Scroll through your Facebook news feed and think about this: How many times have you seen a friend post about their 8,000-word Harry Potter fan-fiction, Pokemon fusion artworks or a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle trailer made of clips from the original animation?
If you’re not into movies, it may sound slightly odd that there are online communities devoted to movie fandom and content of this nature.
“If you think about it there’s not one central place where nerds or fans can come express themselves. We want to be that place,” said Tobias Bauckhage, CEO and co-founder Moviepilot, in an interview with tech.eu.
I can see his point, while some people might feel comfortable (and even proud) about posting vacation photos on Facebook, they might not have the same sentiment about sharing an image they created, which is essentially a mash-up of Robert Pattinson and Ian Somerhalder, of the “ultimate HOT vampire”.
“We’re nerds. We do stuff for nerds that doesn’t necessarily get shared but there’s millions and millions of people who really passionately care about it,” he added.
Following the announcement, I had a chat with Bauckhage at Moviepilot’s Berlin office about how the site garnered such a big audience, why major American film studios such as Paramount came knocking on the company’s door, and to get details about its sale of the German business.
Hitting the social publishing jackpot early
Moviepilot’s two-story office in Kreuzberg is mostly high ceilings and gold-painted walls covered with, unsurprisingly, framed movie posters.
In a bright, spacious room with a view of neighbouring buildings and piercing blue sky, Bauckhage is sitting across sporting a bright green cap with a happy face on it and a jovial smile to match.
“When we started in 2007, there basically wasn’t any movie site in Germany,” he recalled. “At the time, Last.fm and Pandora were really big and we thought it’d be really cool to have something like that for movies. From the very beginning, it was very data-driven. It was about understanding tastes and audiences, and how the match between a film and audience works. So it started as a recommendation engine, where you could rate movies and we would give you recommendations based on your tastes.”
Established by Bauchkhage, Jon Handschin and Ben Kubota, Moviepilot grew very quickly and became one of the biggest websites for film in its home market of Germany.
At the moment, Moviepilot.de has about 11 million hits per month.
Over the years, Bauckhage said Moviepilot experimented with different services and eventually, in 2011, realized that Facebook would play a larger role in driving traffic to the site and how content about upcoming movies was published.
“For a long time, we were the biggest Facebook page in Germany with about 1.5 million fans back then. Two or three years ago, this was massive,” he said.
At one point, Bauckhage said, the company realized that finding the right film for a user or fan was solving a very small problem. However, if you look at it the other way around – finding the right fans for a film – Moviepilot could solve a very big problem.
In a guest blog post for The Wrap, Bauckhage concisely explained this problem:
There is no other industry where the rules of market economy condense with such brutality and drama into one single moment of truth as film.
Years of financing and development rounds, months of production, weeks in the cutting room, and then one opening box-office weekend that determines much of the success or failure for a several hundred million dollar investment.
The whole film industry is watching the first numbers coming in on Friday evening from the east coast, first exit polls analysis are evaluated and predictions for the weekend’s box-office results and overall success of a movie are made on Saturday.”
In May 2012, Moviepilot sealed a $7 million Series B funding deal led by DFJ Esprit to push its American business, Moviepilot.com, forward.
A couple of months later, the startup shifted from not only being a film discovery platform, but to also functioning as a social media agency focusing on movie and TV marketing.
“We realized that if we can get the data around early audiences, that’s a massive treasure,” he said.
Hollywood comes a-knocking
With Moviepilot’s proven experience growing a huge social media following as well as its knowledge of fan behaviour, launching a social media agency for film marketing seemed to be a logical next move.
But it wasn’t the only reason, Bauckhage admitted: the startup was already five years in at that point and “needed to make some money”.
“Studios started contacting us saying, ‘Why do you have so many fans on Facebook? How do you do that?’... And we said it’s a system we have, which is about getting the right content in front of the right people at the right time. It’s about measuring and optimizing – very different from normal publishing,” he said looking back.
When developing campaigns with film studios for upcoming movies, Moviepilot uses data collected from its online fan communities (on the website and from Facebook pages) as well as two analytics tools that were developed in-house.
Bauckhage gave me a demo of both tools and I could tell from his excitable explanations that he had a knack for numbers and data-crunching.
One is a real-time analytics tool used to optimize the site’s editorial content called ‘The Tower’. The tool gauges how articles on the site are performing and developing in real-time so that when certain measures meet a pre-defined threshold, Moviepilot knows which stories to highlight for “higher social amplification”.
The other is dubbed ‘Q’, a homage to James Bond, and it’s the reason why studios work with Moviepilot, said Bauckhage. At its core, ‘Q’ is used to help studios hone in on the right positioning, identify an audience and deliver a message/media strategy that caters to the particular market.
“It became a pretty good business unit in LA and I moved over to LA two years ago to develop that further,” said Bauckhage. “Basically we now we work with Fox, Paramount, Sony and with smaller studios or independent groups like Fox Searchlight or CBS films A24.”
Long story short
In June, news came out that Moviepilot sold its highly successful German film website, moviepilot.de, to French online publishing company Webedia for a cool 15 million euros.
So what instigated that move?
"In the US, it was really difficult to get an investment because it was such a complicated story. We realized that it wasn't easy to get funding for something that had two products and two stages in their life cycle. By that time, our German business was already profitable and growing at 50 percent per year while the US business was growing by 500 percent per year, but wasn't profitable yet," explained Bauckhage. "It was very hard to box with two different business models, two different platforms and even two different designs."
It's true, the story's rather complicated. Case in point: the number of paragraphs in this article.
However, with social publishing becoming a hot topic for media companies and Moviepilot having entered this space early, the company suddenly began garnering a lot of interest last year.
"We let that interest grow on us and thought, maybe it’s not such a bad idea, because we could make our story simple," he said.
And if someone asks him about Moviepilot.com now, Bauckhage answers: "It’s the biggest platform for film fans based on 20 million uniques and growing at a 1,000 percent per year. It's mainly based on Facebook and we have massive database of user profile data below, which we use to optimize our marketing – that’s a much easier pitch."
There's no doubt that Moviepilot plays host to a huge online film community, but, of course, it's not the only one in the game.
Curated online cinema platform Mubi also offers a place for film buffs to discover, discuss and review movies. The company, which was founded in 2007 and raised a $7.5 million Series D financing round in May, focuses on independent and art-house films.
Shooting for the stars
Bauckhage told me that the company will be focusing on growth in the next couple of months. And what exactly does "growth" mean?
Two big things, he responded. First, it's about scaling up Moviepilot's system of publishing, measuring and optimizing content via Facebook. The second, is about shifting towards becoming a contribution platform similar to The Huffington Post, where fans can easily contribute content and potentially get rewarded for it (through payment or perks).
At the moment, Moviepilot has a team of about 60 people split between its offices in Berlin and Venice (in Los Angeles). Bauckhage said that even though the entrepreneurial vibe in the two cities are very different in terms of attitudes and ways of working, each has its advantages.
But he added: "I think this whole idea of thinking bigger and simplifying things as well as trusting in one idea and making it big and scaleable – that’s something I really like in the American entrepreneurial way. We are sometimes very complicated as Europeans."
Featured image credit: Elnur / Shutterstock