Predicting box-office results: Who cares?

Posted by Lori Luechtefeld on September 17th, 2013 at 12:33 pm

In June, Google claimed that by measuring search volume and other factors around an upcoming movie release, it can predict the movie's opening weekend. At the iMedia Entertainment Summit in Hollywood on Tuesday, Cheryl Idell, EVP of client solutions at Nielsen, asked: "Who cares?"

The best part was that she asked it directly to co-panelist Reggie Panaligan, the analytical lead for media and entertainment at Google. Idell challenged Panaligan with the notion that entertainment marketers don't care about predicting a movie's box office. They care about influencing it. So why bother with the prediction at all?

Panaligan didn't miss a beat in his response. Yes, he noted, the ability to predict a movie's opening weekend is the fun nugget of information that makes headlines. But what he and his colleagues at Google really look to do is use the company's search information to help studio clients make the data actionable.

Panelist Ben Carlson, co-creator and president of Fizziology, chimed in and noted that the last mile of tracking that analytics companies do is often what people talk about most. But it's the least valuable to marketers. What really matters, he noted, is early tracking that enables marketers to make smart decisions with their campaigns. With movies releases, this often manifests as social media buzz -- the buzz that eventually leads to people voting with their wallets at the theater.

"So what is buzz? What does that mean? Is it a real predictor?" challenged Julie Rieger, EVP of media and marketing planning at 20th Century Fox.

Carlson responded that yes, it is. Buzz can predict a movie's success -- provided there are sufficient comps to guide the predictions. In this regard, surprises still happen. The example he gave was the most recent installment of the "Scream" franchise. Based on the sheer volume of social buzz, his company expected a much bigger box-office take for the movie. But what those metrics didn't account for initially was that the buzz was a mix of horror movie enthusiasm and nostalgia. And that nostalgia buzz -- largely among people who are likely to have young families these days -- didn't translate into people heading out to the movies.

Such insights, Carlson noted, guide predictions moving forward. And as more data amasses, marketers are positioned to leverage past examples to guide their future campaigns.

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