Ultimate Christmas Cinema: How One Company Is Getting You Inside ‘Star Wars’ & Other Films

From VR to ticketing tech, Powster is changing the future of movie marketing.

From VR to ticketing tech, Powster is changing the future of movie marketing. Alain BENAINOUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

A company called Powster is changing the way you watch movie trailers and get your seats for a show. And during the Hollywood holiday crush, you can’t afford to be left out in the cold, without a ticket, hiding from the internet so you don’t see any <gasp> spoilers. Or worse… you might find yourself taking the family to a dud of a film that makes PlayMobil: The Movie look like this year’s favorite for the Golden Globes.

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Motion Pictures in Images Like You’ve Never Seen

It’s only a day before the nation-wide theatrical release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Sure, you’ve caught a glimpse or two on the small screen or on a phone. But you haven’t really seen much until you’ve caught the augmented reality version. It’ll make you feel like you’re in the middle of a lightsaber duel or a dogfight between spaceships. Why you might even sign up for the Jedi Academy after you view it. How do they do it?

“VR helps immerse the viewer deeper into the world of the movie. Although there’s deeper immersion with VR, the benefit of a regular site is that it is easier to access and can reach millions of potential moviegoers,” Ste Thompson, the CEO and creative director of Powster, explained. “We’ve recently been focusing on augmented reality, while VR devices get in the hands (and on the heads?) of more moviegoers. Augmented reality has more reach, as everyone can start the experiences from their mobile phones. To help reach even more moviegoers, we’ve been exploring web-based augmented reality—meaning they no longer need an application on their phone, further reducing the barrier for entry.”

From Word-of-Mouth to Website

You’ll find nearly every movie out, or about to come out, on Powster’s site, from Jumanji: The Next Level and Harriet to Frozen 2 and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood—even Cats, Bombshell, Spies in Disguise, as well as Little Women and 1917. That’s what the studios want. But what about what you want?

When you were a kid, you probably had to rely on a lot of word-of-mouth to learn about the best movies, or see a film with its pre-show trailers. But now, websites are the way to watch a preview whenever you want, see who’s in a film and where it was made, as well as maybe take a peek at what critics are saying in their reviews.

“Powster created movie websites for movies representing over 90% of the UK’s box office,” Thompson told Observer. “We create over 180 movie websites per month, all around the world. If you’re visiting a movie website or looking for tickets on a site created by a movie studio, it’s probably Powster under the hood!”

Now That’s the Ticket

But it’s more than just a best-you’ve ever-seen movie preview. It puts the nearest shows right on your screen, with information about where to watch them, and with just a few clicks, you could be there, at the time you want, at the theater you prefer, as Powster helps you buy those coveted tickets.

Studios also go to Powster to get ideas about new ways to digitally market movies with new platforms and technologies. “When we first started creating movie marketing websites back in 2010, over 90% of users were on desktop computers. The tides have shifted now, and over 90% of all views are on mobile and tablets,” Thompson noted. “Creating marketing experiences designed for mobile means you are creating content for the viewing device most users use.”

And since you’re usually seeing a holiday film with a lot of family in tow, the company offers ticketing packages too, so you won’t find yourself stuck in the second row, on the end, getting up for everyone’s bathroom break.

On the business side of things, you still find that most folks drive over to the theater, fight the rush-hour commuter traffic and weave their way through the holiday shoppers and delivery trucks to buy their tickets in person. Not only do studios have to wait for final proceeds to see how they did, but they know very little about their customers. However, that could change if companies like Powster motivate moviegoers to make their ticket purchases online. They might even discover which types of ads push those purchases.

“The majority of movie studios are relying on Powster to see the interest in ticketing from their advertising. The movie studios have the product but only really know final sales numbers,” Thompson elaborated. “It’s tough for them to attribute any of that final box office number to individual ads. We’re working on it; we’re allowing movie distributors to sell the full ticket on their Powster websites with agreements with individual theater chains and with sister companies, such as Movio, able to report final sales based on loyalty members… In 2019, the industry spent hundreds of millions of dollars marketing movies relatively blindly!”

Social Media and Movie Marketing

Of course, Powster is connected to Facebook, as many companies are, but few are linked to social media like this. “We have a great relationship with Facebook,” Thompson stated. “Our relationship with over 180 movie distributors all over the world means Facebook can turn to Powster to reach the distributors’ marketing teams. Not only that, but Powster, as a creative studio, can ideate and create awesome Facebook experiences for the Facebook audience.”

“Facebook gives Powster a platform to reach moviegoers, with a lot of movie marketers looking at Instagram for experiences,” Thompson added. “Powster can keep on top of the changes to the platform and build creative content, which makes best of use of the new features. Attending the Facebook developer conference each year means we can know what’s coming and plan our creatives for the movies releasing when new features launch.”

A Preview of Powster’s Origins: From Music to Movies

Believe it or not, Powster didn’t get its start in film or marketing 10 years ago, but in the field of music. “Powster’s early work was focused on the music industry, creating web experiences for their artists. The creative work with the music labels won awards and got the attention of the industry,” Thompson described. And Powster’s still in music, teaming up with stars like Post Malone.

“Many of the marketing managers in music moved to roles at movie studios and brought Powster with them as a vendor,” he continued. “We discovered that although the theatrical industry has immense budgets and spends millions on marketing, it often drove to a call to action of the release date with no way to convert people.”

So what might the future of movie marketing look like? As people see the next generation of ads and see the ease in buying tickets, studios will know more about their customers, and maybe make more of what the viewer wants, making the holidays that much better. Now doesn’t that sound like the perfect ending to a Christmas movie?

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia—read his full bio here.

Ultimate Christmas Cinema: How One Company Is Getting You Inside ‘Star Wars’ & Other Films