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Why do people really go to the movies?

movie fix

The reason people go out to the cinema is to watch movies.
This was an assumption I was pretty comfortable with as we embarked on a redesign - that would become a complete rethink - of MovieFIX, ninemsn’s long running movie destination.
Was it so ignorant of me to assume our audience would commonlydecide what movie they wanted to see based on a review, trailer or ad; then go to a movie site to look up screening times; and then go see that movie? Seemingly yes. In the early stages of the MovieFIX redesign project we were given research undertaken by our friends at Channel Nine surveying 800 casual moviegoers. One of many charts in the report stood out to me. It suggested that within the key MovieFIX demographic of late teens and early 20s, more than a third were going to a movie “because someone I know wanted to watch it”.

This was also the case for our secondary audience; families and 30–40 years olds, who tend to go to the movies on a ‘date night’ with their partners, or as an activity with the kids.

Across all demographics, the insight was simple: moviegoing is as much – if not more – about who you are going with, as it is about what you are going to watch. It’s the ‘social event’ nature of the cinema experience that inspires people to pay upwards of $15 for a ticket and buy overpriced popcorn and drinks, rather than wait for it to come out on DVD. Whether it be a couple on a casual second date, mates chilling on a Sunday afternoon after a big Saturday night or a group of teenagers loitering all day at Warringah Mall and at some point deciding to see Big Momma’s House 17*, it is about social connection, first - and movie choice, second.

With this revelation at hand we set about creating a site which focused squarely on cinema going as a social entertainment experience. Luckily for us, some guy called Mark Zuckerberg had (arguably!) invented this little website called Facebook that would seemingly solve all our problems. We’d integrate ‘Like’ buttons all over the place - on movie pages, on trailers, on cinema listings. Then when people went to the site, they would look up a movie which their friends had ‘Liked’ and Voila!, they’d be socially influenced to see that movie.

One of the common mistakes people make in designing websites is to blindly assume the audience will do as they are told. Yes, usability testing companies have existed successfully for quite a while now and have proved their worth many times over, but there is still a burning temptation to save the money, cross your fingers and trust that the audience will intuitively understand your lovingly created interface just as you had envisioned it.

However, I’m glad I listened to my Exec Producer who insisted on audience testing the new MovieFIX, as the results were clear and fascinating: people are much more discerning than you might expect with ‘Like’ buttons. If it’s going up on their feed for all to see, they’ll think twice before slapping a ‘Like’ on Big Momma’s House 17.

During the testing phase, users also quite reasonably pointed out: “I’m probably not going to ‘Like’ a movie that I haven’t yet seen.” And this was where it all fell into place… people come to MovieFix to research their film options. They want to know which films are creating a hype. They come in anticipation. And so, the “Movie Buzz” concept was born.

Our idea was that people could watch a trailer and then we’d ask them to choose between two buttons “Want to see ” or “Not Interested”. Then we combine all of those “Want to sees ” with the Facebook ‘Likes’ for that film and spit that out as a real-time ranking of the top 10 movies that are ‘buzzing’ with our audience at any given time. On top of that... if any of their friends have ‘Liked’ or ‘Shared’ the movie, these friends will show up visually in the MovieBuzz ranking as well.

So back to user testing we went and this time – jackpot! The “What to see/Not Interested” prompts off the back of trailers tested perfectly, and the visualised movie ranking with integrated Facebook friends was intuitively understood across the board.

Of course the only real test will come when we launch the site to our one million + monthly visitors. With that sort of audience volume we’re excitedly betting that both our Movie Buzz feature and reworked Facebook integration will give moviegoers the perfect online tool to help them plan their very social movie-going lives.

*Yes Martin Lawrence fans, I know Big Momma’s House 17 doesn’t exist. I am aware that in fact the 2011 release of the much loved franchise was actually only the 3rd in the series and was titled Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son.

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