the frequency a kenny chung blog

If 2015 was any indication, people still care about movies. Total domestic gross was $11.1 billion. The top three movies were all record-breaking sequels (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron). And despite declining viewership, the 88th Academy Awards still drew over 34 million sets of eyeballs.

Movies vs. Netflix

Although the effect on the movie industry hasn’t been as radical as it was for TV, new modes of entertainment delivery (e.g. Netflix) are changing the ways that consumers view media and its role in everyday life.

Consider the following chart that shows the average movie gross vs. Netflix subscriptions:

Average movie gross vs. Netflix Subscriptions

Source: Misix

It’s a loose correlation at best, but what’s clear is that fewer people are paying for movie tickets. Of course, that chart doesn’t include the phenomenon that was Star Wars, but the yearly trendline still stands. With advanced technology, the home can very well be a pleasant movie-going experience (or I suppose, more accurately, a movie-staying one).

With the always-on, instant gratification prospect of streaming, it only makes sense that the studios are always playing catchup. It’s a fine balancing act between determining how soon to release movies on home media. Of course, streaming services are also delayed in getting the latest releases, but the difference in waiting an extra week with the benefit of not having to go out to a big box store to pick up the latest movie sure is enticing. And with the benefit of a gigantic back catalog of TV shows and movies, consumers can easily keep themselves entertained in the interim.

Theater to DVD wait times

A chart showing decreasing time between theater releases to DVD releases from this reddit thread 3 years ago.

Mapping Oscar Search Trends to Consumption Habits

The Academy Awards, however, present us with a unique opportunity to identify how users are searching for movies in real time. It stands to reason that the award-winners will garner the highest levels of interest, with the general public wanting to watch said movies.

The first step, then, is to figure out what qualifiers or search terms people usually append to movie titles. Based on this set of keywords associated with 2016 Oscar winners, we can chart the data thusly:

Movie Consumption Methods by Search Volume

With the exception of “DVD”, the distribution of searches greatly skews toward illegal (or potentially illegal) viewing methods.

Using Google Trends, we can see that the hourly trends generally show that around the point of impact (Oscar winners being announced), there is a significant spike in searches in all of these types of searches. However, as time goes on, the searches that stay on top are typically explicitly illicit (e.g. Torrent) or vaguely so (e.g. Download).


Best Picture
Best Original Screenplay

The Revenant

Best Director
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Best Cinematography


Best Actress

The Danish Girl

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Bridge of Spies

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Inside Out

Best Animated Feature Film

The Big Short

Best Adapted Screenplay

Ex Machina

Best Visual Effects

Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Film Editing
Best Costume Design
Best Production Design
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing

What does this mean for media distributors?

The obvious takeaway is that during awards ceremonies, movie studios or streaming services should bid on movie names + modifiers (budget permitting) since that may very well be the highest traffic and sales opportunity for home media (this likely also applies to music awards shows). The studios/services should customize their messaging to match the event, and also optimize all aspects of their organic presence as well. Ranking well for all on-brand “download” and “DVD” terms is a no-brainer, as well as for shopping, video and image engines.

On the surface, it might make sense to add “torrent” as a negatives in paid campaigns, but if people aren’t looking to pay, then they won’t click on your ad anyway. And you run the possibility of being able to capture clicks if there are no viable illegal viewing options available. For example, if you’re a service like Amazon Prime that does several-day rentals, then tout the benefits of the low cost and the convenience. Give people a reason to pay a few dollars for an authentic copy, because any friction is going to drive users to the simplest option, which is typically the most illegal.

Creative Commons License
licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.