What Star Wars in Fortnite Tells Us About the Future of Digital Entertainment

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Photo of Karol Severin
by Karol Severin

It has been revealed that Disney will soon be premiering a scene from its upcoming The Rise of Skywalker film. What makes this a truly newsworthy story is that the event will take place inside Fortnite’s Risky Reels digital drive-in theatre, apparently with J.J. Abrams digitally present.

This is interesting on two particular levels:

  1. Companies are increasingly embracing cross-entertainment strategies and focusing on utilising data to identify consumer overlaps between the traditionally siloed entertainment worlds of video, games, music and sports.
  2. The partnership is a masterclass on how to compete in the post-peak attention economy, bringing entertainment towards audiences rather than trying to drag audiences towards entertainment.

In January 2018, MIDiA wrote about the risks of clashing games and video content releases due to the significant overlaps of video and games consumers. We also pointed out the opportunity for synergies which stem from this. The basic premise was that if the games and video/TV worlds started to communicate more effectively, they could end up with many win-win partnerships rather than competitive pressures resulting from the consumer overlap.

Battle Royale Audiences Are a Sweet Spot for Cross-Entertainment Strategies
Time and Money Spent on Streaming Video by Consumer Segment

  • Disney is right to partner up with Fortnite: Battle Royale audiences (Fortnite being the most popular Battle Royale-type game at 10% consumer penetration) are particularly attractive subsegments of the gamer world to explore cross-entertainment synergies with, because they spend more time and money on streaming video than average gamers. Though players of Apex are even slightly more valuable in terms of time and money spent on streaming video, Fortnite provides the better choice due to having a much larger user base. In many ways, Fortnite’s audience is a sweet spot for Disney to target. 67% of Fortnite’s aged 16+ players pay for video subscriptions, compared to the 43% consumer average. More importantly, Fortnite players (43%) are nearly twice as likely to pay for multiple video subscriptions than average consumers (23%). Furthermore, Fortnite appeals across generations – 33% of its aged 16+ player base is 45+ years old. Finally, it opens up an important avenue to monetising fandom, in addition to engagement. It will be interesting to look at sales numbers of the Stormtrooper skin in Fortnite right after this event, as well as any other Star Wars themed digital items more broadly.

Bringing experiences to the consumers instead of bringing consumers to experiences

The ‘build it and they’ll come’ motto is no longer valid in the post-peak attention economy. Hopping between propositions creates friction for consumers both in terms of time and money spent. As consumers’ available time is maxed out, the only way for content experiences to keep growing is to start bringing the traditionally isolated content experiences into more unified and fluid entertainment sessions. When consumers meet up at the Risky Reels drive-in theatre to watch the debuting Star Wars footage, talk about it in real time, while still being inside a Fortnite session – are they gaming, consuming video, or socialising? All of the above: they are given entertainment value across formats within the same hour, which would have traditionally been competed for by all entertainment verticals – and that’s exactly the point.

Online games are becoming major live cross-entertainment venues

This campaign along with Marshmello’s gig inside Fortnite earlier this year offer a glimpse into what the future of digital entertainment looks like. As consumers find themselves more time constrained than ever before, expect cross-entertainment campaigns inside games environments to pick up significantly. There is no reason we couldn’t see fully-fledged and monetised music festivals take place inside games, or a studio premiering its films. Popular online games are well positioned to provide destinations for unified entertainment experiences, because they can host various content formats, enable seamless interaction as well as socialising, while holding large engaged user bases. Furthermore, they allow for seamless monetisation of fandom, additionally to monetising engagement – a challenge that single-entertainment format companies like Netflix and Spotify will need to deal with soon.

A masterclass for competing in the post-peak attention economy

One of the challenges of the peaking attention economy and increasing time spent behind ad-free paywalled propositions is that it is becoming harder to reach relevant and valuable consumers with conventional advertising campaigns. Not only is the number of targetable consumers shrinking in size (as more adopt ad-free subscriptions), it is simultaneously shrinking in value, because digital service subscribers (as well as gamers) are some of the most valuable audiences in terms of time and money spend. The Star Wars campaign navigates around this elegantly. Another issue this partnership addresses is the growing problem of content discovery in the post-peak attention era. Finding alternative, effective and enjoyable ways for consumers to discover entertainment assets will be key in the coming months and years, as consumers get flooded with yet more video content and services. Appealing to target audiences in ways and places they don’t expect helps cut through the clutter of increasingly busy video content catalogues. As we presented a couple of weeks ago, de-cluttering and building positive sentiment will become crucial in the post-peak attention era. Finally, though this campaign predominantly revolves around a movie launch, it works to promote the Star Wars brand (and Disney’s  by affiliation) across entertainment: from the movie itself, through the Disney+ offering and skins in Fortnite, all the way to promoting the Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order game – let alone physical merchandise and Disney’s theme parks. It is a prime example of how synergies can be created across entertainment industries when traditionally siloed entertainment verticals start engaging with each other. Stay tuned for many more of these in 2020.

Finally, though this campaign predominantly revolves around a movie launch, it works to promote the Star Wars brand (and Disney’s  by affiliation) across entertainment: from the movie itself, through the Disney+ offering and skins in Fortnite, all the way to promoting the Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order game – let alone physical merchandise and Disney’s theme parks. It is a prime example of how synergies can be created across entertainment industries when traditionally siloed entertainment verticals start engaging with each other. Stay tuned for many more of these in 2020.

Note: While Fortnite is the right audience for Disney, it does not mean that every entertainment company should automatically partner with Fortnite. Instead, data should be used to identify the right games community to partner with. MIDiA Research tracks the behaviours of 21 top games franchise communities, including time and money spent across video, music, sports, news and games, as well as things like their favourite genres, TV shows, artists, digital subscription adoption rates, binge viewing and much more. If you are thinking about engaging gamers (and you should), get in touch.


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