Posted on Tuesday, December 1st, 2009 by Hunter Stephenson
“Dad bet my NYU tuition on The Road and now we’re homeless.” The concept of organized box office betting is nothing new—see the simulated and long operating Hollywood Stock Exchange. But with the incorporation of real dollars, might the concept be new to the mafia? A start-up website and business called The Cantor Exchange is awaiting regulatory approval to open the floodgates on real time betting on Hollywood productions, beginning six months before a film’s release. The company behind the Cantor Exchange is Cantor Fitzgerald, a global finances firm that also operates the aforementioned HSX and will implement that site’s infrastructure with a capitalistic twist.
Information gathered by the HSX reportedly already informs legitimate box office betting in the UK, and foreseeably anyone of age in the U.S. will soon be able to participate. But what are the implications of online betting for Hollywood (Showbiz 411 wonders about insider trading), not to mention for the state of film? And c’mon, what geek or arm chair analyst isn’t channeling Gordon Scrooge McDuck Gekko IV right now with dreams of getting paid, bitch? Right? Or Wrong?
The CX is currently allowing anyone to register and play a simulated warm-up that offers the possibility of earning payouts in real, albeit not Porsche worthy, dollars…
Here’s how it works: everyone starts with 10,000 “virtual dollars” in a Cantor Exchange practice account, and at the end of the practice period we will convert each 1,000 virtual dollars of profit you earn into $10 cash and deposit it into your real-money trading account (maximum $100 per trader). So if you earn 10,000 virtual dollars in profit while practicing on Cantor Exchange, you get $100! There is no cost to participate in this program.
When the market officially opens, participants will need to complete an application process, the specifics of which I am not crystal on. This is an interesting development in how consumers and movie enthusiasts will further perceive films and show business; and combined with all the of the recent press surrounding producer Ryan Kavanaugh, who selects future projects using statistics and analytical factors a la Moneyball, no doubt a disheartening one to some. These business strategies are also part of a bigger debate over the role of box office reporting in movie news and in the eye of the moviegoer.
Earlier in the decade, I remember filmmakers like Martin Scorsese expressing their disgust at the impact that published-and-analyzed box office receipts have had on the modern moviegoer. If memory serves, Scorsese emphasized that viewing movies as a popularity contest is not only ridiculous but harmful to the art. And while I’m curious he thinks about betting on the financial success and failure of movies, I can imagine the gist and probably agree with 99 percent of it.
At the same time, however, there were nights when I got drunk with my roommate at university and nerded out on box off predictions for hours. In high school, I was probably the only person in my town who preferred playing intensive Summer Box Office prediction games online rather than hitting up a swimming pool. But in retrospect I sometimes wonder if this semi-obsession made me begin to view movies permanently through superficial binoculars. I’m not too worried though, because here I am today and the sight of Wolverine pushed to the fucking side by kids and waving at the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange still irks me to no end.
If you have never contemplated this, do so: how would the cultural landscape surrounding modern films be different if we didn’t know the grosses for films like Iron Man, New Moon, and Fantastic Mr. Fox? Would we still generally come to perceive the last film as the odd kid out, as a risky gamble, weeks, hell months, before it was released? If we didn’t see and hear countless times over a weekend that a film failed to score a big blockbuster opening, would our perception of a film like Fox, no matter how much we liked it, improve? In the days since Fox opened, most of the praise I’ve heard has been mixed with a nearly eulogizing disappointment regarding its box office numbers.
And I’ve encountered several other discussions this year in which a film’s lack of financial success snowballed into a diatribe about the hopelessness of it all. So much so, that these discussions often seem to usurp ones about the power and ideas in a given film being mourned. At what point are we overly conditioned by box office reports and headlines to do this, and desensitized to no longer care?
And then there’s the hypothetical of betting on Twilight. Will the desire to experience its tidal wave of success—once vicariously, and now literally—become that much stronger for fans and outsiders alike, and is the opposite also true for Fantastic Mr. Fox? With box office analysis showing no signs of slowing down in online media, I could definitely see over analysis of the CX’s numbers.
More so than ever, a movie’s perceived box office success seems intrinsic, unconsciously or not, to the interest many general audience members have in going to see it. A future might exist where producers like Ryan Kavanaugh bet on the ability of general audiences to make the best i.e. most profitable creative decisions, and audiences then bet on the outcome of those decisions. I can decide if I should bet on this hypothetical future, but I won’t drink a beer to it.
Hunter Stephenson can be reached at h.attila/gmail and on twitter.