Using Data About The Audience To Target Theaters

"2016: Obama's America" was a deeply divisive and controversial film (here is a link to an article that attacks Dinesh D'Souza and John Sullivan's film for its "logical inconsistency and factual error[s]").

Whether you agree with its political message or not - "2016: Obama's America" was also - by any measure - a huge commercial success in the late summer of 2012 (released around the time of the quadrennial US political conventions - when opposition to President Obama was most fervent).

And Big Data played a significant role in that success.

In particular, data that correlated political sympathies and geographical locations was used by the distributor, Rocky Mountain Pictures, to target the theaters where the film would play.

[A list of the Most Conservative and Liberal Cities in the US is a text that any distributor of a politically-charged movie would be a fool not to consult.]

In late July 2012, the opening weekend of the film - limited to one theater in Houston, Texas (a deeply conservative city, but not the most conservative town in Texas, that honor, according to a Bay Area Center For Voting Research Survey, belongs to Lubbock) -  set a noteworthy per screen average of $31,160.

The distributors built slowly on that success - adding a few more theaters in the second week, and 2 more in the third, etc. Eventually the film was in 169 theaters - doing great business in select cities where there were known to be right-wing audiences who could be activated through local media and networking - like Sacramento, Dallas, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Honolulu, Greenville, N.C., and Tampa, Fla.

Finally, after six weeks of positive press coverage and enthusiastic social media emanating from audiences that had seen the film in limited release, the film went wide on 1,091 carefully selected screens.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter just prior to the wide release, the film's co-director John Sullivan attributed the film's initial success and its hope for good returns in wider release to two factors: "[W]e've expanded into good markets [and] we've been advertising nationally for two weeks on talk radio and television news channels including Fox News Channel, A&E, the History Channel and MSNBC."

Eventually the film went on to gross over $33 million in theaters, before being released to DVD and VOD.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek has predicted that the success of “2016: Obama’s America” (a film that reportedly cost only $2.5 million) will inspire a "flood of reactionary, election-season movies."  And the marketing lessons of “2016: Obama’s America” should not be lost on those other films. As co-director John Sullivan told BusinessWeek: "If you’re going to do something of this nature, you’re going to look for where there’s the most interest.”"

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