After undergoing a period of conglomerization in the late 1960s and 1970s, the "New Hollywood" that emerged targeted the youth audience almost exclusively. To hit this target—the "teen and preteen bubble" demographic, consisting of avid filmgoers ages ten to twenty-four—studios developed high-concept blockbusters and star vehicles for the mainstream theatrical market. High-concept blockbusters went hand in hand with saturation booking, particularly during the fourteen weeks in the summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day when school is out. A standard marketing practice since Jaws in 1975, saturation booking was designed to recoup production costs quickly by opening a new film simultaneously at over two thousand screens, backed by an
intensive national advertising campaign. Saturation booking took advantage of changing demographics by servicing shopping-center theaters in the suburbs, far away from the decaying central cities and their fading motion picture palaces.
Although television had already become a potent advertising medium, Hollywood publicity campaigns continued to rely on the print medium almost exclusively until the 1970s, when television became the principal medium to advertise most pictures. Studios relied more and more on massive media advertising to sell their films; today, the cost of selling a picture might equal its actual production cost. Simultaneously, studios relied more and more on merchandising tie-ins. At one time, merchandising was a form of free advertising, but during the 1970s the sale of all manner of consumer goods, such as T-shirts and toys, became a profit center. Following the Walt Disney Company's lead in the licensing of rights to use film characters, all the studios got on the bandwagon, and in the case of Twentieth Century Fox's Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Columbia's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Universal's E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), and Warner's Superman (1978), merchandising revenues could sometimes even rival the box office.
Hollywood also relied more and more on market research in devising their advertising campaigns. During the studio system era, companies sometimes relied on sneak previews to pretest new films by simply asking audiences for their written comments as they went out. In the New Hollywood, companies used more sophisticated means. Columbia Pictures became the most
research minded of the major film companies after Coca-Cola acquired it in 1982 and tested the proposition that it could sell movies like soft drinks. Marketing research was used at first to evaluate newspaper ads, television commercials, and radio spots in an attempt to get a reaction from the public before a distributor committed massive amounts of money to the advertising campaign. Tests were devised to discover how to categorize a picture as to genre, create a viable competitive position in the market, determine a target audience, and choose the best media to reach the target audience.
Such tests were conducted after a film was finished but before it was released. Later, companies used marketing in advance of production in an attempt to discover what the public might want in the way of entertainment. Pretesting, for example, was designed to obtain movie-goer feedback to concepts for films or to key elements while a picture was in preproduction or being evaluated for pickup. Fortunately, the studio executives never discovered what motivates an audience to see a movie or determined in advance all the ingredients of a hit picture. The unpredictability of audiences has remained a significant factor in making motion pictures such a viable art form.
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