Will Pottermania Strike Again?

On July 15, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will finally hit theaters. It’s been a two year wait for fans who last saw a film based on J.K. Rowling’s popular book series in July 2007, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

So far, I haven’t seen the same frenzy around all things Potter as I did two years ago, when anticipation around the new movie and the release of the final book in the series was everywhere. Will this movie be as big as the last one, or is the momentum low going into this release?

To gauge this, I looked at two aspects of consumers’ online behavior. First, I used compete.com to find out where people have been going when they search for Harry Potter information online in the last few months. Second, I looked at traffic to a few key sites around the releases of both Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince.

Let’s start with the search data. The chart below shows the top 10 sites that people were directed to after going to a major search engine and looking up a term that included the keywords "harry potter" in the three month period between April 1st and June 30th 2009. The sites are ranked by the percentage of all traffic generated by searches including the keyword "harry potter" that went to a particular site, shown with the blue bars.

Visits to these sites made up about 40% of the search referred traffic. What does this tell us about the audience?

  • Many searchers end in a visit to the studio’s site. Warner Brothers, the studio releasing the movie, got the largest share of the search referred traffic, around 11%. Harry Potter searches made up about 17% of WB site’s search traffic in this period.
  • After Warner Brothers, social media and user generated content sites show up frequently in the top 10. In this subgroup, we’re also seeing a mix of mainstream sites (Wikipedia, IMDb, YouTube, Facebook), as well as fan sites, like mugglenet, wikia and fanfiction.net.

Given these results, I decided to look at a few of these sites in more detail to get a feel for interest in the new film: the studio sites, Mugglenet (a popular Potter fan site), YouTube searches that included the words "Harry Potter," and Harry Potter pages on Wikipedia, as shown in the chart below.

*Note: Official studio sites include all of harrypotter.warnerbros.com, which includes all of the movies in the series, and harrypotterorderofthepheonix.com, the microsite advertised with the Order of the Phoenix.

Here we can see that, in terms of overall interest, the marketing around a movie does seem to give all of the sites a lift, with the biggest change in traffic coming around a new theatrical release.

But is Pottermania as strong online now as it was two years ago? If we compare traffic to these sites, in June 2007 (the month before Order of the Phoenix was released) and June 2009 (the month before Half Blood Prince will be released), the indicators are mixed. Aggregate traffic to these four sites is down slightly, but people are also using different sources of information online. The studio site, where we saw most of the searchers visiting, saw a 29% decrease in traffic in June ’09 compared to June ’07. However, the number of people searching for terms including "Harry Potter" on YouTube has jumped up 91%, from about 200K in June 2007 to 400K in June 2009.

So what does this mean for Half Blood Prince? It doesn’t have quite the same online boost that its predecessor did, probably due in part to the fact that there’s no new book launch this year. Still, despite that and delays in the theatrical release date, it looks like it’s poised to draw in a good audience. We’ll find out how well on July 15th.