Determining box office success

I had not actually planned to write anything this week because someone said that the world was going to end on Saturday.

It didn’t.

And so this week I present a collection of papers on the factors that shape the box office performance of films. The majority of these papers are the final versions from university research depositories, but some may be pre-prints or drafts so check before you cite.

The best place to start is undoubtedly this paper from Jehoshua Eliashberg, Anita Elberse, and Mark A.A.M. Leenders from 2006, which provides a summary of research in this area and illustrates the type of research carried out in the fields of economics, retailing, and marketing that is entirely absent from film studies texts.

Eliashberg J, Elberse A, and Leenders MAAM 2006 The motion picture industry: critical issues in practice, current research, and new research directions, Marketing Sceince 25 (6): 638-661.

The motion picture industry has provided a fruitful research domain for scholars in marketing and other disciplines. The industry has high economic importance and is appealing to researchers because it offers both rich data that cover the entire product lifecycle for many new products and because it provides many unsolved “puzzles.” Although the amount of scholarly research in this area is rapidly growing, its impact on practice has not been as significant as in other industries (e.g., consumer packaged goods). In this article, we discuss critical practical issues for the motion picture industry, review existing knowledge on those issues, and outline promising research directions. Our review is organized around the three key stages in the value chain for theatrical motion pictures: production, distribution, and exhibition. Focusing on what we believe are critical managerial issues, we propose various conjectures—framed either as research challenges or specific research hypotheses—related to each stage in the value chain and often involved in understanding consumer moviegoing behavior.

The web page of Jehoshua Eliashberg at Wharton is here, and that of Anita Elberse at Harvard Business School is here. The webpage for Mark Leenders is here, and features the intriguing quote, “Hollywood movies and medicines are very similar from a marketing perspective.”

Basuroy S, Chetterjee S, and Ravid SA 2003 How critical are critical reviews? The box office effects of film critics, star power, and budgets, Journal of Marketing 67 (4): 103-117.

The authors investigate how critics affect the box office performance of films and how the effects may be moderated by stars and budgets. The authors examine the process through which critics affect box office revenue, that is, whether they influence the decision of the film going public (their role as influencers), merely predict the decision (their role as predictors), or do both. They find that both positive and negative reviews are correlated with weekly box office revenue over an eight-week period, suggesting that critics play a dual role: They can influence and predict box office revenue. However, the authors find the impact of negative reviews (but not positive reviews) to diminish over time, a pattern that is more consistent with critics’ role as influencers. The authors then compare the positive impact of good reviews with the negative impact of bad reviews to find that film reviews evidence a negativity bias; that is, negative reviews hurt performance more than positive reviews help performance, but only during the first week of a film’s run. Finally, the authors examine two key moderators of critical reviews, stars and budgets, and find that popular stars and big budgets enhance box office revenue for films that receive more negative critical reviews than positive critical reviews but do little for films that receive more positive reviews than negative reviews. Taken together, the findings not only replicate and extend prior research on critical reviews and box office performance but also offer insight into how film studios can strategically manage the review process to enhance box office revenue.

The web page of Suman Basuroy at The University of Oklahoma is here, and has links to his many papers on the marketing of motion pictures.

Craig S, Douglas S, and Greene W 2003 Culture matters: a hierarchical linear random parameters model for predicting success of US films in foreign markets, Manuscript, Department of Marketing, Stern School of Business, NYU.

Culture matters in ways that are salient for products with significant cultural content. In particular, the cultural context in which a product is launched plays an important role in its success. The present study examines the impact of cultural context on the box office performance of US films in foreign markets. A hierarchical linear random parameters model is used to assess the impact of national culture, degree of Americanization, US box office and film genre on performance in eight foreign markets. The model allowed for film-specific heterogeneity to be accounted for and for hypotheses to be tested at both the film level and the country level. Results indicate that films perform better in countries that are culturally closer to the US and those that have a higher degree of Americanization. The genre of the film and US box office success also had a significant impact on performance. Some implications are drawn for managers releasing films in foreign markets.

Dellarocas C, Farag NA, and Zhang X 2005 Using online ratings as a proxy of word-of-mouth in motion picture revenue forecasting, SSRN Working Paper.

The emergence of online product review forums has enabled firms to monitor consumer opinions about their products in real-time by mining publicly available information from the Internet. This paper studies the value of online product ratings in revenue forecasting of new experience goods. Our objective is to understand what metrics of online ratings are the most informative indicators of a product’s future sales and how the explanatory power of such metrics compares to that of other variables that have traditionally been used for similar purposes in the past. We focus our attention on online movie ratings and incorporate our findings into practical motion picture revenue forecasting models that use very early (opening weekend) box office and movie ratings data to generate remarkably accurate forecasts of a movie’s future revenue trajectory. Among the metrics of online ratings we considered, we found the valence of user ratings to be the most significant explanatory variable. The gender diversity of online raters was also significant, supporting the theory that word-of-mouth that is more widely dispersed among different social groups is more effective. Interestingly, our analysis found user ratings to be more influential in predicting future revenues than average professional critic reviews. Overall, our study has established that online ratings are a useful source of information about a movie’s long-term prospects, enabling exhibitors and distributors to obtain revenue forecasts of a given accuracy sooner than with older techniques.

Elberse A 2007 The power of stars: do star actors drive the success of movies?, Journal of Marketing 71 (4): 102-120.

Is the involvement of stars critical to the success of motion pictures? Film studios, which regularly pay multimillion-dollar fees to stars, seem to be driven by that belief. This article sheds light on the returns on this investment using an event study that considers the impact of more than 1200 casting announcements on trading behavior in a simulated and real stock market setting. The author finds evidence that the involvement of stars affects movies’ expected theatrical revenues and provides insight into the magnitude of this effect. For example, the estimates suggest that, on average, stars are worth approximately $3 million in theatrical revenues. In a cross-sectional analysis grounded in the literature on group dynamics, the author also examines the determinants of the magnitude of stars’ impact on expected revenues. Among other things, the author shows that the stronger a cast already is, the greater is the impact of a newly recruited star with a track record of box office successes or with a strong artistic reputation. Finally, in an extension to the study, the author does not find that the involvement of stars in movies increases the valuation of film companies that release the movies, thus providing insufficient grounds to conclude that stars add more value than they capture. The author discusses implications for managers in the motion picture industry.

Elliot C and Simmons R 2007 Determinants of UK Box Office Success: The Impact of Quality Signals, Lancaster University Management School Working Paper 2007/012.

This paper analyses the roles of various potential quality signals in the demand for cinema in the United Kingdom using a breakdown of advertising totals by media category. Estimation of a two stage least squares model with data for 546 films released in the United Kingdom shows that the impacts of types of advertising on box office revenues vary both in channels and magnitudes of impact. We also offer a more sophisticated treatment of critical reviews than hitherto by examining the spread (entropy) rather than just the mean rating.

Hennig-Thurau T, Houston MB, Sridhar S 2006 Can good marketing carry a bad product? Evidence from the motion picture industry, Marketing Letters 17 (3): 205-219.

We examine the relative roles of marketing actions and product quality in determining commercial success. Using the motion picture context, in which product quality is difficult for consumers to anticipate and information on product success is available for different points in time, we model the effects of studio actions and movie quality on a movie’s sales during different phases of its theatrical run. For a sample of 331 recent motion pictures, structural equation modeling demonstrates that studio actions primarily influence early box office results, whereas movie quality influences both short- and long-term theatrical outcomes. The core results are robust across moderating conditions. We identify two data segments with follow-up latent class regressions and explore the degree of studio actions needed to “save” movies of varying quality.We finally offer some implications for research and management.

Hennig-Thurau T, Walsh G, and Bode M 2004 Exporting media products: understanding the success and failure of hollywood movies in Germany, Advances in Consumer Research 31 (1): 633-638.

Rising production costs in the US motion picture industry make overseas markets essential for movie studios’ economic survival. However, movie marketers can rarely build on systematic research when attempting to customize movies or movie-related communications to different cultural settings. In this paper, we draw from cultural theory to develop a conceptual framework of US movies’ success in foreign markets. Propositions are then developed that offer insight into the differing impact of a number of factors on movie success in the US and Germany. Marketing implications will be discussed.

The webpage for Thorsten Hennig-Thurau at the Cass Business School is here.

Sharda R and Delen D 2006 Predicting box-office success of motion pictures with neural networks, Expert Systems with Applications 30 (2): 243-254. [NB: although there is no specific URL associated with it, there is a downloadable version of this paper which you will find if your search for the title in Google Scholar].

Predicting box-office receipts of a particular motion picture has intrigued many scholars and industry leaders as a difficult and challenging problem. In this study, the use of neural networks in predicting the financial performance of a movie at the box-office before its theatrical release is explored. In our model, the forecasting problem is converted into a classification problem-rather than forecasting the point estimate of box-office receipts, a movie based on its box-office receipts in one of nine categories is classified, ranging from a ‘flop’ to a ‘blockbuster.’ Because our model is designed to predict the expected revenue range of a movie before its theatrical release, it can be used as a powerful decision aid by studios, distributors, and exhibitors. Our prediction results is presented using two performance measures: average percent success rate of classifying a movie’s success exactly, or within one class of its actual performance. Comparison of our neural network to models proposed in the recent literature as well as other statistical techniques using a 10-fold cross validation methodology shows that the neural networks do a much better job of predicting in this setting.

Terry N, Butler M, and De’Armond D 2005 The determinants of domestic box office performance in the motion picture industry, Southwestern Economic Review 32: 137-148.

This paper examines the determinants of box office revenue in the motion picture industry. The sample consists of 505 films released during 2001-2003. Regression results indicate the primary determinants of box office earnings are critic reviews, award nominations, sequels, Motion Picture Association of America rating, budget, and release exposure. Specific results include the observation that a ten percent increase in critical approval garners an extra seven million dollars at the box office, an academy award nomination is worth six million dollars, the built in audience from sequels are worth eighteen million dollars, and R-rated movies are penalized twelve million dollars.


About Nick Redfern

I graduated from the University of Kent in 1998 with a degree in Film Studies and History, and was awarded an MA by the same institution in 2002. I received my Ph.D. from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2006 for a thesis title 'Regionalism and the Cinema in the United Kingdom, 1992 to 2002.' I have taught at Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire. My research interests include regional film cultures and industries in the United Kingdom; cognition and communication in the cinema; anxiety in contemporary Hollywood cinema; cinemetrics; and film style and film form. My work has been published in Entertext, the International Journal of Regional and Local Studies, the New Review of Film and Television Studies, Cyfrwng: Media Wales Journal, and the Journal of British Cinema and Television.

Posted on May 26, 2011, in British Cinema, Film Industry, Film Studies, German Cinema, Hollywood, Motion Picture Distribution, Motion Picture Exhibition, Motion Picture Production and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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