Brand Spotlight

It’s easy to measure how the “Star Wars” franchise has performed in theaters – just add up the box office receipts, as Hollywood has been doing since the days of Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith (“The Birth of a Nation”), and you’ll see that its taken in nearly $6.4 billion worldwide.

But how is “Star Wars” faring on YouTube, where millennials and Gen Z spend hours entertaining themselves and researching potential purchases, as well as posting self-made videos?

To find out, Disney enlisted ZEFR to do a study. It revealed that between August 2015 and August 2016, fans posted over 838,000 pieces of “Star Wars”-related content on YouTube adding up more than 2,296 per day and nearly 96 per hour. “Star Wars” content created by fans also scored impressive numbers, racking up more than 16.3 billion views in the same year-long period, which is the equivalent of everyone in the world watching at least two user-generated clips.

Those YouTube numbers are important to Disney because it’s using the platform – and its users – as a key component in its “Star Wars” merchandising strategy.

On Sept. 4, 2015, well ahead of the December opening of its franchise reboot “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Disney unveiled its new lineup of “Star Wars” merchandise – including including top toys from licensees such as Hasbro and LEGO – with “Force Friday,” an 18-hour, global unboxing event live streamed on YouTube, spanning 15 cities and 12 countries, that featured top digital stars from Disney’s Maker Studios division.

“You had a major retail promotion going on concerning part of the toy line, two and a half months before the film launched. That’s outside the realm,” said Marty Brochstein, SVP of industry relations & information for LIMA (the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association). “For most tentpole movies, the consumer products get to the shelf generally about six weeks ahead of the movie launch date.”

Disney’s outside-the-box YouTube global unboxing proved to be a big success. According to market research firm NPD Group, in the immediate wake of Force Friday, Star Wars merchandise had weekly sales that were six times its recent average, and it went on to become the #1 toy property of 2015, with $700 million in sales.

This year, Disney staged another merchandise rollout on YouTube, this time in anticipation of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” opening today. It kicked off in August with the debut of a series of fan-made animated shorts on the Star Wars YouTube channel. They were produced through a competition staged by creative network Tongal, which had creators pitch, write and direct original stop-motion shorts starring key toys from the new line from Hasbro, LEGO, FUNKO, JAKKS Pacific, Mattel and Disney Store.

It was followed by a global #GoRogue fan content contest launched on Sept. 30, which called on creators across gaming, lifestyle, comedy and family verticals to make videos featuring characters from the new movie. More than a dozen Maker Studios creators also participated in the project, including Action Movie Kid, Chris Pirillo and My Froggy Stuff.

Disney’s massive, highly orchestrated product rollout for the new “Star Wars” films is light years away from the stunted campaign staged for the first film in the franchise.

When “Star Wars” opened in May 1977, it was not picked to be a giant hit. Science fiction was not considered a bankable genre and, worse yet, the film had no stars, unless one counted sixty-something Alec Guinness, best known for his Oscar-winning turn in “The Bridge on the River Kwai” twenty years earlier.

So perhaps studio 20th Century Fox and toymaker Kenner can be forgiven for being woefully unprepared for the holiday demand for “Star Wars” toys. Instead of finding Han Solo action figures and model Millennium Falcons under the tree on Christmas morning, kids tore off the wrapping to discover Early Bird Certificate Packages, a cardboard slat featuring photos of “Star Wars” toys, “Star Wars” stickers, a “Star Wars” club membership card and a postage-paid mail-in order card good for four action figures (Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and R2D2), to be delivered an unspecified number of months later.

But in spite of its fumbled launch, “Star Wars” merchandise proved to be a game-changing juggernaut.

“That movie really is looked upon as the launch of the modern movie licensing business, to where, by the early early ’90s, the prospective amount of consumer products business you could do became part of the financial equation as to whether or not a movie would be greenlit,” said Brochstein.

In the nearly 40 years since the original “Star Wars” was released, licensed merchandise from the franchise has grossed more than $12 billion. A healthy portion of that money has gone to original “Star Wars” writer/director George Lucas. Fox owned the first film, lock, stock and sprockets, but the studio let Lucas retain the sequel rights – an indication of how low expectations were for the film — and he used it as leverage. When it came time to negotiate with Fox for what became 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back,” Lucas asked for and was given the merchandising rights to the franchise in exchange for letting Fox distribute the next two sequels, while he retained ownership of the negatives.

The money from the “Star Wars” merchandise enabled Lucas to ambitiously expand his production company Lucasfilm, which spawned successful VFX (Industrial Light & Magic) and sound divisions (Skywalker Sound), helped pioneer nonlinear editing systems (EditDroid and SoundDroid), and incubated Pixar (founded in 1979 as the Graphics Group in Lucasfilm’s Computer Division). It also made it possible for Lucas finance the first three “Star Wars” prequels released by Fox.

Eventually, “Star Wars” would provide Lucas with a cushy retirement. In 2012, Disney bought  Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion and announced an ambitious slate of “Star Wars” sequels, as well as plans to add Star Wars Lands to its theme parks.

And what of Fox, which traded the “Star Wars” merchandising away to Lucas? It still owns the rights to the first film (a.k.a. “Episode IV – A New Hope”).

Cultural Trends

This is a series that spotlights culturally significant and popular uploads to YouTube, curated monthly by ZEFR Insights.

1. Chile’s Calbuco Volcano

For the first time in four decades and without warning, the Calbuco volcano erupted on April 22, 2015. The eruption lasted 90 minutes and sent a plume of volcanic ash six miles into the sky. While there have been no recorded injuries, according to news reports, thousands have been evacuated from nearby town Ensenada. The most disruptive hazard from this eruption has been the resulting falling ash, which has covered regions as far as 165 miles north of the volcano under a thin layer of dust. Considering there have been no reported injuries or casualties, YouTube viewers can happily bask in the glorious colors captured by this clip expressing nature’s boundless unpredictability.

2. Seth Meyers Brings Jon Snow to a Dinner Party

Jon Snow is a terrible dinner guest. This was proven when Seth Meyers invited the Game of Thrones character, played by Kit Harington, to a dinner party on Late Night. While other guests politely chit-chatted about the arrival of spring, Jon warned them, “You won’t be laughing when the White Walkers rip you from limb to limb.” Jon Snow is great at a lot of things (being on Game of Thrones, for instance), but keep him away from the dinner table.

3. Star Wars: Battlefront

The day after the much-talked about Star Wars: Episode VII trailer was released, the video-game trailer, Star Wars: Battlefront, was also revealed. The video game stays true to the films and was shot in the original movie locations, “Not to just capture the environment, but the emotions they evoke as well.” The Battlefront trailer has been out for over a week and already has more than sixteen million views. The game is available for sale starting November 17th for PS4, PC, and Xbox One.

4. Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry has been lighting up the basketball court since his March Madness days at Davidson College, and he continues to amaze year after year as a pro as a member of the Golden State Warriors. With the 2015 NBA Playoffs tipping off this April, Curry has once again emerged as a highlight-reel goldmine on YouTube. Recently, Curry led the Warriors to a 20-point fourth-quarter comeback against the Pelicans, capped off with a game-tying, three-point shot that people can’t stop watching.

5. David Hasselhoff

Have you ever wondered what David Hasselhoff looks like riding a dinosaur? Well, your lucky day has arrived. The ‘80s icon performs the theme song, “True Survivor,” for the Kickstarter campaign to fund the film, Kung Fury. The music video has since gone viral with over 8 million views. This epic music clip is a veritable collision course of mashups, featuring time travel, dinosaurs, ‘80s cop movies, and kung-fu.

The Kickstarter-funded film had a modest starting goal of raising $200,000. By the end of the month, the campaign inspired 17,713 backers to pledge $630,019 to help bring the project to life. Kung Fury will be released on YouTube on May 28th.


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Cultural Trends

Since its release on Friday, November 28th, the first trailer for the latest Star Wars saga is on pace to become the most watched movie trailer ever.

According to ZEFR data, the Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens teaser-trailer already has close to 60 million views on YouTube in just four days. When looking across all trailer view-counts for the first seven days after release, Star Wars comes out on top, with the recent Jurassic World trailer coming in second:



Beyond the Trailer

Moreover, if we want to talk about the total footprint for all Star Wars: Episode VII related content on YouTube, this figure is actually modest. The 60 million views number is only counting “clones” (pun intended) of the trailer.

In the last 30 days, there’s been over 90 million views for all Star Wars: The Force Awakens-related content on YouTube.

In other words, beyond the straight re-uploads, or shares, of the full trailer, there are tons of other amazing fan creations to take into account. From reviews, parodies, and reaction videos, the fans on YouTube wasted little time expressing their excitement for the return of what is perhaps the most beloved movie franchise ever. Below are a few of our favorite fan videos.

Fan Reaction Videos

If you miss the feeling of seeing a new trailer with several hundred other people in a packed theater, YouTube can help. There is a trend called “reaction videos” where fans film themselves watching a popular video. While we’re not qualified behavioral scientists, the act of watching another human’s facial expressions is an enjoyable thing, especially when some genius creates a “reaction video mashup” like this one:


If fans see an opportunity to have a laugh at someone else’s expense, no one is safe from parody, especially not the films’ directors. First, there is the nod to director J.J. Abrams’ penchant for overdoing the lens flare effect in his Star Trek films:

LEGO Everything

In case you haven’t been paying close attention, fans have been making LEGO versions of pretty much everything. But, what’s especially impressive with this new Star Wars LEGO video is how quickly it was made after the teaser-trailer’s debut:

The Force is with the Fans

Once upon a time, in movie theaters far, far away, fans would arrive early enough to catch a hotly anticipated trailer rumored to be premiering before another tentpole film. Fans could gather and groan, moan, grow silent, or cheer depending on just how well the sneak peek delivered on the promise of full-length greatness. Now, as this activity moves online, the social aspect hasn’t diminished. In fact, it has grown.

Movie trailers on YouTube continue to outperform most other categories of uploads. Now, that fans have gotten in on the action, the fact that YouTube is a social platform is only amplified when you take that enthusiasm of a fan-filled movie theater and spread that spirit throughout the entire internet, especially on YouTube.


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