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Can social media performances forecast box office revenues?

In this analysis, carried out in collaboration with Hit Mania Trailer, we analyzed the performances of 551 trailers from 378 movies that debuted in theaters between the end of 2017 and October 2019, and compared them with their box office revenues.

With the goal of finding an answer to this question, and inspired by The Hollywood Reporter research comparing the video views of 421 movie releases starting from 2017, we decided to conduct a similar analysis in the context of the Italian market by using the Hit Mania Trailer database.

Hit Mania Trailer is a tool developed by Brad&K Production in collaboration with Cineguru that measures the relevance of a trailer in real time through a value called Engagement Score, which assigns a greater importance to trailers with a higher engagement rate by aggregating the data coming from the main social platforms.

The platform will turn two at the end of 2019, and counts over 770 analyzed trailers linked to more than 563 between movies and TV shows. During the final evening of the latest edition of Trailer Film Fest, Hit Mania Trailer assigned the award for best trailer chosen by the audience to Leone Film Group’s Resta Con Me.

Why conduct this particular trailer analysis?

From its 1912 introduction at the end of the series The Adventures of Kathlyn, the trailer has always represented the main promotional content of every movie. With the teaser trailer the halo of mystery surrounding many anticipated movies will whittle down, while the official trailer represents the main content on which the users make their choice.

In addition to being an excellent evaluation tool for the audience, it’s a powerful mean for the distributors to gather feedback on their products.

For example, the onslaught of criticism that Sonic the Hedgehog received after its trailer debut prompted a makeover to make the lead character more consistent with the original version.


Data and sources

• Youtube

We decided to only take into account the YouTube public data, because despite Facebook’s rampant growth, YouTube is still the primary social platform used in Italy, with 87% of Italian internet users declaring to actively use the platform.

• Engagement

Unlike our colleagues from The Hollywood Reporter, we decided to use the engagement – meaning like, dislikes and comments – as the data to compare the box office revenues to. The reason why is that this metric isn’t heavily influenced by the platform’s sponsorship as opposed to the video views, which are more closely interlinked with the available budget for advertising.

  • Time frame: 30 days after posting 

We decided to measure the engagement data 30 days from the trailer launch to avoid discrepancies in the measurements of the various trailers due, for example, to the cannibalization of the trailers that follows the first one, or to additional investments caused by the Home Entertainment release.

The sample on which we based our research is comprised of 551 trailers from 378 movies that debuted in theaters between the end of 2017 and October 2019.

  • First weekend revenues

Only the first weekend revenues have been taken into account, since this is when we see the results of the advertising campaigns. The following weekends are subject to changes, for example in the number of screens available, which could be caused by many variables.


The analysis

The graph below shows the link between YouTube engagement and First weekend revenues. The further to the right the title is, the more engagement it has received in its first 30 days of publication, while the higher the title is the more it grossed on its first weekend of theatrical release.


Thechart clearly shows us how movies likeThe Lion King, the two Avengerstitles, “Jokerand “Spider-Man: Far From Home are starplayers in terms of both video views and revenues.

To further explore the issue at hand, we linked the two data through the Pearson correlation coefficient, which has a value between +1 and −1, where 1 is total positive linear correlation, 0 is no linear correlation, and −1 is total negative linear correlation.


There’s a strong correlation between the two data

In this case, the result of the analyzed sample is equal to +0,73, meaning that there’s a strong correlation between the YouTube engagement and the first weekend revenues.


Is the correlation always this strong?

Seeing such a large number of titles so close to the origin of the axis made us think that a breakdown of the data based on the revenues was more appropriate, so we divided the sample into three segments:

A) 0-500.000 € Opening weekend – Sample of 211 movies

+0,14 correlation


If we consider the opening weekend revenues, the correlations is almost nonexistent, stopping at +0,14. At the same time, the graphic shows titles like “Succede“, “Ready or Not“, “Love, Simon” and “Charming“, where the link between the two variables is more evident. That could be explained by the fact that in the lower part of the graphic there’s a concentration of:

  • movies dedicated to niche and narrow audiences, that use specific sources to acquire information;
  • technical releases or independent movies that don’t often have a proper communication strategy to rely on;
  • movies where a large portion of the budget is dedicated to the Below The Line promotion, with no strong social media support;

B) 500.001 – 1.5 MLN € Opening weekend – Sample of 111 movies

+0,42 correlation


The correlation is stronger for this second segment, coming up to +0,42. Here we’ll find movies with a more structured positioning, where the advertising investments are divided between ATL and BTL. Particularly noteworthy are the excellent performances of “Five Feet Apart“, “Ant-Man and the Wasp“, and “Annabelle Comes Home“, titles with outstanding YouTube performances that matched their box office outputs.


C) +1.5 MLN € Opening weekend – Sample of 56 movies

+0,65 correlation 


If we consider movies with first weekend revenues higher than a million and a half, then the correlation rises to +0,65. This range focuses on blockbusters, considered such for both their theatrical tenure and the relevance of their overall revenues. This graphic shows the excellent performance of “After“, the YA drama distributed by 01 Distribution, which grossed more than a half of its total earnings in its first weekend of theatrical release.


This breakdown reveals that the link between revenues and engagement is stronger for movies that grossed the most in its first weekend, and decreases in relation to the movie’s earnings. This detail highlights that the variables one has to take into account to estimate the potential success of a movie are:

  • Subdivision and amount of ATL and BTL investments
  • Target audience of the movie
  • The genre perceived by the viewer
  • Quality of engagement

What do these titles have in common?

Starting from the discrepancy by which the titles are scattered on the graphic, we asked ourselves one last question: is it possible to find a grouping criteria to better understand how engagement and revenues operate? Of course it is: the movie genre!

Note: since some movies fall under a wide spectrum of genres, we decided to take into account the one perceived by the viewer, and not the movie’s technical genre.

We gathered all the 378 titles in seven different macro-categories of genre and we excluded those comprised of a number of movies lower than five, namely “Musical”, “Fantasy”, “Sci-fi”, “Art-house” and “Family, non-animated”. The resulting graph below compares the average engagement and the average revenue in the following categories: “Action”, “Comedy”, “Drama, “Family”, “Horror”, “Italian” and “Thriller”


As can be seen from the chart, the “Family“, “Action” and “Drama” genres are the best performing ones  compared to others.

The “Italian” category is an exception due to the fact that the promotional strategy for Italian movies are often supported by TV and radio appearances, which can greatly affect the pro-activeness of a user in looking for, and commenting to, a trailer on YouTube.

As for the rest of the genres, it’s clear how the averages of engagement and revenues move with the same pattern, with a directly proportional trendline.


Conclusions

  • There’s a strong link between YouTube and box office revenues, +0,73 in the 378 movies sample that debuted in theaters between the end of 2017 and October 2019
  • The correlation is stronger for movies that grossed more than 500.000 € in their first weekend, which implies a more articulated communication strategy in which the web definitely plays a key role.
  • The results of this analysis reveal that it’s possible to forecast the box office success of a title, but in doing so one should necessarily take into account the genre perceived by the viewer and the target audience of the movie.
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