There’s an interesting article over at The Baltimore Sun, suggesting that real-time reviews from movie-goers after seeing a new film have really got movie studios worried, thanks to the knock-on effect they can have on box office stats. But is it true?
The article rests on the new phenomenon of Web-connected smartphone users Twittering their approval or disapproval of a movie very soon after seeing it. Twitter’s obviously a powerful information broadcasting medium, and the way that re-Tweets can spread virally among networks of friends is becoming a useful news-gathering tool. But it’s also a remarkably efficient way of spreading a message like “Movie X was terrible, don’t waste your money” and if such a review came to your Twitter feed via a number of friends, you might consider avoiding it right from its opening night onwards. If that were the case for a large number of people, then first weekend figures for a movie (often quoted as a metric for a film’s success) could take a serious hit.
Of course, a positive review could just as easily spread via Twitter–it’s a medium which, on the whole, is used to distribute positive vibes, anyway. A number of positive Tweets in your Twitter feed may even tempt you to pop to the theater to take in a movie you hadn’t previously considered, and that’s clearly a good thing as far as the movie producers are concerned. Sounds like a no-score draw, over all doesn’t it? Twitter isn’t particularly ubiquitous yet either, and only a relatively small proportion of its user base access the system often enough to make a dent in movie-attendance figures.
But what the film industry may be actually worried about is Twitter’s immediacy, and its potential for growth. People have been talking about movies since day one a century ago, and exploiting word of mouth marketing is a staple for the industry–the cell phone and SMSing have merely accelerated the pace of the debate, and increased the range of a positive or negative movie-goer review. The rise of the InterWebs has added another channel for such discussion, with both traditional media-style reviews, and even the inverted collectively-reviewed power of RottenTomatoes.com. But none of these methods of spreading an opinion of a movie have the one-to-many-peers real-time broadcast power of Twitter. Magnolia Picture’s president, Eamonn Bowles, notes that “people will be Twittering during the opening credits–and leaving when they don’t like them. […] the next step [for the Twitter effect] is for studio marketing to manipulate it.”
And that’s actually what this article is all about–the studios, always keen to track the pulse of new social memes, are beginning to realize Twitter’s power. That means as Twitter gets bigger and begins to penetrate society on a more everyday level, you can expect to hear more official promotion of flicks on the service, and probably even more nefarious antics like fake rave reviews being re-Tweeted.