How can we stop leaks from sinking exclusive viewings?

How can we stop leaks from sinking exclusive viewings?


The wait is over. On 4th August 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool trailer was officially released and fans can now see it the way it was intended, not as pirated footage of an unfinished trailer. But the official release raises that questions again – how can studios stop leaks like the San Diego Comic-Con ones from happening again?


Let’s set the scene. It’s Comic-Con weekend in San Diego; the much-anticipated trailer for Suicide Squad, DC’s anti-hero answer to The Avengers is getting an exclusive viewing amongst a group of die-hard fans. Hours later, almost inevitably, a secretly filmed version spreads across the Internet. In response the trailer is uploaded to the official Warner YouTube channel and has 21million views in one day. Before the weekend was over this scenario happened many times over the course.


Although die-hard fans may not care how they access film content, whether it’s a poor quality leak or high quality official content, the industry itself reacts with understandable frustration. Content simply cannot always be supplied when the audience demands it. Even Ryan Reynolds tweeted that as much as he wanted the Deadpool trailer to be officially released, the VFX effects weren’t quite done so people would have to wait three weeks. And in the end the wait was totally worth it.


The reaction from Warners was justifiably frosty. Sue Kroll, president of Worldwide Marketing and International Distribution, said:

Warner Bros. Pictures and our anti-piracy team have worked tirelessly over the last 48 hours to contain the Suicide Squad footage that was pirated from Hall H on Saturday. We have been unable to achieve that goal. Today we will release the same footage that has been illegally circulating on the web, in the form it was created and high quality with which it was intended to be enjoyed. We regret this decision as it was our intention to keep the footage as a unique experience for the Comic Con crowd, but we cannot continue to allow the film to be represented by the poor quality of the pirated footage stolen from our presentation.”


To have one trailer leak is bad luck, two is very unfortunate, but to have three leaks this year shows the start of a trend. Fans, especially of popular franchises, want to get the content online no matter the cost, and the Internet is only too happy to oblige.


The way we see it there are three options:

  1. Up security. Phones and recording devices handed in. Night vision goggles. Increased security in the hall. Full body and bag searches. It could all be used, but none of it is ideal. In the same way the Unabomber has forever ruined plane travel, these security breaches are in danger of ruining the experience of watching exclusive content on screen.
  2. Don’t do exclusives screenings anymore. Keeping anything secret is becoming next to impossible. Plus it’s not entirely necessary. According to Way To Blue’s research The clear winner of the San Diego Comic-Con online conversation was Superman V Batman: Dawn of Justice. Although originally the trailer was screened to an exclusive audience, it was put up onto Warner Bros. Pictures’ YouTube swiftly afterwards. The trailer had over 28million views in three days. In just three days it had passed three of the most watched trailers of 2014. At time of writing that went up to 41million views. From our own analysis we can see that this film dominated conversation with over 374,000 mentions on social. With 21million views in a day, just imagine how the impact Suicide Squad would have had with a similar strategy in place.
  3. Can’t beat them? Join them. If fans at home are happy watching secretly shot trailers with bad audio and off-center visuals, then studios should open the digital floodgates and let them see the trailer as well.  When trailers are exclusively screened at events, they should also be live streamed with apps like Meerkat and Periscope. This way a wider audience gets to see the film without resorting to piracy. The studios can also see this as an opportunity of grabbing and retaining new fans for their social media pages that they can use for future marketing opportunities. Plus studios would have a control in how the trailer comes across to all audiences.


Whether audiences agree or not, the creative process of making and releasing movies is about control. Controlling the message. Controlling the timing of that message. Controlling the quality of that message. Film trailers are the most important marketing assets a film distribution company has. They are the gatekeeper of driving awareness and intent. Trailer leaks can be incredibly damaging. However there is no point getting frustrated with the audience, they just love what we are creating. It is us, the marketers, the distributors of content that need to change. We need to work within their world, NOT the other way around.



Written by Matt Isard