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Essay: The Future of Disney Princess Remakes: Identifying the Winning Platform and Maximizing Attendance by 18-21 Year Olds

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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  • Words: 2,145 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 9 (approx)
  • Tags: Disney essays

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The entertainment industry has, since its inception, benefited from the creation and maintenance of long-standing, creative brands and characters that inspire repeated consumption. Walt Disney Company has established its dominance as a producer of family-friendly entertainment via animation, CGI, and live action depictions of fantastical worlds and epic adventures.

The Disney Princess portfolio – which includes brands such as Snow White, Cinderella, and more – dwarfs the competition in terms of raw earning power; in 2012 Disney Princess licensed entertainment products and creative content were ranked number one and produced 3 billion dollars of revenue globally (Goudreau, 2012). Disney has pursued a strategy of continuing the relevance of their princess characters by releasing updated remakes of classical animations such as Snow White, Cinderella, and most recently Beauty and The Beast. These updates have managed to recapture the hearts – and pockets – of some now grown Disney admirers who consume the updated material.

However, a challenge for Disney will present itself after Beauty and The Beast…which classical animation of theirs should be remade next? Also, as movie theater attendance continues to decline, what new platform/channel should Disney seek to expand their influence in?  How should their audience be marketed to in that medium? In what spaces – digital and non-digital – can they be reached most often?

Research by this paper’s authors will attempt to identify the next classical remake that Disney should produce to maximize attendance by the 18 – 21-year-old demographic. In the process this research could reveal the winning platform/channel for Disney to distribute its next classical animation remake; ‘winning’ will be defined as the medium that will maximize attendance by the 18 – 21-year-old demographic given today’s changing media consumption patterns. The new information provided could also include: 1) an analysis of the most popular current channels for movie consumption and the reasons for their success 2) further insights in the tastes and preferences for entertainment consumption by the 18 – 21-year-old segment 3) a snapshot of current 18 – 21-year-old opinions on movie remakes in general, 4) 18 – 21-year-old opinions on plot twists/changes or alternative character focus in remakes, and 5) potential marketing guidelines for other content owners planning to remake popular animations.

Movie Theaters Losing Screen Time

The increasing trend of in-home viewing, the explosion of options in online streaming, and arguably the occurrence of numerous public tragedies has taken on a toll on movie theater attendance. Much of the literature and conversation about the future of movie theaters and box office cinema has been filled with grim figures; an article by Business Insider lamented that “a month's worth of access to Netflix, for instance, is typically equal to (or even less than) the price of a single admission to the cinema. (Business Insider, 2016).” Seeing as Netflix spelled doom for the once untouchable giant known as Blockbuster, one can only assume the worst in the future for big cinema.

Quantitative approaches to analyzing the lagging performance of the movie theater medium have all primarily focused on a single metric – attendance. The trend skews negative; a study by the National Associate of Theater Owners showed that audience attendance in the last decade has seen a decrease of over 500 million seats  (Business Insider, 2016). A further in depth analysis that combines data from the U.S. Census Bureau and MPAA Theatrical Market Statistics suggests that during the 12 years between 2002 to 2012, per capita movie attendance in the United States has declined over 25% (White, 2015). Furthermore, considering the increasing population over that time period, the results are slightly worse than they first appear.

During this period of declining attendance, box office revenue has increased. According to Statista, box office revenue adjusted for inflation has increased over 20% between 2000 and 2016 (Statista, 2017). Some may point to peak years such as 2015 and 2016 where movie theater revenues surpassed 10 billion dollars as a signs of a potential theater revival; however, the specter of lagging audience attendance cannot be avoided quite so easily. Much of the quantitative analyses available suggest that the continued rise in box office revenue has been due to increased ticket prices. Available data reveals that ticket prices have increased over 60% since the year 2000 (about 30% if accounting for inflation).

Over a decade of statistics portend a further decline for movie theater consumption and qualitative metrics including survey responses, articles, and anecdotal information are no more kind. Survey reports conducted by Mintel state that, “56% of respondents [said] they would rather watch a movie at home than in the theater (Hulkower, 2016)” and “high ticket prices were the most common reason cited for watching movies at home, with 52% of those who hadn’t gone to a movie in the past six months citing this as a reason (Hulkower, 2016).” Expensive gambits by theaters to increase audience attendance have done little to curb the slow decline; instead, more comfortable seating, higher resolution displays, and more extensive 3-D movie options have only contributed to further hikes in ticket price. Although the average ticket still retails for $8.65, most “cannot remember paying under $10 (McClintock, 2016).” Movie makers in the industry complain of rising costs for 3D, special effects, and talent, yet little return. Opinion articles in the New York Times and Washington Post have speculated that cinemas will continue to suffer as movie goers venture out of their homes less and less to “fraternize (White, 2015).”

Defining The iGeneration

The iGeneration represents the latest young adult consumer audience for Disney’s creative content. Officially, Americans between the ages 18 – 21 are considered iGeneration young adults and ‘tween’ iGenerationers are ages 9 – 17. This analysis of the iGeneration will focus on the 18 – 21-year-old segment.

Although Millennials still play a vital role in the entertainment industry, all creators of digital content need to cast their eyes upon the traits of the iGeneration, which represents 17% of the population (Mintel, 2016). In the next decade iGeneration adults will dominate the 18 – 34 prime age range that marketers target.

Reports of the iGeneration’s traits and preferences emphasize the digitally driven mindsets of consumers in this age bracket. They were born with and raised on technology so they are comfortable with being reached by the web and consuming content via the web. However, research indicates that iGenerationers need face to face time to feel ‘connected’ emotionally (Mintel, 2016).  Perhaps the more that a movie experience – either at home or in cinemas – could create opportunities for or emphasize connection, the more successfully it would appeal to the iGeneration.

Members of the adult iGeneration display an interesting, non-obvious trait regarding their ability to be influenced: they self-report that they are more susceptible to the influence of their parents than they are to the influence of their friends or peers (Mintel, 2016). This bit of information suggests that for a content creator like Disney, capitalizing on previously built brand loyalty during movie development/marketing could be key. The data lends more credence to the assumption that iGenerationers with parents that raised them on particular Disney products and characters would be more likely to invest in watching those specific remade animations. It’s possible that parental preferences in Disney content could help predict which movie(s) could be the next greatest hits.

The lasting influence of parents upon iGeneration young adults begs another question: would iGenerationers attend Disney remake films with their parents? Available research has not yet delved into the familial relationships between young adult movie goers and their parents. However, statistics by the PEW research center do reveal that “iGenerationers are more likely to live with their parents than any other living situation (Domonoske, 2016).” Further research could identify if they head to theaters with parents in tow.

iGenerationers share one pressing reality with the Millennial generation – their familiarity with, and therefore their need for, immediate gratification. According to Mintel over 70% of iGeneration adults have admitted to binge watching a TV show (Mintel, 2016). Anecdotal claims and public opinion articles suggest that the ‘binging’ phenomenon has taken over. It’s possible that Disney could identify which aspects of shows and movies most binged upon currently match with potential remakes. Research in that vein hasn’t been published at the time of this paper’s writing.

Diversity will have a greater impact the consumption decisions of the iGeneration and the marketing tactics used to appeal to them. Unlike the Millennial generation almost a quarter of the iGeneration identifies as Hispanic and more than one quarter identify as non-white and non-hispanic (O'Donnell, 2016).

One more useful thing to consider about iGenerationers would be their tendencies in terms of the social media and digital content that they decide to share. Overwhelmingly, iGenerationers are mesmerized by content that can inspire them to laugh, followed by novel upbeat music, and then anything cute or with animals – ideally cute animals (O'Donnell, Make 'em laugh , don't you know every iGen wants to laugh?, 2016). Social media sharing preferences could be a clue to movie preferences as well. Perhaps Disney would best be served by creating a remake of a movie with those tastes in mind and marketing them using a similar strategy.

Variety and Movie Development

The primacy of pay television (78% of consumers are subscribed to a paid TV service) and the growing popularity of streaming content could start to further impact the development of movie content in theater (Hulkower, 2016). As previously stated, according to Mintel, “56% of respondents state they would rather watch a movie at home than in the theater (Hulkower, 2016).” Determining whether this flight to the living room can be solved by adjusting the atmosphere in theaters, the content in theaters, or the pricing is tricky. High ticket prices are a definite factor; however, comfort and convenience also top the list in consumer surveys.

Some claim that the driver for the lackluster performance of movie theater in terms of audience attendance would be the repetitiveness of movie content. Popular opinion articles, publications, survey reports, and social media chatter suggest that consumers are fatigued by the barrage of sequels and pre-quells in available theater content. While that does seem like a strange contrast to millions of dollars that are spent in the box office each year, it does help explain the lagging attendance figures. Expert opinions unanimously conclude that “exclusive quality content remains a critical driver of success in the video business (Hulkower, Getting Content Right Is Critical , 2016).”

A prime example of the success possible with exclusive, new creative content would be Game of Thrones. For HBO the new series has been a cash cow in terms of audience attendance (above 80%) and advertising sales (Hulkower, Content King, 2016). That’s the ideal way to produce content: create a new audience, maintain the old ones, and reap the revenue. Disney has paralleled that success in the box office with its hits such as Frozen and Moana, its number one and number four earning films ever released (Mendelson, 2017).

Although it could be argued that consumer cries for greater movie variety indicate that Disney needs to prioritize new characters rather than old remakes, the critical successes of Maleficent and Cinderella (may) have proven otherwise. At the social commentary level, consumer reactions to plot changes and twists – for example the decision to make Beauty an inventor in the live action rendition of Beauty and the Beast – have been positive. Even decisions to highlight characters aside from the protagonist have proven successful (e.g. Maleficent, a Disney movie which details the story of Snow White’s villain). More research could be done to identify what consumers consider a significant enough change to pique their interest in watching a remake. Who knows if the Maleficent formula will continue to be enough in the future.

Research Population

The intended research population for this study will include all males and females living in the United States that have the ability to speak, read, and write English. The intended sample will include 100 members of the population that are between the ages of 18 -21 and therefore can be considered part of the iGeneration. Survey sampling will be based on convenience to determine the ideal classical film for Disney to remake next after Beauty and the Beast to maximize the attendance of iGeneration young adults. Ideally, a simple random sample would be conducted. However, due to the limitations of time and resources available for this experiment, a convenience sample will have to do. The survey results will have to take into the account the possibility that the target sample was not fully captured. Not all respondents in a convenient location (or digital space) will be part of the desired population.

Disney’s future content will have to cater to the new tastes and attitudes of the aging iGeneration which will soon dominate the 18-34 age bracket. A survey of their opinions on past remakes and classical animations could help reveal insights as to what should be Disney’s next box office hit. Furthermore, appropriate questions could potentially reveal information such as the degree to which a classical animation would need to be adjusted to maximize audience interest and how Disney could maximize theater rather than online video streaming attendance.

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