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Research on movie studios

This week it was announced that Twickenham Film Studios in west London is to close just one year shy of its centenary. Among the many films to be shot at Twickenham are Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Repulsion, Help, Alfie, Superman, 1984, Bladerunner, and The Iron Lady. You can find articles on the closure of Twickenham from the Guardian, the Telegraph, the BBC, Hollywood Reporter, and The New York Times.

So this week I though we would have a collection of papers looking at movie studios, focussing how they have operated in the past and how they operate today. This is an area reasonably well covered in film studies, but there is also a lot of interesting research done in management and business schools, and economics and geography departments that should also be used by film scholars.

Corts KS 2001 The strategic effects of vertical market structure: common agency and divisionalization, Journal of Economics and Management Strategy 10 (4): 509-528.

I examine the release date scheduling of all motion pictures that went into wide release in the US in 1995 and 1996 to investigate the effects of vertical market structure on competition. The evidence suggests that complex vertical structures involving multiple upstream or downstream firms generally do not achieve efficient outcomes in movie scheduling. In addition, analysis of the data suggests that the production divisions of the major studios act as integrated parts of the studio, rather than as independent competing firms.

DeFillippi RJ and Arthur MB 1998 Paradox in project-based enterprise: the case of filmmaking, California Management Review 40 (2): 125-139.

This article describes field research into the creation of an independently produced UK-US feature film.

Finney A 2010 Value chain restructuring in the global film industry, The 4th Annual Conference on ‘Cultural Production in a Global Context: The Worldwide Film Industries, Grenoble Ecole de Management, Grenoble, France, 3-5 June, 2010.

The global film industry is currently experiencing a significant restructuring of its existing value chain. This digitally-driven restructuring provides a dynamic framework for business strategy analysis, with potential lessons and future indicators that have wider implications for global film strategy. To date, academics, industry commentators and practitioners have exclusively focused on the disruptive aspects of changing user behavior; the ‘free’ versus ‘paid’ business models for distribution of filmed content via the Internet; the collapse of ‘windows’ within the exploitation chain; and the actions of Hollywood, an entrenched oligopoly comprising six studios. A key sector of cultural and commercial significance that so far has been excluded is the non-Hollywood film industry- the ‘independent’ film sector. The independent film value chain (FVC) is considerably more fragmented and vulnerable when compared to the studio system of content creation. This paper establishes in what ways the chain models differ, how changes in business models and exploitation are affecting recoupment, and therefore film financing models, and then examines and posits a range of methodological and qualitative approaches to study this ‘current restructuring’ dynamic. While the author’s main focus is on the value chain prior to exploitation, it should be acknowledged that the advent of rapidly compressed exploitation windows has a reflexive impact – both commercial and cultural – on the architecture of film content creation. This article is intended as a precursor to the author’s ensuing doctoral research into film value chain restructuring, rather than a definitive piece of academic research in of itself. Therefore comments and advice on global value chain restructuring – with the film industry serving as the research case study – are encouraged and welcomed by the author at this early stage of research and analysis.

Goldsmith B and Regan T 2003 Cinema Cities, Media Cities: The Contemporary International Studio Complex, Australian Key Centre for Cultural and Media Policy and Australian Film Commission.

This comprehensive study of contemporary international studios considers the circumstances in which the rash of studio complex building and renovating has occurred in places as diverse as Rome, London, Berlin, Prague, Toronto, Sydney, the Gold Coast and Melbourne.

Miller D and Shamsie J 1996 The resource-based view of the firm in two environments: the Hollywood film studios from 1936 to 1965, The Academy of Management Journal 39 (3): 519-543.

This article continues to operationally define and test the resource-based view of the firm in a study of the major U.S. film studios from 1936 to 1965. We found that property-based resources in the form of exclusive long-term contracts with stars and theaters helped financial performance in the stable, predictable environment of 1936-50. In contrast, knowledge-based resources in the form of production and coordinative talent and budgets boosted financial performance in the more uncertain (changing and unpredictable) post-television environment of 1951-65.

Robins JA 1993 Organization as strategy: restructuring production in the film industry, Strategic  Management Journal 14 (S1): 103-118.

Few changes in the structure of firms have attracted as much attention during the last decade as the movement away from integrated production and toward cooperative relations among independent organizations. Despite recent emphasis on these strategies of ‘disaggregation’ and ‘network’ organization, little quantitative research exists on the impact of this type of reorganization on economic performance—at least in part due to the difficulty of obtaining appropriate data. The economic impact of disaggregation is examined in this paper using data on film production in the period after World War II.

Storper M and Chistopherson S 1987 Flexible specialization and regional industrial agglomerations: the case of the US motion picture industryAnnals of the Association of American Geographers 77 (1): 104-117.

In the contemporary motion picture industry, production is vertically disintegrated, organized around transactions among a network of small firms. In this regard, motion picture production resembles other industries whose production organizations can be characterized as flexibly specialized. In this theoretically informed case study, we trace the transformation of the industry from vertically integrated to vertically disintegrated flexibly specialized production and elucidate how this transformation affects the spatial location of production activities and labor market dynamics.

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The DCMS Film Policy Review I

This week the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport published the latest review of film policy in the UK. The report is titled A Future for British Film: It Begins with the Audience, and you can access it here. This week’s post covers just a few first impressions I have formed having read the report once. A more detailed and more considered reflection on the issues raised will have to wait for a couple of weeks.

This is the first wide-ranging report on film policy in the UK since A Bigger Picture was published in 1998, though there have been numerous reports covering  a broad range of topics in the past 14 years. This report should of course been undertaken before the dismantling of the UK Film Council because now it is a case of tailoring policy to the institutions we have rather than being able to flexibly adapt to new demands. And it is the new that wrecks policy maker’s fun. A Bigger Picture was almost immediately rendered obsolete by the arrival of digital technology. 3D was old technology in 1998, and now its at the top of the box office charts.

So, first impressions.

1. I like the demand-side approach rather than the focus on production typical of these sorts of reports. The report doesn’t ignore production, but the re-orientation of film policy away from ‘lets produce more British films that on-one will see’ to ‘let’s get people watching films the British films that are available’ is much needed. British film production has been reasonably healthy since the mid-1990s (at least compared to the dark days 1980s), but a long-standing problem is getting screen time in a multiplex dominated market. There’s no point making films people can’t see and there’s no point in making MORE films can’t see which has been UK film policy since 1985. There’s always the possibility that some more British films will make money and so reduce their demands on lottery funding.

The only concern is that focussing resources on independent and specialised film will produce limited benefits from a lot of investment. Audiences for these types of films are smaller than audiences for mainstream cinema, and so there may not be much growth in audiences to be had. The report says that it is important to increase audience choice, and who would disagree with that. But how do you measure the potential for audience growth of specialised films? How do you judge how much money to invest in developing this audience given that audience growth might be quite small? And what if the audience doesn’t want to watch these films?

And how do you get cinema chains to stop showing crap like Green Lantern? Especially when it turns out the average occupancy rate of cinema auditoria in the UK is 20 per cent! Solving the problem of too many bad Hollywood films on British cinema screens would go much further than anything the BFI could ever do. The problem of release windows is recognised in the report and reforming this aspect of the UK film sector in a distribution-led industry will have more impact than simply focussing on production. This is to be applauded. But release windows are determined in Hollywood by multinational corporations who have the power to dictate terms to exhibitors, and why should they care about a policy framework that offers no advantage to them? US producers come to the UK for the quality of the filmmakers, the facilities, and the tax incentives. Where are the incentives for distribution that will make them care?

2. I also like the commitment to ensuring the important role of the BFI Research and Statistics Unit in recommendation 53 (see below), though the suggestion the BFI establishes a ‘research and knowledge’ does raise the questions, doesn’t the RSU already exist and isn’t already fulfilling this function? I’m also a little confused by the recommendation

the BFI be designated a ‘producer of official statistics’ under the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, as was the UK Film Council up until 2011.

Wasn’t this function taken over by the BFI? And if not, why not?

But a revved up RSU means more statistical fun for me, and that’s something to look forward to.

3. I don’t like the make up of the panel that produced the report:

  • Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury, former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Chairman)
  • Will Clarke, Independent film distributor, founder and former CEO, Optimum Releasing
  • Lord Julian Fellowes, Oscar® winning writer and actor
  • Matthew Justice, UK film producer and Managing Director, Big Talk
  • Michael Lynton, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Sony Pictures Entertainment
  • Tim Richards, Chief Executive, Vue Entertainment
  • Tessa Ross, CBE, Controller of Film and Drama, Channel 4
  • Libby Savill, Head of Film and Television, Olswang LLP
  • Iain Smith, OBE, film producer and Chair, the British Film Commission Advisory Board

There is, of course, no reason why any of these people should not have been involved in the review process, but who is missing from this list?

That’s right, academics. There is no one from film studies specialising in film industries, film policy, or British cinema; and there is no economist, sociologist, or geographer specialising in film/media/creative/cultural industries.

There is a great deal of research on the film industry in the UK and yet very little of this is cited by the report. The report contains a list of references 108 references, including a handful to Margaret Dickinson and Sylvia Harvey, Rob Cheek, Maud Mansfield, and Joe Lampel. (None of these references are properly referenced. If this were submitted by a student you would fail it on grounds of not having a proper bibliography. It really is awful). There are no references to the wider body of research of the film industry in the UK, and this is curious because one of the recommendations addresses precisely this issue.

53. The Panel notes the need for a strong evidence base for film policy and recommends the BFI establishes a ‘Research and Knowledge’ function to a) collaborate with industry and stakeholders to generate robust information and data on which to base policy interventions, b) assist in the design of BFI policy and funding interventions from the outset to produce learning that can inform future policy, c) actively disseminate results and learning from funding interventions, and d) over time build and maintain a valuable and accessible knowledge base for the benefit of the public, the BFI, Government, industry, academia and all other stakeholders in film.

It seems odd to recommend that we need a strong evidence base when the existing available research is largely ignored. This problem was raised at the symposium on research and policy making I attended last October (you can read about it here), and it’s nice to see the above recommendation in the report as it means there is a greater chance progress will be made in this area. But this type of report is precisely the sort of situation in which this type of research should have been used, and it would have been nice to see the panel take the opportunity to do just that. Otherwise, what’s the point in doing research?

But what I really don’t like about recommendation 53 is that it envisages academia as a consumer of data produced by the BFI’s ‘research and knowledge’ function rather than being fully integrated into the policy making framework. Academics shouldn’t be sat on the sidelines of film policy. Any future panel reporting on film policy should include academics among its membership – if only to recommend the relevant research outputs to the rest of the panel. It is the BFI’s responsibility to make sure this is achieved sooner rather than not at all. Who else do they think is going create and fulfil the ‘research and knowledge’ function?

It seems odd to say it, but I think the case for film studies could be put to the BFI more strongly.

4. Finally, this report presents a great deal of statistical information and therefore makes the assumption that its readership will be statistically literate enough to understand it. I raised the issue of statistical literacy at last year’s symposium but didn’t get much of response. Given the use of tables, graphs (which I do NOT like), and numerical summaries in this report it is not an issue than can be ignored. The place of statistical literacy in film studies needs to be addressed by the BFI, and I will have more to say on this topic over the next few weeks.


Genre and the UK box office 2011

The top 50 grossing films in 2011 at the UK box office account for a total of $1264 million (approximately £813 million at £1=$1.5547). A breakdown of the total gross by genre is given in Table 1. (For consistency, I’ve employed the same genre classifications that used in earlier posts).

The highest grossing film by quite some distance was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2) with $117.2 million (~£75.4 million), easily outstripping The King’s Speech ($75.0 million/£48.2 million).

Table 1 Top 50 UK grossing films 2011 by genre (Source: Box Office Mojo)

Two of the top 10 films were action/adventure films: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (3D) (4th) and Transformers 3 (7th). The performance of the third Transformers film is comparable to the first two (give or take an adjustment for inflation): Transformers grossed $49.9 million in 2007 and Revenge of the Fallen grossed $44.4 million in 2009 (these figures are in 2010 US dollars), while T3 grossed $45.1 million (in 2011 dollars). In contrast, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides grossed only $54.2 million (2011 dollars) compared to $106.8 million for Dead Man’s Chest in 2006 and $85.6 million for At World’s End in 2007 (both in 2010 dollars). Thus the Transformers franchise has maintained its level from film to film, whereas the gap between the 2007 and 2011 films and the loss of key cast members (Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly) for On Stranger Tides has seen the Pirates franchise shed a substantial part of its value in the UK market.

2011 was comedy’s year. Comedy just beat out action/adventure as the second highest grossing genre and accounted for seven films in the top 50, but of these four made it into the top 10: The Inbetweeners Movie, The Hangover Part II, Bridesmaids, and Johnny English Reborn. The median gross for 54 comedy films to make the top 50 in the UK from 2006 to 2010, inclusive, is $12.84 million (in 2010 dollars); but the median gross last year (in 2011 dollars) was $32.0 million. The Inbetweeners Movie is the highest grossing comedy film in the UK in the past six years with $71.2 million/£45.8 million, easily beating Borat into second place (which grossed $49.8 million in 2006, in 2010 dollars). No matter how you look at it, that’s a big success for a movie based on a British TV show. Paul (21st), Horrible Bosses (27th), and Bad Teacher (37th) were less impressive, but comedy was the big story at the UK box office in 2011.

The most frequently occurring genre is family films accounting for 15 films, which have not performed outstandingly well. In fact this genre did not perform even close to family films in recent years, when Toy Story 3, Shrek 3, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and Up have been amongst the very highest grossing films in the UK. The highest grossing family film in 2011 was Tangled, which was only the ninth highest grossing film of the year. Eight of the family films grossed less than $15.54 million or £10 million pounds. Why might this be the case? Well, if we look at the family films that made it into the top fifty (Table 2) we note that many of them are animated films while very few are love action films. It may be that the family genre suffered from a lack of variety with a glut of animation and too few other types of family films to attract a diverse audience. There is no Night at the Museum film in this year’s top 50, and Mr. Popper’s Penguins is too close to Happy Feet to make the difference worth noting. Horrid Henry seems to have performed particularly poorly. It is also interesting that The Lion King outperformed many new films, but then it would not be unfair to state that, compared to recent years, this year’s animated offerings were not as good as in recent years. Certainly, there is no Ponyo or Up amongst those films listed in Table 2.

Table 2 Rank and total grosses of family films in the UK 2011 (Source: Box Office Mojo)

As noted above the top grossing film last year was a fantasy/science fiction film, but Harry Potter accounted for 65% of the total gross for this genre in the top 50. Rise of the Planet of the Apes performed respectably as the 11th highest grossing film, but the other three films (Super 8, Source Code, and The Immortals) all feature in the bottom 10 films. In fact, Source Code and The Immortals were ranked 49th and 50th respectively.

The King’s Speech accounts for 51% of the gross of drama films, with the three other films performing modestly. The Black Swan ranked 15th, grossing $26.0 million ($16.7 million), but I can’t decide if this is a good performance of a film about ballet or a disappointment for an Academy Award winning film. 127 Hours (39th) and The Fighter (47th) also performed poorly despite Oscar nominations and awards.

Beyond these five genres, there is very little to note about the others.

The majority of the gross for romance films is accounted for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, the 6th highest grossing film of the year. This Twilight film achieved similar rankings to Eclipse (2010 – 6th) and New Moon (2009 – 7th); and achieved similar grosses. The other romance films – One Day (38th) and Friends with Benefits (46th) – aren’t worth commentating on.

Only two horror films made the top 50: Paranormal Activity 3 (26th) and Insidious (42nd). Measured in 2010 dollars, Paranormal Activity grossed $16.3 million in 2009 and Paranormal Activity 2 grossed $17.5 million in 2010. The third instalment in the series grossed $17.0 million in the UK (in 2011 dollars), and so while this series is not troubling the upper reaches of the box office charts it is consistent in the level of its gross from film to film and year to year.

The one film classed as ‘other’ is the Coen Brother’s version of True Grit, which ranked 35th.

Crime/thriller films are barely worth commenting on. The highest grossing film in this genre (if you don’t consider it be an action/adventure movie) is Sherlock Holes: Games of Shadows (18th) and this film was only released on 16 December 2011. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (23rd), Limitless (33rd), and Unknown (44th) did very little business. The television schedules in the UK are full to overflowing with crime dramas – Lewis (and the upcoming Endeavour), Midsommer Murders, New Tricks, Sherlock, and so on, along with masses of imports from America (CSI, Criminal Minds, NCIS, The Closer, etc) and Europe (The Killing, Wallander, Romanzo criminale) – so there is clearly an audience for producers to tap into. But no one makes crime movies anymore. Weird.

Correspondence analysis of genre preferences in UK film audiences

UPDATE: this piece has now been published as Correspondence Analysis of Genre Preferences in UK Film Audiences, Participations 9 (2) 2012: 45-55. The article can be downloaded here.

UPDATE: I’ve now done a similar analysis for genre preferences in UK television audiences using data from the same BFI study, which you can find on this blog post.

Genre provides viewers with a first reference point for a film, and functions as a ‘quasi-search’ characteristic through which audiences assess product traits without having seen a particular film (Hennig-Thurau et al. 2001). In a market place comprising a large number of unique cultural products with no unambiguous reference brand, audiences form experience-based norms at the aggregate level of genre rather than the specific level of individual films (Desai & Basuroy 2005). Consequently, genre is the means by which the film industry alerts viewers that pleasures similar to those previously enjoyed are available without compromising the need for novel products; and empirical research has shown that genre is an important factor – if not the most important – in audiences’ decision making about which film to see (Litman 1983, Da Silva 1998).

Understanding audience preferences for certain types of films is therefore a priority for film producers and distributors as this will be a factor in deciding which films to produce and how to market them effectively. In this short paper we analyze the genre preferences of UK film audiences, applying correspondence analysis to data produced by the British Film Institute’s research into the cultural contribution of film in the UK. Specifically, we focus on how genre preferences vary with gender and age when treated as a single composite variable.

The BFI dataset

In July 2011, the British Film Institute (BFI) published a report, Opening Our Eyes (Northern Alliance/Ipsos Media CT 2011), examining the cultural contribution of film in the UK [1]. This report analysed how audiences consume films and attitudes to the impact of film based on a series of qualitative ‘paired depth’ interviews and an online survey of 2036 UK adults aged between 15 and 74.

Question C.1 in the questionnaire invited respondents to express preferences for their favourite genres/type of films from a list comprising action/adventure, animation, art house/films with particular artistic value, comedy, comic book movie, classic films, documentary, drama, family film, fantasy, foreign language film, horror, musicals, romance, romantic comedy, science fiction, suspense/thriller, other, none, and don’t know. Respondents were able to select as many genres as they wished, and the data represents the number of respondents expressing a preference for that genre. Figure 7 in the final report presents the breakdown of genre preferences by gender, concluding that male audience members exhibit stronger preferences for science fiction, action/adventure, and horror films while women preferred romantic comedies, family films, romances, and musicals [2]. In an additional detailed summary made available online, genre preferences were broken down by age group. These results showed younger respondents were more likely select comedy, horror, animation, and comic book as their favourite genres, whereas older audience members were more likely to select dramas, documentaries, and classic films.

The report did not present any findings regarding genre preferences based on the combination of the gender and the age of the subjects, and it is this interaction analysed here. In addition to publishing the final report the BFI has made the full set of result tables from the quantitative survey available to researchers freely online. Table 416 of this output contains the data on gender, age, and genre preferences, and is the basis for our correspondence analysis. We use nineteen of the categories listed above, with ‘don’t knows’ excluded from the analysis. Table 416 lists the additional genre categories of westerns, historical, war, and gangster films, and these have been included in the category ‘other.’

Correspondence analysis

Correspondence analysis (CA) is a multivariate technique for exploring and describing frequency data defined by two or more categorical variables in a contingency table. By calculating chi-square distances between the row and column profiles in a table, CA determines the (dis)similarity of the reported frequencies. CA aims to reveal the structure inherent in the data, and does not assume an underlying probability distribution. Consequently, CA requires that all of the relevant variables are included in the analysis and that the entries in the data matrix are nonnegative, but makes no other assumptions. CA does not support hypothesis testing, and cannot be used to determine the statistical significance of relationships between variables. Here we describe the outputs of the correspondence analysis and their interpretation, and the reader can find introductions to the theory and mathematics of CA in Clausen (1998), Beh (2004), and Greenacre (2007).

The first output of the correspondence analysis is a table describing the variation in the contingency table, referred to as the inertia. The total inertia in the table is equal to the chi-square statistic divided by the total sample size:  Φ² = χ²/N. This variation is decomposed into the principal inertias of a set of dimensions, each accounting for a percentage of the total inertia. For an r × c table, the maximum number of dimensions is min(r-1, c-1). The number of dimensions retained for analysis is based on the first k dimensions to cumulatively exceed a threshold (typically 80 or 90 per cent of the total inertia), all those individual dimensions accounting for more than 1/(min[r, c] – 1)% of the total inertia, or by reference to a scree plot of the inertias to determine where the drop in the percentage accounted for by a dimension drops away less rapidly. It is also dependent on our ability to give a meaningful interpretation to the dimensions selected. In selecting only a subset of the available we lose some of the information contained in the original table, but in discarding some dimensions we are able to see structure of the data more clearly for as little cost as possible.

As a form of geometric data analysis, correspondence analysis enables the information in a contingency table to be represented as clouds of points in low-dimensional graphical displays (see Le Roux & Rouanet 2005, Greenacre 2010: 79-88). The origin of the graph represents the average row (column) profile, and by assessing the distance of points from the centroid of the clouds we describe the variation within the table and their similarity. Row (column) points that lie close to the origin are similar to the average profile of the row (columns). Data points that lie far from the origin indicate categories for which the observed counts differ from the expected values under independence and account for a larger portion of the inertia. Points from the same data set lying close together represent rows (columns) that have similar profiles, and data points that are distant from one another indicate that the rows (columns) are remote. The distance between row points and column points cannot be interpreted as meaningful as they do not represent a defined quantity. The angle (θ) subtended at the origin defines the association between row and column points: when the angle is acute (θ < 90°) points are interpreted as positively correlated, points are negatively correlated if the angle between them is obtuse (θ > 90°), and points that subtend a right angle (θ = 90°) are not associated (Pusha et al. 2009).

In addition to the graphical displays, a detailed numerical summary of the correspondence analysis is produced. The mass of a row (column) indicates the proportion accounted for by that category with respect to all the rows (columns), and is simply the row (column) total of divided by the total sample size; while the inertia of a data point is its contribution to the overall inertia. The squared correlation describes that part of the variation of a data point explained by a particular dimension. The quality of a data point measures how well it is represented by the graph, and is equal to the sum of the squared correlations of the dimensions retained for the analysis. The higher the quality of a data point the better the extracted dimensions represent it, and ranges from 0 (completely unrepresentative) and 1 (perfectly represented). The absolute contribution of a data point describes the proportion of the inertia of each dimension it explains, and is determined by both the mass of the data point and its distance from the centroid.

Gender, age, and genre preferences

Table 416 of the BFI’s results output presents counts of genre preferences sorted by gender, by age, and by gender and age. As our interest lies in the variation of genre preferences (19 categories) among UK audiences based on both gender and age we use only this last part of the table, treating ‘gender-age’ as an interactively coded variable with 10 categories combining all the levels of the variables gender (2 categories) and age (5 categories) (Greenacre 2007: 121-128). We apply correspondence analysis to this table using the ca package (version 0.33; see Nenadić & Greenacre 2007) in R (version 2.13.0).

Table 1 presents the 10 × 19 cross-tabulation of ‘gender-age’ with genre. The chi-square statistic for this table is 1312.28 (N = 13086, df = 162, p = <0.01), and we therefore conclude that there is a statistically significant association between gender-age and genre preferences for UK film audiences. However, there is only a weak correlation between ‘gender-age’ and genre preference, with just 10% of the variation in Table 1 due to dependence: Φ² = χ²/N = 1312.28/13086 = 0.1003.

Table 1 Cross-tabulation of interactively-coded gender-age variable with genre. Cell counts represent the number of respondents in each group expressing a preference for a genre. Source: BFI/Northern Alliance/Ipsos Media CT. Click on the table to see it full size.

Table 2 shows the principal inertias, percentages, and cumulative percentage of each dimension, with a scree plot of the inertias. The first two dimensions account for 90.6 per cent of the inertia and the scree plot flattens out after the second dimension. Consequently, these dimensions were retained for analysis and the remainder were discarded.

Table 2 Principal inertias of the correspondence analysis applied to Table 1 explained by dimensions with scree plot

Figure 1 is the resulting symmetric map based on these two dimensions. Tables 3a and 3b present the detailed numerical summary of the results for the rows (gender-age categories) and columns (genre categories), respectively. Click on the graph to see it full size.

Figure 1 Symmetric correspondence analysis map of interactively coded ‘gender-age’ cross-tabulated with genre for UK film audiences

Table 3a Detailed numerical summary of correspondence analysis by gender-age. Click on the table to see it full size.

Table 3b Detailed numerical summary of correspondence analysis by genre. Click on the table to see it full size.


From Table 3a and Figure 1 we see a clear horizontal separation between the male and female respondents, with points arranged vertically by age group from youngest to oldest within each gender category. Consequently, we interpret the principal axes in terms of the rows of Table 1, with the first dimension understood as gender and the second dimension as age. As gender accounts for 64.3 per cent of the total inertia compared to 26.3 per cent for age, this factor is dominant and explains the major part of the variation in Table 1. The quality for the gender-age groups is high (see Table 3a), and these factors are well represented in two dimensions. The points for all gender-age groups are distant from the origin, indicating that no group is close to the average profile in either dimension and that all the groups contribute to the overall inertia.

From Figure 1 we see the distance between the points representing male audience members greater as the age of the respondents increases. The points for males aged 15-24 and 25-34 are very close indicating they have similar row profiles and, therefore, similar genre preferences. The two middle-aged groups are distant from both the youngest and the oldest, while also being remote from one another. Males over the age of 55 are remote from the other age groups, indicating that their genre preferences are substantially different from those of younger male audience members. The points representing female respondents show a similar pattern with the middle-aged groups distant from both youngest and oldest and with over 55s are remote from younger female audience members in their preferences. The greatest contrasts in genre preferences are observed when taking gender and age together: females over 55 are most different from males aged 15-24, and males aged 55+ are most different from young women.

A key difference between audience groups is how the importance of the factors of gender and age vary in explaining their genre preferences. Age becomes increasingly important in the representation of the points for male audience categories. The squared correlations for the three youngest male groups are greatest for dimension 1, indicating that their gender is more important in explaining their preferences than age; for males aged 45-54 gender is still the dominant component albeit to a lesser extent than younger cohorts and the influence of age becomes more apparent in the raised squared correlation for dimension 2; while for males aged 55+ age is the dominant factor. This pattern is not evident for female respondents, and looking at the squared correlations in Table 3a we see the opposite pattern to male audience members. The squared correlations for women aged 35-44, 45-54, and 55+ are dominated by the dimension of gender, whereas age is the main factor for the two youngest groups. However, it should be noted that for the females aged 15-24, gender does contribute substantially to the representation of this point.

Although the correlation between gender-age and genre preference is low, it is clear from these results that the variation within Table 1 is highly structured in terms of the gender and age of the respondents. Describing the preferences of UK cinemagoers therefore requires taking both these factors into account and failure to do so leads to much useful information being obscured. The headline percentages reported by the BFI give only a partial picture of the genre preference of UK film audiences that fails to adequately capture that structure.

Turning to the genre categories themselves we see that the quality of these points is high (see Table 3b), indicating they are well represented in two dimensions and that gender and age are good predictors of the genre preferences of UK audiences. However, we note the quality of the representation for foreign (0.41) and art-house (0.14) films by these two dimensions is very low. This indicates gender and age do not explain variation in audience preferences for these types of films, and that some other factor should be considered. Based on other data available in the BFI’s results output, level of educational attainment is a better predictor of audience preference for these types of films: Table 20 of the results output cross-tabulates level of education and type of film most often watched, with 68 per cent of respondents selecting foreign language films educated to degree level. These two categories are typically applied to films to distinguish them from mainstream cinema (i.e. Hollywood films), and may not function as genre labels in the same context as terms such as ‘comedy,’ ‘drama,’ etc.

The quality of the categories ‘other’ and ‘none’ are also much lower than the mainstream genres, but as these points represent indistinct categories we do not discuss them further.

Gender is the most important factor in determining genre preference, with the cloud of points representing genres orientated along the first principal axis. Family films, romance, and romantic comedies are all associated with female audiences. In fact, 83 per cent of respondents to express a preference for romance films were female, and the corresponding figures are also high for family films (64%) and romantic comedies (72%). Musicals are also strongly associated with female audiences (71%), but this category is dominated by over 55s: over a quarter of respondents expressing a preference for this genre are in this age group. Drama also lies along the same direction as females over 55 indicating that this group is associated with this genre, but the distance from the origin is smaller reflecting a smaller effect. The proportion of males over 55 selecting drama films as a preferred genre is also greater than younger male viewers, but not to the same extent as their female counterparts. In fact, female viewers in each age group expressed a stronger preference for drama films than male viewers of the same age.

Genres associated with male audiences tend to be action-based and technology-driven. Of respondents expressing a preference for science fiction films, 65 per cent were male and there is little variation between age groups within this gender category. Consequently, this genre is very well represented by the first principal axis and age is not a significant factor. This is also the case for action/adventure films (58%), albeit it to a lesser degree as this point lies nearer the origin. Comic book, fantasy, and horror films are strongly correlated with male audiences, and lie along the same direction as males aged 15-24 and 25-34 indicating that age also a key factor here. The squared correlations for gender are the dominant factors for these genres, but age also contributes a substantial part of these points’ representation.

It is interesting that genres we associate with male audiences appear to have broader appeal than genres we associate with female audiences. Dividing the cells by the column totals to give the proportion of respondents in each gender-age group expressing a preference for a genre, we see that no male age group accounts for more 4 per cent of the total for romance films compared to the very large proportion for female audiences noted above. Although female associated, family films do not show the extreme divide as romance films, romantic comedies, and musicals. For science fiction films, the female respondents account for a total of 35 per cent of the expressed preferences for this genre, with each age group within this gender category contributing between 5 and 8 per cent of the total. This is also the case for comic book and action/adventure films. We conclude that so-called ‘female genres’ hold very little appeal to male audiences; and that while similar patterns are certainly evident for ‘male genres’ the effect is much smaller.

Three genres show high squared correlations with age. In all the cases the contribution of the first principal axis is small, and we conclude that gender is relatively unimportant in explaining audience preferences for these films. Animation is associated with under 35s, though female viewers aged 35-44 account 13 per cent of the column total in Table 1 possibly due to selecting these films for family viewing. Documentaries and classic films are associated with over 55s. Of those expressing a preference for documentaries, 18 per cent were males over 55 and 17 per cent were females in the same age group. There is no specific trend among the other age groups, which show roughly equal levels of interest in these films. It is noticeable that proportion selecting classic films increases with age, though this may reflect the aging of the audience rather than a clear genre preference as the new films of one’s youth become classics with time.

Two genres – comedy and suspense/thriller – lie near the origin. These points also have the lowest quality of the mainstream genres, though both are still well represented in Figure 1. Both dimensions contribute to the representation of these points, indicating that gender and age are relevant factors. Gender makes a larger contribution to comedy than age, with males under 35 slightly more likely to express a preference for this genre than males over 35 or female viewers; while for suspense/thrillers over 55s of both genders account for slightly greater proportion of the preferences expressed for this category. However, it is their closeness to the average profile that is most informative about these points, indicating that all gender-age groups enjoy these types of films. This does not mean that they are watching the same films within these genres – it is very unlikely males aged 15-24 are watching the same comedy films, for example, as women over 55; but the BFI’s data cannot help us to explore this aspect.

Conclusion

This study analyzed the genre preferences of British film audiences. We have replicated the results originally presented by the BFI, and have extended them to reveal additional patterns in the data. Correspondence analysis enables us to obtain an overview of how different sections of the audience for films in the UK relate to one another, and to assess the relative importance of different factors in explaining the variation among audiences and their genre preferences. The study showed that gender is the dominant factor in determining audience preferences, with age an important but secondary factor. Most genres can be identified as either ‘male’ or ‘female’ with clear age profiles evident within gender categories, though preferences for animated films, classic movies, and documentaries are determined by age alone. These factors do not adequately explain variation among audiences when applied to categories of films that lie outside mainstream cinema.

Notes

1.The report, the research questionnaire, the detailed summary, and the full set of result tables are available at http://www.bfi.org.uk/publications/openingoureyes/, accessed 21 November, 2011.

2. The report also presents results based on respondents’ ethnic minority but these will not be discussed here.

References

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Clausen S-E 1998 Applied Correspondence Analysis: An Introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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Desai KK and Basuroy S 2005 Interactive influence of genre familiarity, star power, and critics’ reviews in the cultural goods industry: the case of motion pictures, Psychology and Marketing 22 (3): 203-223.

Greenacre M 2007 Correspondence Analysis in Practice, second edition. Boca Raton, FL: Chapman & Hall/CRC.

Greenacre M 2010 Biplots in Practice. Bilbao: Fundación BBVA.

Hennig-Thurau T, Walsh G, and Wruck O 2001 An investigation into the factors determining the success of service innovations: the case of motion pictures, Academy of Marketing Science Review 6: http://www.amsreview.org/articles/henning06-2001/pdf, accessed 24 May 2011.

Le Roux B and Rouanet H 2005 Geometric Data Analysis: From Correspondence Analysis to Structural Data Analysis. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Litman BR 1983 Predicting success of theatrical movies: an empirical study, Journal of Popular Culture 16 (4): 159-175.

Nenadić O and Greenacre M 2007 Correspondence analysis in R, with two- and three-dimensional graphics: the ca package, Journal of Statistical Software 20 (3), http://www.jstatsoft.org/v20/i03/paper, accessed 6 September 2011.

Northern Alliance/Ipsos Media CT 2011 Opening Our Eyes: How Film Contributes to the Culture of the UK, July 2011.

Pusha S, Gudi R, and Noronha S 2009 Polar classification with correspondence analysis for fault isolation, Journal of Process Control 19 (4): 656-663.

Research and policy making symposium

Last week I attended a symposium at NESTA, hosted by the University of Hertfordshire, with the BFI and Available Light Advisory, on the relationship between research and policymaking for film in the UK. This event brought together some 60-odd academics, consultants, and policymakers to discuss how to bring these two groups together and how to move forward in developing film policy in the UK. As you will see from the names below, a diverse group of people contributed to the various panels; and, where available, I have provided links to the web pages of those who were involved. A report on the symposium is promised for a future date, but you can read Robin Macpherson’s discussion of the event here. In this post I report on the symposium, before going on to make some observations about the role of film studies.

Opportunities, failures, and successes

To start at the beginning, Carol Comley (BFI) described the current processes of policymaking for film in the UK as ‘suboptimal’ due to the lack of an evidence base that can inform film policy. This was followed by Keith Randle and Neil Watson discussing the research and policy environments as they stand at present. Under the Research Excellence Framework and the current rules of the research councils, it is necessary for academics to demonstrate the ‘impact’ of their research. There is then a need for academics to demonstrate the contribution their research can make to the real world and a need for policymakers to be in possession of in order to achieve that elusive goal of a sustainable film industry in the UK.

Given the urgent nature of the needs of researchers and policymakers, why have we not yet seen them working together? In a panel hosted by Jim Barratt, and featuring John Hill, Jonathan Breckon, Hasan Bahkshi, and Rob Cheek, several reasons were identified for this failure to collaborate:

  • policymakers and academics operate on different time scales, with the former needing research at time scales much shorter than the latter are comfortable producing it
  • a lack of empathy and trust – even ‘cultural conflict’ – between academics and policymakers
  • the false split between economics and culture, and a failure to recognise that film policy is both industrial and cultural
  • the impact of government cuts, reducing the number of opportunities for consultation and collaboration
  • a lack of engagement by researchers with the film industry
  • little demand from the film industry for research

Additional problems were identified by others present. Ian Christie noted that film academics typically lack experience of the film industry they are researching; while Andy Pratt noted that the audio-visual industries were not at the cutting edge of research in economics and lacked credibility leading to researchers to avoiding the subject as it may not enhance their career. As a result of these factors, it was noted that there is little research on filmmaking in the UK, with too little applied research and a dearth of experimental research.

At the same time, this panel was concerned to stress that academics could make a contribution to film policy. John Hill argued that one of the major contributions researchers could make to film policy was to take a longer view and thereby overcome the lack of historical awareness among policymakers. Later on David Steele, former Head of Research & Statistics Unit at the UK Film Council, stressed that academics bring with them an in-depth knowledge of their field, knowledge of the literature on a particular topic, and state oft he art knowledge. Jonathan Breckon (AHRC) discussed the shift to funding larger and longer term research projects, and emphasised this as a way to distinguish academic research from the work of consultants.

A subsequent panel chaired by Maud Mansfield, and featuring David Steele, Ian Christie, Susan Rogers, and Tamsyn Dent, provided examples of how collaboration between and discussed some of the achievements and problems to which such research leads. Ian Christie and David Steele discussed the recent report from the BFI, ‘Opening Our Eyes’ (see here). Christie stressed the virtues of involving consultants in the research process as they are able to act much more quickly and decisively than academics. He also expressed the opinion that film studies had failed to grapple with important issues and to impose itself on the research agenda, of which more below. He went on to state that film studies had generated too much qualitative research that could provide only a limited range of answers to a limited range of questions, and that there had been too little quantitative research. Screenwriter Susan Rogers and Tamsyn Dent discussed past and current research projects, and the problems of gaining access to people working in the film industry in order to conduct research along with just how much this can reveal the cinema in the UK.

Data analysis

After lunch, a panel titled ‘Making use of data,’ chaired by Paul McDonald (University of Nottingham), looked at the problem gaining access to data about the film industry. Phil Clapp pointed out that the film industry was data rich and knowledge rich, but that access to commercially sensitive data was a fundamental problem. He also articulated a need, raised by various others of those present, for a coherent database of stats and research on film industry; and echoed an earlier demand made by Angus Finney for data rather than statistics. Sean Perkins, from the BFI’s Research and Statistics Unit, discussed the need to change from a ‘push’ model whereby the RSU distribute statistics to a ‘pull’ model whereby the impetus comes from researchers for data that can be provided via the RSU. It is worth noting that Screen Australia has a facility to do precisely this (see here), and this is an approach that could be adopted in the UK. Richard Philips took a different line, pointing to the limitations of quantitative research and stressing the need for action research within the industry. He also stressed the need to determine exactly what it is we want to know and who wants to know it, as this will largely determine how we go about deciding what research to do. Finally, Michael Pokorny noted that we spend too much time focussing on understanding success in the film industry and that we devoted too little attention to understanding failure (with the exception of Sex Lives of the Potato Men). Consequently, we do not have a very rounded view of the state of the industry, and you cannot make policy without the proper perspective.

In the discussion following this panel I raised the issue of statistical literacy in film studies. It is all very well producing work such as the RSU’s Statistical Yearbook or in making data sets available to researchers if people do not know what to do with them. This was obviously not going to be such a problem for the economists in the room, but as I have argued elsewhere (here) statistical literacy is a pressing concern in film studies that needs to be dealt with. We also should not assume that policymakers or people in the industry know how to make use of data. Richard Phillips responded to this by pointing out that an over-reliance on statistical analyses of quantitative data provides only a partial view of the industry and does not necessarily answer the questions the industry wants to ask. Which is true, but doesn’t deal with the problem at hand. Others present were more sympathetic and also recognised the problem of a lack understanding of how to make use of data. The Royal Statistical Society found last year (almost a year to the day, in fact) that the majority of people in the UK had little understanding of statistics even though they encounter them everyday (see here), and the same is true of film studies. It is nice to know that there are others who find the lack of statistical literacy in film studies troubling, and that I’m not just shouting into the wind. The question is what can we do about it.

Research Agendas

The final three panels of the day looked at three different research agendas – audiences, talent, and economics – that addressed various issues of how to go about researching these areas, what we know, what we don’t know, and what we should know. Many of the issues raised in the earlier part of the day were discussed and elaborated.

With regard to audiences, Terry Ilott and Finola Kerrigan again raised the tension between market and academic research. Martin Barker noted that one of the problems from the point of view of the academic community is that there is no follow-up on the way in which research is used. Researchers are effectively cut off from the fruits of their labours and do not have an opportunity to assess its impact. He also stated a need for portals through which data is made available to researchers. Pete Buckingham (BFI) noted that the public money spent on research was not used to ensure publication of research. This is a source of continuing frustration in the UK, and in order to make progress we need to follow the American model whereby publicly funded research is legally required to be in the public domain. Its common practice elsewhere and it is not difficult to achieve, so there is no excuse for this not to happen in the UK. Adam Cooper discussed the work of Film: 21st Century Literacy.

The panel on talent was chaired by Keith Randle, and featured Doris Eikhof, Rosalind Gill, Debbie Williams (EM-Media), and Dan Wilks (Skillset), and discussed the nature of their research (which you can find out about from their webpages) and the problems of doing research on film talent. Some obstacles identified by Dan Wilks were that people in the industry were suspicious of questions from researchers and see little value in providing data for the benefit fo the wider industry. As had been noted earlier in the day, the problem was one of engagement. In the following discussion Terry Ilott raised an interesting question: by what theory are we informed when creating a talent policy for the film industry? I do like simple questions – they are usually the hardest ones to answer.

The economics panel was chaired by Andy Pratt, and featured Angus Finney, Joe Lampel, John Newbigin, and John Sedgwick. Angus Finney raised the issue of who is going to lead research, a point later picked up by Terry Ilott and Andy Pratt. John Newbigin also raised this topic in a different way by asking, what sort of research consortia we need in order to conduct meaningful research projects? Joe Lampel stressed how little we actually know about the process of film development; and , in contrast to Ian Christie’s view of film studies lack of quantitative research, argued that we need more interpretative work on the economics of the film industry. John Sedgwick presented some results on the profitability of Hollywood films and the predictability of grosses in an effort to overturn the accepted wisdom that ‘nobody knows anything’ about the film industry, and to show that as Hollywood films are increasingly profitable someone must know something and that by analysing data we can know things too.

Perhaps what we need as a David Hilbert-type figure to given direction to research in the cinema:

Wir müssen wissen. Wir werden wissen.

Summary

Terry Illot argued that there should be some provision for funding research, presumably of the type mentioned above in relation to Screen Australia, and that it is necessary adopt a ‘door open’ policy for interesting research. He also suggested the intriguing idea of a research levy to overcome a lack of resources. Finally, he set out a series of needs: leadership, responsibility, accountability, and an agenda to give direction to research. Again, there is a Hilbert shaped in hole to be filled. Keith Randle also stressed the need for follow-up on the day’s activities. In his summary, Andy Pratt focussed on the need for a brokerage role to create a continuing conversation between interested parties and the legitimacy of multidisciplinary research. As Rob Cheek had noted earlier in the day, one of the problems in bringing academics and policymakers together is that little attention is paid to managing the relationship between them.

Some Observations

In reflecting on this symposium I wish to pay particular attention to the view articulated by various of those present that there is a lack of a common framework for the study of film that will bring researchers from different disciplines and policymakers together; and the opinion of Ian Christie that film studies has largely failed as a discipline.

In a post from 2009 (see here), I set out a definition of film studies that was based on a division into four related types of analysis:

  • Industrial analysis: the political economy of film industries; the organisation of film industries; technologies of film production, distribution, and exhibition; practices of film production, distribution, and exhibition; government policies; etc.
  • Textual analysis: representation and the symbolic meanings of film; film form; film style; narrative/non-narrative structure; etc.
  • Ethnographic analysis: the composition of audiences; rituals of cinema-going and film experiences; cultural meanings and issues of identity; etc.
  • Cognitive-psychological analysis: the viewer’s perception of a film; communication and information in the cinema; psychological processes of meaning-making in the cinema; the psychological basis of the viewer’s response to a film; etc.

Films can be analysed as institutionally produced commercial commodities that function as cultural artifacts inscribed with meanings which are then consumed and interpreted by audiences, whose experience of the cinema is predicated on cognitive-psychological processes of perception and comprehension. Film Studies can be defined as a research programme analysing films in institutional, textual, ethnographic, and cognitive-psychological terms.

This is, I think, a basis for determining the necessary framework that will allow our understanding of the cinema to move forward. I do not think that you can separate the four types of analysis identified above. You cannot understand how audiences respond to a film without first understanding how they watch a film. You cannot understand how film style operates without understanding how we watch and respond to films. You cannot understand which films get made and which do not without understanding the choices audiences make, and how the industry models those choices. Film studies is by its very nature multidisciplinary. That is why I think it is such a fascinating subject, and why students should be enthused about studying it.

I do not think that at present we are close to realising the full potential of the discipline. I share the opinion of Ian Christie that film studies has failed to make meaningful progress in our understanding of the cinema. As I have discussed elsewhere on this blog (here and here), the type of research programme that was discussed at the symposium was the norm for researchers interested in film and television prior to the 1970s. It was empirically driven research concerned with how viewers experienced and comprehended the cinema, at the behaviour of audiences, and at the social impact of cinema. It has taken some FORTY YEARS to get to a situation where, with the BFI’s ‘Opening Our Eyes’ report, we have finally have some similar research that will inform our understanding of the cinema in the UK. Of course, empirical research on industries, audiences, and the perception of viewers continued to be conducted after 1970 by psychologists, sociologists, and economists but not in film studies: the type of research we are talking about is much more common in the empirical strand of media studies, and is to be found in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media rather than in Screen.

Let’s be explicit about this: in my opinion, it is film studies that is the problem with the study of film. The study of film was diverted from an empirical and experimental approach by its institutionalisation as film studies in the early-1970s that simply ignored decades of prior research and which set off into the tedium of Theory. Forty years of film studies, and one of the common themes of many of the speakers at the symposium is that we know so little. That cannot be acceptable. There needs to be an honest appraisal of the successes and failures of film studies in order to explain how we have ended up in a situation like this. What do we actually know about the films, about film industries, and about audiences and viewers? What do we need to know? I know that David Bordwell and Noel Carroll took on Theory the in Post-theory: Re-constructing Film Studies fifteen years ago, but its impact in many areas has been rather limited: film studies isn’t that different to when I was an undergraduate in 1995-1998. What I want to know is, where is our Hilbert to shape our research (and teaching) agendas? (It is also worth noting that Post-theory does not discuss pre-film studies research on the cinema either).

If the BFI wants to be seen as a ‘knowledge organisation’ whose expertise is not confined to the interpretation of texts, then it is necessary to start with a new approach to the study of film based on a framework that encourages (in Einstein’s phrase) ‘many-sided thinking,’ and not one that will lead to just more bloody film studies.

UK Film Policy

Yesterday I attended a symposium at NESTA on the relationship between research and policy making for film co hosted by the University of Hertforshire, Available Light Advisory, and the BFI. A detailed review of the event will have to wait for a later post, but until then here are some papers on the British film industry and the policy environment in which it has operated over the  past decade and a half.

As ever, the version of the paper linked to may not be the final version that was published.

Adams J 2011 UK film: new directions in the glocal era, Journal of Media Practice 12 (2): 111-124. (NB: the link takes you to JMP Screenworks).

As the British Film Institute (BFI) takes over responsibility for film policy and lottery funding from the UK Film Council and the Government announces the UK Film Policy Review, this article argues that film policy requires a fundamental change of direction for the 21st Century. First, it proposes that the concept of a UK film ‘industry’ should be radically redefined in response to the complex and diverse digital production models developing both regionally and globally. Second, that the best way to nurture and promote homegrown talent is through an integrated approach to production, distribution, exhibition and education. Third, public funding for film (other than tax breaks and incentives for incoming production) should be directed away from the mainstream to support public-private sector creative partnerships in the regions, in line with an emerging politics of localism. In an age of cross-border media flows, the paper proposes a holistic strategy for UK film based on dispersed creative hubs with global reach, with a much greater role for Creative England than is currently envisaged. Examples in the paper are mainly drawn from activities in one of Creative England’s newly designated regions (‘the Bristol hub’).

Blair H, Culkin N, and Randle K 2004 From London to Los Angeles: a comparison of local labour market processes in the US and UK film industries, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 14 (4): 619-633.

Addressing the issue of the embeddedness of labour markets, this paper compares the processes of finding employment in the film industry within two local labour markets. Drawing on studies of freelance film crew in the London (UK) and Los Angeles (US), the paper concludes that the importance of social networks in job mobility in both contexts is a consequence of common production structures. However that common labour market practice varies in each geographical space as industry processes and structures are mediated by local institutional contexts.

 Garnham N 2005 From cultural to creative industries: an analysis of the implications of the “creative industries” approach to arts and media policy making in the United Kingdom, International Journal of Cultural Policy, 11 (1): 15-29.

This article analyses the cultural policy implications in the United Kingdom of a shift in terminology from cultural to creative industries. It argues that the use of the term “creative industries” can only be understood in the context of information society policy. It draws its political and ideological power from the prestige and economic importance attached to concepts of innovation, information, information workers and the impact of information and communication technologies drawn from information society theory. This sustains the unjustified claim of the cultural sector as a key economic growth sector within the global economy and creates a coalition of disparate interests around the extension of intellectual property rights. In the final analysis, it legitimates a return to an artistcentred, supply side defence of state cultural subsidies that is in contradiction to the other major aim of cultural policy – wider access.

Humphreys P 2008 An examination of the preservation of cultural policy toolkits at the national level: the French and UK cases, 58th Political Studies Association Annual Conference: Democracy, Governance and Conflict: Dilemmas of Theory and Practice, 1-3 April 2008, Swansea.

This paper examines the impact of globalization, new media and deregulatory pressures on the ‘cultural policy toolkits’ for the television sector of France and the UK. It is concerned with regulation intended to promote cultural diversity in the media, namely public service broadcasting, media ownership rules, and culturally protectionist measures such as subsidies and programme quotas. It explores whether there is evidence of a (de)regulatory competition (‘racing to the bottom’), and alternatively whether there has been any adjustment of regulatory standards upwards. The picture is mixed. There is evidence of competitiveness motivated deregulation of media ownership rules in both cases. Other than that though, the countries’ cultural policy toolkits appear robust and demonstrate a striking degree of path dependent policy-making. Some aspects of UK television policy are certainly redolent of deregulatory competition and the UK approach has progressively relieved the private sector of the kind of regulatory burdens imposed by the French approach. By contrast, the French adaptation of their system of programme quotas and subsidies to the digital age could be seen as upward regulation. France, however, remains a paradoxical case. It exhibits a particularly strong political commitment to a distinctive and elaborate regulatory and interventionist cultural policy toolkit. It has championed a global struggle to defend national cultural identities in the face of the domination of American production. Yet, public service television and national television production are weak in comparison with its more liberal neighbour.

Magor M and Schlesinger P 2009 ‘For this relief much thanks:’ taxation, film policy and the UK government, Screen 50 (3): 299-317.

In 2006, the Treasury introduced a new Film Tax Credit for British productions. Fiscal incentives in the form of tax credits are now regarded as fundamental to the sustainability of the British film industry. In addition to benefiting indigenous filmmaking, an attractive tax credit structure is seen as promoting inward investment, chiefly from the USA, and is seen as important for maintaining the work force and organisational capacity in the British film industry. Securing the continuity of the skills base is at the heart of the UK Government’s drive to make the ‘creative economy’ better fitted for global competition. However, in that broader context, film has been – and remains – a special case, as it is not presently Government creative economy policy to use fiscal measures for other industries. We argue that in seeking solutions to longstanding problems of ‘sustainability’, contemporary UK policy is conditioned by its long history of economic intervention in film production – and has been an important precursor of today’s creative industries policy. Furthermore, in current global conditions, it is crucial to consider the fundamental cross-currents set in train by the competing demands of US inward investment and EU regulation. By undertaking interviews with key players as well as examining evidence in the public domain, this article analyses the complex politics that has shaped the implementation of this policy. We argue that film policy research needs the added depth that such sociological analysis brings to the table. In particular, this empirical approach gives insights into how the low politics of lobbying and inter-departmental rivalry shape present policy outcomes.

Redfern N 2007 Defining British cinema: transnational and territorial film policy in the United Kingdom, Journal of British Cinema and Television 4 (1): 150-164.

Since 1995, film policy in the United Kingdom has comprised two strands: selling the UK as a ‘film hub’ of locations, skills and services to the international film industry, and the emergence of a different kind of institutional intervention geared towards nurturing regional film industries and regional film cultures. In this contribution to the debate about film policy in Britain, I want to explore the relationship between the transnational and the territorial in British film policy since the mid-1990s. I will argue that policy makers in the United Kingdom have sought to construct a British national cinema through encouraging productions to come to the United Kingdom by enhancing the locational non-substitutability of the British film industry, and that these functions have been devolved to the Regional Screen Agencies since 2000. The British film industry that is emerging from this process is a hybrid space of interactions between a trans- national film industry which crosses national boundaries, and a highly territorialised national film industry which is increasingly organised at the regional level. In this contribution, I will describe three possible interactions between the transnational and the territorial in contemporary British cinema.

Redfern N 2010 Connecting the regional and the global in the UK film industry, Transnational Cinemas 1 (2) : 145-160.

Film policy in the United Kingdom is comprised of two complementary strands: the development of regional production clusters and the positioning of the United Kingdom as a film hub in the global film industry. This article examines the relationship between the regional, national and global scales in feature film production in three UK regions Northern Ireland, Scotland and the South West of England from 2004 to 2006. The results indicate that connections between the regions of the United Kingdom and the global film industry are limited, and that where they do exist these connections are either directly to or mediated through London, which functions as the dominant centre of distribution and finance and therefore decision-making in the UK film industry. Northern Ireland, by virtue of its cultural and economic relationship to the Republic of Ireland, stands out as a region in which its connections to other major decision-making centres are as important as its connections to London. The results suggest that while UK film policy has sought to redistribute the productive capacity of the industry, the autonomy of regional production centres remains limited.

Pratt AC and Gornostaeva G 2009 The governance of innovation in the film and television industry: a case study of London, UK, in  AC Pratt and P Jeffcutt (eds.) Creativity, Innovation and the Cultural Economy. London: Routledge: 119-136.

The focus of this chapter is innovation and creativity in the film and television industries in London. One might expect to observe, in the case of film and television industries which encompass some of the most socially and organisationally embedded organisations that have embraced digitisation, a clearer case of the impact of digitisation in on innovation. However, it is also good to adopt a cautious approach to the role of technology or the necessity of organisational and/or technological convergence that may follow.

It is possible to make a film, or a TV programme, on a laptop or a mobile phone; but, such practices are marginal. Where they are adopted their use is commonly strategic, in order to achieve other organisational aims such as simple cost reduction or novelty. The film and television industries are ‘poster children’ for digitisation and innovation; the question is, whether such changes are superficial, in the sense of new delivery systems for the same old production model, or, a substantial transformation of the process. Complex regulatory structures and market structures mean that innovation is a more organic and systemic process rather than the ‘big bang’ that is it commonly represented as. In this chapter we argue for the need to account for the complex interrelationship of technologies, organisation and regulation. Moreover, that the roles of technology (digitization), organisation (the fragmented small firms), and governance (deregulation) cannot be generalised and will be resolved, necessarily, in particular spaces and times resulting in unique locational outcomes.

If one examines the UK FTV at a macro-scale considerable success of both TV sales and film production (receipts) can be identified both relative to the size of the UK economy, and by comparison with other economies. How do we begin to understand this relative success? One answer might be innovation or improved competitiveness; however, arguably such ‘catch alls’ disguise as much as they reveal. This chapter approaches the problem by shifting analytic attention to the micro-scale and to organisational concerns in order to explore ways in which similar technologies or innovations may produce quite different industry outcomes in terms of practice. The chapter is structured around this argument; we begin by prefacing this with a discussion of innovation and creativity and next elaborating how this is worked through in the case of the film and television industries.

Finally, here are some recent reports on the UK film industry:

Mansfield M 2009 A Report on the British Film Industry for Shadow DCMS.

Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, The British Film Industry, HC, 667-I, 9 September 2003.

Select Committee on Communications, The British Film and Television Industries – Decline or Opportunity?, HL, 37-I and 37-II, 25 January 2011. The two volumes of this report include the summry and conclusions in part I and the transcripts of the hearings in part II.

The BFI and ‘Opening Our Eyes’

Last Friday the BFI launched its report on the cultural contribution of the cinema to the UK. I was unable to attend the launch, but the report is no available online here.

The motivation for this report is partly to do what is says and explore the contribution to British cinema, but it is also necessary to justify the UK’s economic film policy. Under EU law, financial support in the form of tax relief or lottery funding can only be provided for the representation of regional and national cultures and NOT for competitive economic advantage. Therefore, by establishing the importance of the cinema to British cultural life everyone gets to pretend that economic film policy in the UK is cultural and not economic at all.

Leaving that collective self-delusion aside, let’s focus on the cultural aspects of the report. The problem here is that we have what is largely a marketing report that does not really address the question of ‘cultural contribution.’ Films, we are told, are one of the ‘most popular entertainment and leisure interests,’ but popularity is not a measure of cultural contribution. One of overriding problems I have with this report is the lack of detail. The list of films that are often mentioned as having a ‘significant effect on society or attitudes in the UK’ is frequently used as a basis for drawing conclusions about the relevance of the cinema in British cultural life but this effect isn’t qualified beyond the personal anecdotes of some of the interviewees. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the number of interviewees is small: ten paired interviews were conducted giving a sample size of 20 participants from major cities in Scotland (Glasgow) or England (Manchester and London). Perhaps no-one in the UK lives east of the Pennines (thereby plunging me into a severe existential crisis); or perhaps no-one in Wales or Northern Ireland goes to the cinema. I recognise that measuring how a film affects society is difficult, but then this at the core of what the report is trying to do and it never really achieves it. We can certainly see how Cathy Come Home affected the UK, leading to the founding of Shelter; but what was the ‘significant effect’ of Trainspotting? This is never explained. I also recognise that it is a lengthy and costly process, but if you’re going to justify national film policy based on research it should be national research.

One aspect that has been commented upon in a number of news articles based on this report (and which I therefore assume was part of a press release) is that people are more interested in the cinema than they are in religion. Specifically, 32% percent of respondents indicated they were interested in religion compared to the 84% who were interested in the cinema. The question we really want to ask here is why religion was included in the survey at all. Does the BFI think that religion is a form of popular entertainment and leisure interest comparable to the cinema? In what ways is an interest in films comparable to an interest in religion? Surely we cannot be expected to interpret this as meaning that the people of the UK are 2.5 times more interested in the cinema than religion, because this is how it has been presented in reporting typical of the standard you can expect from the British press. This is really a measure of popularity and not a measure of contribution at all: the contribution of the Church of England to the cultural life of the UK is far greater than that of the cinema, even if no one appears to be interested in it any more. I may be an atheist but, dear God, this was a stupid question to ask.

A further confusing statement is that a ‘strong interest in film correlates with a stronger than average interest in many other forms of leisure and cultural pursuit,’ because no correlation coefficient, correspondence analysis, correlation matrix, or any other statistic is presented. Correlation is a statistical term, and in the context of this report that presents such a large amount of data in terms of graphs, percentages, and other measures, it has no meaning. Nor is there any evidence presented to link strong interest in the cinema, strong interest in other arts, and increased levels of participation. It is simply asserted that

higher interest in a range of other social and cultural activities tends to follow through into higher levels of activity (Figure 5), with more people very interested in film also going more often to the theatre, concerts, pubs and clubs than those with no interest in film.

The reference to Figure 5 leads us only to a series of bar charts that present frequencies and not correlations. This is just poor research, and a better approach would have been to perform a correspondence analysis on this data. (This is exactly what Pierre Bourdieu does in Distinction to answer exactly the same sort of questions). If nothing else, this would have presented us with only a single graph to deal with rather than thirteen separate bar charts.

The same is true of the words associated with different forms of entertainment (Figure 11). The endless bar charts have by now become somewhat tiring and the plots of the first and second principal and first and third principal axes of the correspondence analysis of this data would have made life so much easier (Figure A). To interpret these plots, points in the same data set that are near each other have similar profiles in terms of the attributes assigned to them while points in the same data set that are distant have different attribute profiles; and points in different sets that lie away from the origin and in the same direction are related. In both plots we see that film (FIL) lies along the same direction as escapism (ESC), and so the cinema is strongly correlated with this attribute.

A1: Dimensions 1 and 2

A2: Dimensions 1 and 3

Figure A Biplots of the correspondence between entertainment/leisure activities and attributes associated with them, based on percentages in the BFI ‘Opening Our Eyes’ report. For the detailed numerical summary of the analysis see here: BFI CA Summary.

As we would expect, pubs/clubs (PUB) and dining out are similar and news (NEW) is strongly correlated with the attribute ‘informative’ (INF). Interestingly, art galleries and museums (GAL) lies along the same axis as exciting (EXC) in both plots, and playing sport (SPP) produces similar results to going to the theatre (THE) but watching sport (SPW) does not. Also, pubs/clubs seem to correspond with thought-provoking (THO).

The attributes do appear to spread out into a number of subsets. Emotion (EMO) and Inspiration (INS) appear to be related, as do exciting and informative. Relaxing (RLX), entertainment (ENT), escapism, and thought-provoking appear to have profiles more similar with another than with the other four attributes. This relationship is apparent in both plots. Television (TEL) appears to be associated with no particular attribute, contributing nothing to the variation in dimension 3.

Note that religion (REL) in the first plot is unrelated to the profiles of the other forms of entertainment and leisure activity and contributes nothing to the variation of the second plot (CTR = 0.00), and it would be better if this category had not been included in the survey at all.

A further problem arises when we look at the section on what films people are watching. Blockbusters emerge as the most frequently watched type of films, but as these types of films dominate the UK exhibition market what else did you expect?

The information on the factors that people use to decide on what to go and see is much more useful. There is a fairly large body of literature on this topic for Hollywood cinema (and you can find some information on this topic here), but there is a lack of research in this area for the UK (but see here). This is also the case for sources of information on films on release. Hopefully, this information will lead researchers to explore these areas in more depth, because we really know very little about film audiences in the UK compared to what we know about the US.

The section on opinions about the proportion of films distributed in the UK on specific subjects (Figure 17) can be ignored. I don’t quite see the point of the question about whether there are too many films about homeless people – this seems a needlessly specific question that doesn’t really have anything to with the cinema. I’ve never seen a British film about a quantity surveyor, but they didn’t ask about that. How would making films about the homeless contribute to British culture? If this were to prompt filmmakers to start making films about the homeless, asking the question again would increase the number of responses for too many as the public becomes bored by a glut of such films. This part of the survey does not appear to take into account the films currently on release that would influence the respondents. It is a silly question that tells us nothing about anything.

More interesting is the revelation about how audiences perceive stories as being related to national identity rather than the source of the production:

Respondents saw films with British stories set in the UK as close to ‘entirely British’, even if they were partly produced or financed from the USA. Films about non-British people set outside the UK were seen as being mainly of another nationality. This is illustrated at the borderline by Slumdog Millionaire which, though an independent British film, was seen as being slightly more of ‘another nationality’ (Figure 19). Some interviewees saw it as a British film set in a non-UK location.

Now this is interesting information that can make a substantive contribution to the study of British national cinema and will, I’m sure, feature in many books and articles on the subject. The analysis based on the seven-point rating scale (Figures 19 and 20) is interesting but I have problems with the statistic used: the average position on the scale appears to be the mean and the use of a continuous measure for ordinal data is problematic. Either the mode or the median could be more appropriate because we cannot be sure that respondents interpreted the phrases used (‘entirely British’) in the same way or that the differences between the categories are equal. (There is no reason to assume that responses to this scale would be normally distributed so some additional justification for relying on the central limit theorem should have been provided, particularly given the possibility of central tendency bias).That said, the differences in the score between Slumdog Millionaire on the one hand and St. Trinian’s and The Full Monty are the real gem in this report. As scholars of British cinema we should be exploring this in great depth.

The section on the regions of the UK brings us back to the endless bar charts, and as before a different approach might have reduced the cognitive burden and eye strain on the reader. Generally, these results reflect the responses given to a question asked as part of the 19th British Social Attitudes Report published in 2002, which found that regional identity in England increased with distance from the capital and a high level of identification with the metropolis in London. This would explain why people in the North of England, the North West, and Yorkshire and Humberside want to see more films based in their regions relative to the regions in the south and the east. It is surprising to see that the percentages for ‘Too many’ and ‘About the right amount’ for the South West are consistent with East Anglia and the South East, as this region tends to have a relatively higher sense of regional identity. This is an interesting result that could be followed up.

Overall, this report is just like every other report produced by an official body that you’ve read: relentlessly upbeat, and riddled with oddities of design and analysis. There are some really interesting points to be found, and if this report is going to make a real contribution to our understanding of British film culture it will be as a starting point for researchers to try to get behind the data.

Finally, the best news of all: the detailed responses and the full data sets are being made available by the BFI, and can be accessed here. This means hours of endless fun of doing your own analysis on the data.

References

Heath A, Rothon C, and Jarvis L 2002  ‘English to the Core?’ in A Park, J Curtice, K Thomson, L Jarvis, and C Bromley (eds.) British Social Attitudes: The 19th Report. London: Sage: 169-184.

Box office and genre in three countries

Given the fundamental role genre play sin the film industry and the extensive range of genre studies produced by film scholars it is surprising that there are so few pieces of research to track the box office performance of genres over time. One such study, which looks at the top 20 films at the US box office from 1967 to 2008 can be found here:

Ji  S and Waterman D 2010 Production Technology and Trends in Movie Content: An Empirical Study, Working paper, Dept. of Telecommunications, Indiana University, December 2010.

Given that the theory of national cinemas is as central to film studies as genre, it is also surprising that there have been no comparative studies looking at the box office performance of different genres in different countries. This post presents a quick and simple comparison of the top 50 films at the Australian, UK, ans US box office from 2008 to 2010, inclusive.

The total sample is 150 films for each country, and these were divided into nine genres: action/adventure, comedy, crime/thriller, drama, family, fantasy/science fiction, horror, romance, and other (which is mostly musicals and concert films, but also includes war films, westerns, and documentaries). The box office data was collected from Box Office Mojo, and for ease of comparison all values are in US dollars and have been adjusted for inflation to 2010. Films were ranked according to their box office gross, with the highest grossing film given a rank of 1, the second highest a rank of 2, and so on.

Tables 1 through 3 present the summary information for each country, including the number of films in each genre; the minimum, median, and maximum ranks of the box office grosses (no data is provided for very small classes); and the number of films from each genre in the top 10, top 25m top 50, and top 100 films.

Table 1 Genre frequency and box office ranks of the top 50 films in each year from 2008 to 2010, inclusive, at the Australian box office

Table 2 Genre frequency and box office ranks of the top 50 films in each year from 2008 to 2010, inclusive, at the United Kingdom box office

Table 3 Genre frequency and box office ranks of the top 50 films in each year from 2008 to 2010, inclusive, at the United States box office

From the information in the above tables, we can see that there is little difference between these three countries – not at all unsurprising given the dominance of Hollywood films in all three markets. In fact, these tables largely represent the same group of films in three different markets and so the comparisons between countries are pretty direct. The main results are:

  • Four genres – action/adventure, comedy, family, and fantasy/science fiction – account for approximately 70% of all films in each country.
  • The top 25 and top 50 films are almost entirely composed of only three of these genres. Comedy, despite accounting for such a large proportion of films in each sample perform poorly by comparison, and rarely make it into the top third grossing films. Only one comedy film in the UK and the US, and none in Australia, made it into the top 25.
  • The majority of the top 10 grossing films over this period in the US are accounted for by action/adventure films, whereas the dominant genre in Australia and the UK is fantasy/science fiction.
  • In the working paper referenced above, the thriller is described as one of the most popular genres at the US box office, but it is clear from this data that in recent years crime/thriller films are few and far between and perform substantially worse than the main four genres.
  • These results do support the conclusion of the above paper that drama does not account for a significant proportion of the highest grossing films. Drama does appear to perform slightly worse in the UK compared to Australia and the US, with less than half the films to make it into the top 100.
  • Horror accounts for only a handful of films, and these rank very lowly in the sample for each country.
  • Romance films account for less than 10% of the films in each sample, but they do seem to perform well at the box office. All of the romance films in the Australian data made it into the top 100, and most of the films from this genre also achieved this result in the other two countries.

The differences in the rankings of the four major genres – action/adventure, comedy, family, and fantasy/science fiction – can be seen clearly if we plot the cumulative proportion of films less than or equal to a rank 𝑥 (Figures 1 through 3).

Figure 1 Cumulative proportion by rank of four genres at the Australian box office, 2008 to 2010

Figure 2 Cumulative proportion by rank of four genres at the UK box office, 2008 to 2010

Figure 3 Cumulative proportion of by rank four genres at the US box office, 2008 to 2010

In all cases, it is clear that comedy performs substantially less well than the other three genres. Even though this is one of the most common genres, but it tends to rank much lower that the other genres. This does not necessarily mean that comedy are less profitable – the lower budgets for these films relative to special effects-heavy films of the other genres means that even though they tend to gross less they can still make their money. On the other, it may suggest that the market is saturated with comedy films and that too many films are chasing too small an audience. I am unaware of any research on this topic.

In Figure 3, we can see the high grossing action/adventure films that account for 5 of the top 10 films, whereas in Figures 1 and 2 this genre is not so dominant among the upper rankings. Fantasy/science fiction films occupy a high proportion of the highest grossing films in all three countries; Family films appear to do slightly less well at the high-end and slightly better at the low-end, but are concentrated more in the middle relative to these other genres. The four curves appear to converge where the rank is approximately 120, indicating that these genres are relatively evenly distributed at the end of the rankings. This does not appear to be the case for the other two graphs, where comedy remains distinct from the other genres.

Overall, we get the same patterns for audiences and their box office preferences irrespective of whether they live in Australia, the UK, or the US. Undoubtedly, this is in part attributable to the ability of global media empires such as Buena Vista International, Time-Warner, News Corporation, Viacom, etc. to shape a market. Although limited, the above results raise an interesting question regarding the nature of national cinemas: if the film markets in different countries are so similar does it make any sense to speak of discrete national cinemas rather than a single global cinema?

The fact that Australia, the UK, and the US are all culturally similar, English-speaking countries may contribute to the effects noted above, and we may find that in other countries, where the main language is not English, that different patterns emerge. However, I am sceptical on this point, and as soon as I have got some data to make the comparison I will post a follow-up.

The evil graph of Creative England

Creative England has been established as the that replaces the Regional Screen Agencies. The first action of the new body was to undertake a consultation process on its Strategic Priorities for Film. The results of this process were published as digest on June 13.

I want to comment on two things in this post: the findings of the consultation exercise and the graph produced in this document.

Creative England: Summary of Findings

The consultation process including written submissions, responses to an online questionnaire, as well as meetings around the country with

The first statement made is:

Of those who expressed an opinion, 65% either agreed or agreed strongly that the strategic priorities in the document were the right ones. Only 15% disagreed or disagreed strongly. However a large number of respondents either answered ‘don’t know’ (19%) or skipped the question (48%).

The headline figure of 65% agreement with the strategic priorities was announced on the News page of Creative England, but on closer inspection we note that just over half of respondents actually answered this question. The low response rate suggests apathy at best. Creative England states that it received 476 responses but only 52% expressed an opinion regarding the strategic priorities of Creative England, which is 248. Of these, 65% supported the strategic priorities – in other words, of 476 respondents, only 161 or 34% ‘agreed or agreed strongly that the strategic priorities in the document were the right ones.’

The breakdown of respondents (see below) reveals one disturbing fact: only 2% of those to reply to the consultation document were distributors. Given the fundamental role of this sector in the film industry, it is clearly woefully under-represented in this process. Sales, however, does tend to be ignored by policy makers. In April 2011, an article in Screen International reported that during the process by which the UK Film Council was abolished and responsibility was handed tot he BFI, Film Export UK was unable to secure a meeting with Ed Vaizey, the Cultural Industries minister:

Despite many attempts, representatives of Film Export UK have failed to win an audience with Vaizey and only recently managed to secure a meeting with the BFI which has assumed many of the UKFC’s responsibilities including oversight of development, production and distribution funding from the National Lottery.

The failure to develop distribution is the major problem in the UK film industry, and that will not change any time soon.For example, the digest includes the following statement:

Staff should be experienced beyond production, for example there needs to be expertise in diversity, procedural transparency and sector specialists in exhibition, education and film archives.

Distribution and sales are not mentioned.

Overall, the impression from this document is that eleven months after the announcement that the UK Film Council was to be abolished, six months after the announcement of its replacement, and three months after it ceased trading, we still do not have any concrete plan for regional film policy in the UK. The recurrent themes that run throughout the comments is that people want to know what will happen and how Creative England will work in practice. After almost a year, this uncertainty should have been resolved and the references to reassurance indiactes that this is not the case. For example, the comments express a vagueness, particularly regarding the lack of a hub in the eastern half of England:

Comments were made about the lack of a hub in the eastern half of England, but most comments merely pointed out this risk and sought reassurance that ‘something would be done’.

Well you would hope that ‘something’ rather than ‘nothing’ would be done.

One subject missing from the consultation document is that of research and statistics. Although one of the current themes is that ‘Decision making must be evidence based and clear,’ we have no detail on how this evidence will be collected. By the end of this month, the BFI will have assumed full responsibility for the functions that were once fulfilled by the Research and Statistics Unit of the UK Film Council, but we still lack details on how this will relate to the creative hubs of Creative England.

You can read the views of the British Screen Advisory Council on film statistics here.

Remember Creative England will not be up and running until 1 October 2011. Variety reports on the appointment of an interim director here.

An evil and misleading graph

There are many issues in the consultation process for Creative England that need to be resolved, but the thing that made me really angry was the graphic they used to illustrate the breakdown of respondents in the exercise. This graph is reproduced below.

Figure 1 An evil and misleading graph of the response to Creative England’s consultation exercise

There are so many things wrong with this it is difficult to know where to start:

  • There are far too many categories here to comfortably fit in a pie chart.
  • Tilting a chart creates a false perspective, overemphasizing sectors  that appear at the bottom and which seem to be larger than they are. The sector for filmmaker/film production freelancer would appear to be bigger than the sector for production company, when the opposite is true. Equally, the sector for education/youth organisation appears larger than exhibitor, even though it is smaller.
  • Adding a third dimension to a chart rarely improves matters: it requires extra work from the reader while providing no extra information, and is potentially misleading.
  • Similarly, exploding a pie chart may be useful to highlight a single sector relative to the rest of a chart, but exploding the whole chart adds no extra information and just makes the whole thing harder to follow.
  • The labeling is dreadful: look at the label for Training, hidden away there under the arrow Archive.

If you are a researcher or student working in film studies, then all you need to do is to remember this simple rule:

NEVER – UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES – WILL YOU PRODUCE AN EXPLODED 3-D PIE CHART

If you want to see how bad pie charts can be, then a visit to Junk Charts is in order. Pie charts do have their uses – as William Playfair and Florence Nightingale so effectively demonstrated – but there are better ways of presenting the information in Figure 1 than an exploded 3-d pie chart. For example, a table listing the percentages of respondents in each sector in order of size from largest to smallest would have been much easier to understand and is probably the best option. Alternatively, a horizontal bar chart such as the one in Figure 2 could have been used. You could even do away with the horizontal axis and put the data labels at the end of each bar in order to show the percentage in each category.

Figure 2 Not an evil graph and misleading graph of the response to Creative England’s consultation exercise

Let us hope that this poor use of statistical graphics is not a harbinger of decline in the standard of statistical analysis of the UK film industry now that Creative England has been set up. Of course, this will have to be a part of the next consultation.

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.