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Movie production houses are expected to tap social media and digital influencers ahead of film releases this year, reducing dependence on billboards, celebrities and television advertising.

Digital spends would be 50-100% higher than pre-covid levels, with social media engagement, contests and influencer marketing taking the lead, as per the studio executives currently preparing their slate of films for release.

“Some impact of covid has been positive in the sense that consumption patterns of audiences have changed and they are more device-friendly now. That fact should lead marketing campaigns," said Gaurav Verma, chief operating officer of Red Chillies Entertainment, which releases Abhishek Bachchan-starrer Bob Biswas later this year.

People are reacting more to social media, and even news breaks on digital platforms nowadays, Verma said, adding it only makes sense that the media mix will change to afford greater spends on digital.

Veteran producer Anand Pandit said expensive star appearances in far-flung cities, tie-ups with malls and even colleges are no longer practical or safe. More and more production houses will figure out ways to reach a large number of people remotely and will do it via social media and every other online space available to them.

Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president of films and television at Saregama India that owns a boutique studio Yoodlee Films, said digital promotion will be in favour not just because most audiences are still at home, but because segments are easier to target this way.

Film trailers were already releasing on YouTube, but now there’s greater focus on new-age influencers across Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and short video apps. Meanwhile, television with the exception of some reality shows and sports programming, should see 15% lower spends, according to Kumar, while news channels are losing because of the recent controversy over viewership ratings. Out-of-home avenues such as billboards are on the backburner, too.

“The cost of influencer marketing alone may have gone up by 100%, which is far more effective in spreading word-of-mouth in a controllable way," Kumar said. Digital could make up nearly 60-70% of movie marketing budgets now, he added.

Mint had earlier reported that many social media influencers have tripled their pay rates over 2020, commanding anything between 3 lakh and 5 lakh per Instagram post. A typical Instagram user who was spending an hour on the app per day now uses it for three to four hours, prompting them to follow more people, and boost opportunities for brands to monetize. With traditional advertising options like billboards making no sense in the protracted lockdown and no buzz around bigger celebrities, companies have tapped into the influencer base.

Marketing has gone fully digital during the covid-19 pandemic, Harikrishnan Pillai, CEO and co-founder of digital agency TheSmallBigIdea said.

From zoom press conferences to fan-meets, the entire marketing narrative pivots on the actor and the production houses’ social and digital strength.

“Production houses upping their digital game. Gone are the days when firms appeared on the marketing landscape only during film releases and went back into hiding after that. Production houses are strengthening their digital presence and trying to build influencing narratives for a loyal audience set," Pillai added.

Studios, however, are staying cautious while not cutting corners.

“We have to balance our spends right now between possible profits and the need to get the message out," said Pradeep Dwivedi, CEO, India Eros STX Global Corporation that has films like Haathi Mere Saathi (Hindi), Kaadan (Tamil) and Aranya (Telugu) slated for release. Dwivedi was referring to the possibly slow return of people to cinemas in the first few weeks. “While companies may deploy only 80-90% of their marketing budgets to start with right now, they will get into full gear by August going full throttle into the festive season which will be big for the movies this year," he said.

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