Science Says Online Buzz More Important To A Movie's Success Than Traditional Advertising

Obviously, this post is a tad self-serving but don't let that get in the way of what's a very interesting finding. Japanese scientists believe they found a correlation between the success or failure of a movie based on its online presence and use of traditional advertising. The findings revealed that the amount of social networking and online posts about a film, as on a site like ours, is more directly tied to a movie's success than the number of commercials airing on TV. Read more after the jump.

The study was highlighted in The Hollywood Reporter and was lead by Professor Akira Ishii from the Department of Applied Mathematics and Physics at Tottori University in Japan. His group collected data on 25 movies, both major Hollywood releases and smaller films, including Avatar, The Da Vinci Code and more. Here's Ishii:

We found a direct correlation between the number of social media postings about a movie on a given day, and the number of people who intended to purchase tickets. However, there was no direct relationship between the advertising spending and the purchasing intention. The timing of the advertising campaign is important though, with two weeks to ten days before opening being the optimum time.

While they found patterns that seemed to correlate between social media and ticket sales, they were quick to say that the formula could not ultimately predict a film's success.

This makes sense to a certain degree, but seems totally unreliable as a real predictive scheme. People like to talk about their social lives and if they're going to see The Avengers, they are likely to tweet or post about it. If they aren't going to see That's My Boy, they probably won't say anything online about not going. So in that way, a film's social media presence would seem to correlate to its success. People post when they go and don't when they don't.

Then there's the flip side, a film like John Carter. It had a huge online presence – we posted dozens of posts about it, people talked about it, were excited for it, complained about it – and it wasn't considered successful. Is that because maybe the studio spent TOO much on the more traditional advertising? It's possible. Or it's possible that certain sites, this one included, are simply too niche in certain cases.

Also, the mention of timing speaks to the ongoing controversy about embargos. Embargos are restrictions placed upon the press to not write about a film until a certain time. While everyone regularly bitches about it, this seems to confirm that when people hear about a movie closer to its release, they're more likely to see it.

The lack of correlation to traditional ad spending, too, makes sense. With things like DVR, people have become almost totally desensitized to commercials, billboards and things of that nature. Those same people love to spend time online and if they see or read people talking about a movie, maybe they're more inclined to see it.

You can read the full article in the latest issue of New Journal of Physics at this link. It's super complicated but has much more information. And here's a little video about it.

Do you think this finding makes sense or is in anyway useful?