April 8, 2021
The New Entertainment Landscape: A Q&A with Way To Blue CEO, Daniel Heale
With cinemas closed and more time spent indoors, everyone has had to find new ways to entertain themselves in lockdown.
We speak to Daniel Heale, Global CEO and President of Way To Blue, about the changing dynamics in the entertainment industry and how the agency is responding to new consumer habits.
A year on since the first set of lockdowns, how is Way To Blue responding to changes in consumer behaviour?
Probably the 3 biggest trends in consumer behaviour that have influenced and shaped us over this time are 1) the growth in gaming; 2) the increasing number of major streaming services (Peacock, HBO Max and Paramount+ have all launched during the pandemic) and the high quality original and back catalogue content they offer, and 3) platform trends such as the explosion of TikTok and the emergence of Clubhouse.
Way To Blue has spent the past year rethinking how to pivot our services to be the best possible partners to our clients. This isn’t necessarily new to how we think and behave – it’s something we have always done, but the big difference has been doing it under such challenging circumstance. As an agency team, we don’t necessarily wait for the brief. We have always reached out to clients proactively with updates on emerging technology, consumer insights and big campaign ideas. It’s how an agency stays top of mind and positions itself as thoughtful, strategic and engaged in the client’s business – which is pretty essential for survival right now.
Prior to joining Way To Blue I’d spent most of my career in client-side marketing roles (at ITV, Trinity Mirror, Camelot Group and Vue Entertainment) and the agencies I admired and respected – and had their retainers renewed – were always proactive and strategic. Over the past year, we have won a number of new projects and campaigns by staying true to not waiting for the brief and staying on top of changing consumer behaviours, in a timely manner. For example, when Clubhouse emerged as a major contender in the battle for consumer attention we wrote to a number of our long-standing clients and some warm new business leads with ideas for how they could engage on the platform. The ideas were really well received and have opened doors to some very interesting conversations on the growth of audio platforms.
What have been new challenges for you as marketers now that studios are even more focused on streaming?
Everything has changed in the past year; the entertainment landscape and the client teams we have traditionally worked with are now very different. One of the lowest points was losing some big global retainers with our cinema and studio clients last year. Movie theaters closed so those campaigns came to an abrupt end and as release dates were pushed back the film campaigns we were working on were paused. For us though it has all been about the new opportunities these changes have brought – more on that in a moment.
One of the biggest challenges is always getting to the right stakeholder, the decision-maker for agency appointments and the person who controls the budget. We are fortunate to have a number of long-standing client relationships at Way To Blue and through this we’ve been introduced to the right people on the streaming teams at the studios. This has helped to drive business growth for us as Disney, Viacom and Amazon Studios have complex internal structures. They can be quite decentralized and siloed. Change was beginning to happen before the pandemic but has accelerated rapidly. Disney and Warner Bros (owned by AT&T) led this structural change with senior execs leading cross-discipline functions, focused more centrally on the content they are producing and releasing rather than the channels and platforms they distribute through. This is very similar to franchise management where you have senior production and marketing exec managing an entertainment property in all of its manifestations, whether that’s a film, TV series, live event or consumer product. Most of the major studios are now taking this approach.
We are in a strong position to capitalize on the growth in streaming, through our long-standing relationships. Over the past year, our European team won a new retainer with Disney+, led by Way To Blue in Madrid. Our LA team began working with US streaming service BET+ (which will also launch in the UK later this year), as well as significantly increasing our work with Amazon Prime Video. Now that cinemas are re-opening we are starting to work again on those paused campaigns, with briefs starting to come through.
As one of the few sectors that saw growth during the pandemic, how was gaming grown as a priority for you?
We were already working with the prestigious gaming development studio Kojima Productions, delivering social, PR and stunningly beautiful creative led by Way To Blue London before the pandemic hit so this was already a priority growth area for us. Back in November we invested in a new hire to help drive our growth in gaming and interactive entertainment. Charlene Sharp is highly experienced in this sector and as an ambassador for Women in Games and part of the Esports Research Network, has a wealth of great contacts.
We have already won a new project with SEGA, working on the forthcoming campaign for Sonic The Hedgehog’s 30th anniversary and have lots of other gaming opportunities in progress. We are also planning to host a global roundtable event with some existing clients, industry leaders and a few familiar faces from Way To Blue. We’ve hosted panel events and roundtables locally before so a global virtual event will be a new challenge, but one that we hope will help to position Way To Blue as global thought leaders in interactive entertainment and gaming.
What is it about emerging tech like AR & VR that works so well in entertainment marketing?
I think it’s because they’re fun, engaging, shareable and lend themselves so well to immersive storytelling. AR experiences bring the audience into the heart of the story in such an active way. We have created some really successful AR filters for our clients, including LAIKA Studios who have used AR to re-engage fans in their back catalogue of movies. AR is a new canvas for us to play with, so it’s exciting for our teams across the world when brainstorming on new campaign ideas. Plus, the more complex AR activations (including the one we are currently developing for an on-pack promotion with Just Water) mean that we get to work with our good friends at Miroma Project Factory.
What are you most excited about in the new entertainment landscape?
Right now I am most excited about going back to the cinema again, paying an extortionate amount of money for popcorn and watching all the movies that have been delayed by the pandemic – Dune, A Quiet Place Part 2, In The Heights, Respect, Top Gun Maverick and No Time To Die… and so many others.
I am also excited to see how film fans behaviour will change now they have the choice to see brand new releases on the same day, either at home or in cinemas. I have worked in the entertainment industry for almost all of my 20-year career and the discussion about ‘windows’ (the gap between when movies are released in cinema, on direct to home platforms like iTunes, on DVD and eventually on free to air TV) has been consistent with passionately strong views on all sides.
Each of the respective parties are running businesses and understandably want to protect their profits so these windows have remained largely unchanged since the 1980s. But at the heart of this is the consumer, whose behaviours and needs are constantly changing driven by technology and new products and services. Then lockdown came along and forced a major change in how new films were released. Studios had content they were holding back because cinemas were closed and consumers wanted to subscribe to new services and pay to watch these films at home. Windows were smashed, but they are slowly being rebuilt. Universal has a deal with AMC to respect a period of exclusivity in cinemas before releasing on other platforms. Regal/Cineworld has a similar deal with Warner Bros. Others have yet to declare their position, although Disney looks most likely to have closed the windows forever, showing complete commitment to the growth of Disney+. The next 12 months will be very exciting for us, observing how consumers will respond and ultimately which films, franchises and studios will make the most profit.
I am also excited about the re-emergence and growth of live, interactive experiences. We were just starting to win work in this space before lockdown and now have a number of active conversations again with clients who are developing escape rooms and AR experiences based on Film and TV IP. This is a huge growth area that merges entertainment and leisure and with our experience, relationships and passions, Way To Blue is the perfect agency partner for these briefs!
Way To Blue is a Miroma Group company. Find out more at waytoblue.com