Star Wars: The Force Awakens smashed the record for worldwide opening weekend ticket sales, pulling in $529 million, and it hasn’t even launched in China. It’s also making waves on the Internet. Will it break online records too?
It is certainly driving historic amounts of traffic on the Web, which is not surprising since Star Wars has plenty of tech savvy followers and millennials who gravitate to the Internet and social media. It all started way before opening weekend. Since January, there were 234 million interactions on the film’s official social media sites and 2.8 million tweets alone using the #StarWars hashtag.
Social media campaigns by brand partners helped. For example, Google #ChooseYourSide campaign allowed users to choose either the “dark side” or the “light side” as customized themes for their Google apps, and Verizon’s #TheoryWars campaign gave Twitter users a chance to win movie tickets.
Now let’s examine the period close to opening weekend. During the 30 days leading up to the premiere, 53 million people worldwide had 126 million Star Wars interactions (likes, comments, shares) on Facebook . That’s 5% of Facebook’s global active users! The heat map below shows the proportion of Facebook followers by country who participated in the conversations. Technologically developed economies stand out, like U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, and Singapore. Within the U.S., top states were Utah, Alaska, Idaho, and New Mexico. Interestingly, the majority of the interactions were by millennials (18-34 year old), but to show the power and longevity of the franchise for which Disney paid $4 billion, the most passionate followers were the 35-54 year olds, with more interactions per user.
Then came the premiere, and the Star Wars’ social media force awakened. In just the first hour after it aired, 1.3 million Facebook users had 2.1 million interactions. Over the course of opening weekend, there were 64 million people and 140 million interactions (see animation). To contrast with another big Hollywood event, on the day of the 2015 Academy Award there were 58 million Facebook interactions about the Oscars and all of its related films.
The trend is sharper within the segment of the Star Wars fans who are more active online. Wookieepedia (starwars.wikia.com) is the largest Star Wars fan site, with 124,000 pages and 720,000 edits in 2015, and is part of Wikia’s fan platform. During the premiere and opening weekend of The Force Awakens, there were 45 million page views by 10 million unique visitors in Wookieepedia, and 11,600 edits, breaking all historical records of activity across Wikia’s 350,000 fan communities. 74% of the traffic were millennials or younger, and 56% were from outside the U.S.
Craig Palmer, Wikia’s CEO, says. “We saw an increase of engagement among fans leading up to the film’s release, so we expected to see big traffic numbers, but the traffic records set during the release weekend surpassed even our own expectations. The top pages are for new characters like Kylo Ren and Rey. Star Wars fans want to know everything they can about the movie, and Wookieepedia has the answers.”
Star Wars is not just increasing traffic on the Web, it is also changing broader traffic patterns. The Imperva Incapsula network, which serves 320 million unique Internet sessions per day, reported in its blog an average 7% decline in web traffic during the first screenings in U.S., Canada, France, United Kingdom, Russia and Germany. This could be attributed to people filling up the theaters, and others staying offline to avoid reading any spoilers before their trip to the theater. Regardless, it’s fascinating how Star Wars has the force to awaken or put the Internet to sleep.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a social phenomenon both in the theaters and online.
So as we read the headlines about its box office records, let’s stay alert on how it makes history on social media and the Web.