again, just look at the gaming industry, where you have people paying $50 for a game but paying thousands of dollars to continue to fuel their passion and get deeper and deeper into it. That all started at the level of microtransactions.
We don’t pretend to have all the answers to the future. The one thing we know is that you can’t throw away the old; you have to build on top of it, enhance and reshape it, and create the new in addition. The theater experience is not going to go away anytime soon. Neither is packaged media. People still have VHS tapes and DVDs, after all. All we can do is optimize channels of distribution and enable new connections that enhance the experience of movie watching for millions of movie fans globally, but do so on a one-to-one basis. Oracle is enabling us to do exactly that.
Aaron Lazenby is editor in chief of Profit.