The original ending of Pretty Woman called for Richard Gere to kick Julia Roberts out of his car and drive off, leaving her on the street.
Would you have preferred to see that movie?
Would you have wanted Julia’s character to end up in the gutter?
Well, the test audiences that saw that version of the movie hated the ending so much it was removed and replaced with the happily-ever-after version more fitting for what became one of the most successful romantic comedies ever made.
But audience test screenings are expensive, and there’s a limit to the type and number of people you can attract to an in-theater referendum. Video conferencing, however, has the power to reach moviegoers across the country, indeed the world, and it is practically free.
Remote Movie Screenings by Video Chat
When I say running a movie by a test audience is expensive, I mean $20,000 per screening. Given that you can comfortably house around 400 people in each screening that means Hollywood studios are paying around $50 per opinion.
That doesn’t sound like a lot the when blockbuster movies operate with nine-figure budgets, but if you run test screenings at various times during a movie’s production, or you want to sample opinions in a number of locations, or you just want more opinions, that $20,000 cost swells rapidly.
However, if the studios flipped the flow of information and shipped the movie to their audience via video conferencing instead of moving people into theaters, they could radically streamline the entire process.
If test audiences could be reached in their homes you could sample opinions from multiple locations at once, you could consult a greater range of opinions, you could monitor individual reactions, and you wouldn’t have to accommodate anybody in your exclusive theater.
Now, I’m not suggesting we all work together just to save movie studios some money, but if an enormous Google Hangout is going to result in better summer movies next year (and getting the opportunity to see some movies ahead of their release), let’s at least consider it.
How to Stage a Personal Movie Test Screening
Movie studios don’t engage test audiences to measure a film’s artistic merit or insight into the human condition. They just want to know how to make it as popular as possible.
Which is a good thing for our remote audience testing, because you’re going to lose the grandeur of the big screen presentation once you invite people to view a movie on a personal device.
Actually, the entire test screening process can be completed on any personal device, from laptops to tablets to smartphones, thanks to the rise of multi-platform video conferencing.
And movie studios could define who attends the test screening by building an online database of interested moviegoers. They’d simply pump out a quick call to action on any social media platform, and gather as much age, location, movie interest, and movie aptitude information as privacy laws allow.
When screening time arrives, they’d send out targeted invites and tell watchers to make themselves comfortable.
Screening Movies with Video Calling
Studios could stream their unfinished movie over a free, versatile VC platform like Google Hangouts, but the more highly evolved private services can accommodate bigger chat groups and offer increased security. And seeing each audience member in their own chat window means they can more easily weed out anyone trying to copy their film. They’d just want to make sure the service of choice allows guests to join the conversation without having to sign up themselves.
With the remote audience huddled around their chosen devices, they’d use the two-way nature of VC communication to personally prepare viewers for the movie ahead, and explain how they’ll express their opinions.
And it needn’t all be verbal opinion gathering. Some studios have started using specialized wristbands that record heart rate, skin moisture, and movement in an audience. As this wearable tech sends its findings to a remote database it could easily employed in a virtual setting, with the only added cost being postage.
Alternatively, you could employ Friends and Family’s new customizable questionnaires that let audiences respond via smartphone.
Virtual Movie Reviews
As soon as “The End” flashes across the screen the studio can start talking to the audience about their experience. Traditionally, test audiences are given a ballot-like card to fill out and drop in a box on their way out of a theater, but video conferencing gives studios all kinds of discussion possibilities. They could invite audience members into smaller breakout rooms within the VC platform to speak about what they liked and didn’t like.
Or they could use a questionnaire and follow-up any particularly expressive audience members with a personal video chat later. Or they could scale the conference call up to the thousands, and host a town hall-style Q&A for an hour after the movie to let everyone get a word in.
Whatever way it happens, remote test screenings would mean a better understanding by studios of how the audience enjoyed or endured a movie.
And hopefully that means more popular movies for us all to enjoy.