Beyond ‘cinematic universes’: Welcome to the entertainment universe

A rich cinematic universe was once the gold standard. But for The Drum’s entertainment focus, Tommy’s Marcus Foley draws on his experience with the likes of Netflix to celebrate a new paradigm: the entertainment universe.

Are you a fan of period dramas? Do you love a right royal romp? Seduced by stoic heroes? Always rooting for the downtrodden Cinderella? Secretly drawn to the charming rake with his string of past relationships?

Am I talking about Bridgerton here? Or perhaps The Crown? Maybe even The Buccaneers? How many of these shows can you recall from the last 12 months?

Choice paralysis is incapacitating even the most engaged fans. Unable to tell shows or films apart on streaming platforms, much of the marketing is also morphing into one: interchangeable at best; utterly forgettable at worst.

While changes in technology, consumer behavior, and competition will always bend and shape the entertainment industry, the true immovable challenge facing them today is how to make their work distinctive in an overwhelmingly competitive market.

The solution? Open yourself up to something bigger. Enter: the entertainment universe!

Disappearing in the sea of sameness

So many factors can affect the success of a film or series that ultimately limit the creativity and distinctiveness at launch.

Audiences don’t like it at a test screening. Entertainment executives are nervous doing something new and failing, preferring to lean on something that has been done before.

But the tried-and-tested trailer release formulas, coupled with reduced marketing budgets, deliver vanilla content campaigns, each blurring from one show to another and all failing to drive memorability.

The big question is, how do you tap into broader industry trends and the ever-changing interaction between entertainment businesses, IP, content creators, and consumers, to create memorable marketing that has audiences reaching for the play button?

Exploring new avenues

Bleeding out of the silver screen, the future of film and TV exists in the entertainment universe. Entertainment is no longer limited to TV; it’s marathon Twitch streams, steamy TikTok fan edits, modded game maps, immersive experiences in the physical and digital realm. This is creating many exciting creative opportunities to connect with audiences across the globe.

Hollywood isn’t only starting to see these channels as marketing levers but authentic extensions of the worlds they’ve created. Each channel offers a standalone experience while contributing to a cohesive universe, where genres, fandoms, and communities intersect – and narratives can evolve.

As the entertainment universe paradigm evolves, fandoms and communities will play an increasingly significant role in brand building. Brands will not just invite consumers into their world, but instead co-create it together with them. You just need to find the right way to partner by understanding their values and behaviors, and communicate with them in a way that reflects them authentically.

Bringing fans into the entertainment universe

In my experience working with clients like Netflix, their success comes from giving different communities different ways into their entertainment IP, ensuring a payoff for getting involved.

First, look for opportunities to deliver integrated cultural impact ideas that include content, partnerships, media, social, and brand platform integration baked in from the start. For the premiere of Blood Red Sky, for example, we let Twitch hijack a plane full of influencers, creating a twist on the immersive experience. 40 influencers at a physical event, over 100,000 people on a streaming platform controlling their experience.

Second, consider how to create new dynamics to a story that allows IP to unfold in ways that are native to new audiences and communities. For Tribes of Europa we delivered a live Twitch escape room gameshow: over 300,000 participants and streamers for an event which slip-streamed into their world, and delivered measurable growth.

Finally, champion the creation of robust story worlds primed for multiple platforms across linear and interactive mediums. Some of the most important aspects of your narrative strategy has less to do with content and more to do with how everything adds up in ways that are true to the IP, believable, and resonant with your target audience. For example, to launch Stranger Things 5, we turned the streets of Asia upside down with innovative OOH, projection-mapped trailer drops, upside-down bus shelters, and AR filters.

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Make the leap, reap the rewards

Especially for the likes of Netflix, success will hinge on their willingness to take prudent risks and to grasp on to these new marketing dynamics. This has ensured Netflix’s position not only as a market leader, but also as a trendsetter in the worldwide entertainment landscape.

Once we let go of old expectations in the entertainment world that still exist, there is much to be motivated and excited about. The entertainment universe is open for those brave enough to enter it. Expect to be welcomed by a new space that is dynamic, vibrant, exciting, and inspiring.

Love games, movies, TV, music and podcasts? Us too. Head over to The Drum’s dedicated Entertainment Focus hub.

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