Avengers fans waited three years for the release of the latest blockbuster in the Marvel Studios series. The film, Avengers: Infinity War, formally opened in the United States and other countries on April 27, 2018, breaking box office records and going on to become 2018’s top-grossing film to date.
The same weekend, a startup called Moviebill made its debut. Just as Broadway theatergoers receive a free Playbill about the show they’re attending, the premiere issue of Moviebill was laser-focused on Avengers: Infinity War and was hand delivered free to attendees of that film at the box office or usher stand, exclusively at Regal Cinemas across the United States.
The full-color, 28-page Moviebill featured Augmented Reality (AR) opportunities on every page, such as behind-the-scenes videos, interviews, 3D characters, games, and other content. In the advertising-sponsored magazine, the promotions offered AR experiences as well. Moviegoers accessed the AR content by scanning Moviebill pages using the Moviebill plugin that is embedded directly into the Regal Cinemas mobile app and their smartphones’ camera.
“Avengers fans waited a long time to see the new movie and many of them bought their tickets at least one month in advance,” says Matthew Shreder, Publisher and Co-founder of Moviebill. “They got off their couches and drove several miles to their local movie theater. Committed, engaged fans like this are extremely valuable to our industry, and with Moviebill, we saw an opportunity to drive deeper engagement with them. Even today, just months after the release of Avengers, consumers are still scanning pages from the Avengers Moviebill and pulling content seamlessly from the cloud.”
Google Cloud Platform (GCP) was the ideal solution to meet Moviebill’s needs, says Seth Moffitt, Sales Solution Architect for SADA, the Google Cloud Premier Partner that Moviebill engaged. “GCP is highly reliable, offers pure performance, and can scale instances up and down very quickly. Plus, the Google brand name and its strong reputation for security give Moviebill and its content partners peace of mind.”
Other cloud providers couldn’t offer that combination of advantages, according to Seth. And setting up a data center was never a viable option for Moviebill. “It would have taken at least six months to launch a data center and cost around $400,000,” says Seth. “With Google Cloud Platform, Moviebill was up and running in about three months for just under $6,500.”
SADA was engaged early on to help Moviebill establish its business-critical, scalable cloud infrastructure. “SADA advised us in getting everything set up in a way that made sense for our business,” says Patrick Aluise, SVP, Head of Digital and Augmented Reality for Moviebill. “I’m not a developer myself, but SADA did a great job helping me understand everything they were setting up for us. Having that level of guidance really enabled us to leverage the technology from the beginning.”
“SADA really understands the value in helping innovative businesses grow,” adds Matthew. “If there’s ever a problem, I send them an email and get a response within five minutes. Working with SADA has made a positive impact on our day-to-day operations.”
“With Google Cloud Platform, we’ve served our AR content to massive numbers of users without any outages or performance slowdowns,” says Matthew. “As the number of users dwindles, we can scale our servers down. We’re only paying for what we use, instead of needing an expensive infrastructure available just for big opening weekend spikes.”
As an example, during the first Avengers: Infinity War weekend, the inaugural issue of Moviebill generated over two million page scans, representing a significant traffic spike compared to later periods of the film’s theatrical run. To date, Moviebill has recorded over four million augmented reality scans, making it one of the largest AR programs in the marketplace.
Moviebill leverages Firebase to develop its mobile app capabilities, track AR engagement, monitor performance, and take advantage of the ability to scale automatically within Google Cloud Platform. With Firebase, Moviebill programmers and developers don’t worry about scaling the mobile app to accommodate engagement spikes.
“We didn’t need to hire anyone to handle infrastructure,” says Matthew. “We just hired programmers and developers, and all they have to do is focus on programming and development. They don’t worry about setting up servers to host the application or how to get all this AR data quickly to users.”
The freedom to focus on development instead of infrastructure is particularly important for a technology startup like Moviebill. For example, a few months after launch, Moviebill developers plan to extend its in-app AR capabilities. “Users will be able to scan our magazine to unlock, say, Thanos and Iron Man, and then engage with them as life-sized characters walking around in their living room,” says Patrick. “If we had to spend a lot of time on infrastructure, we probably wouldn’t be ready to expand like that so quickly.”
BigQuery grabs the raw mobile usage and performance data from Firebase, hosts it in a data warehouse, and creates historical records of the data. BigQuery enables Moviebill to run analytics against the data to help team members understand how moviegoers are engaging with its content. From there, the data is displayed visually in Google Data Studio, which Moviebill uses to generate reports and share them with teams and content partners. The company also uses Cloud Storage to store its AR content and other files.
“BigQuery and Data Studio are helping us refine our editorial content,” says Patrick. “With these tools, we can tell which content users interacted with the most and which content didn’t attract much engagement. Insights like these are a big selling point for advertisers, especially since you can’t track engagement with a print-only magazine.” For example, Moviebill learned that editorial content using 3D characters or objects in the AR space receive higher engagement than videos. Knowing that, the company can evolve its strategies with advertisers to create more engaging 3D content
Moviebill AR content has achieved average clickthrough rates of 10% or more, which is higher than the average of 1.5% or more Patrick has seen in other AR content initiatives. Moviebill has also seen average dwell times of five minutes per AR session, with users returning to the content for 2.5 additional sessions on average. “This is the kind of valuable analytics we’re getting from BigQuery which helps us tell a compelling story to advertisers,” Patrick says.
Studios often try to maintain secrecy before a blockbuster’s release to heighten anticipation and prevent spoilers from leaking. Plus, cyber attacks, such as the ransomware attack in 2017 against a major entertainer are an ongoing concern. “We needed to make sure studio partners and creative partners would be comfortable with our handling of their sensitive media assets,” says Matthew. “The strong reputation Google has in security played a big role in giving our partners peace of mind.”
“No cloud provider in the world can match Google in terms of security,” adds Patrick. “Google Cloud Platform has best-of-breed security integrated throughout. It handles authentication, bot mitigation, protection against Distributed Denial of Service attacks, compliance, and much more. All we have to do is innovate. Google does the rest.”