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COGNITIVE HOLLYWOOD, Part 1: Data Shows Box Office Economics in Turmoil

Box Office Hurricanes As Evidence of a Change in the Entertainment Climate

Debunking the Rotten Tomatoes Myth, With Data

What is clear, looking at all film data since 2000, is that Rotten Tomatoes scores have never played a very big role in driving box office performance, either positively or negatively.

Does a Rotten Tide Raise All Boats?

Audience scores and critic scores are increasingly correlated, meaning that audiences are becoming expert at smelling a “bad” movie and staying away.

Imagine running a company in a shrinking market where every product costs hundreds of millions of dollars to make, where every single one of your customers is an expert in the product, and millions of competitors are offering free, lower-quality but very accessible and compelling knockoffs.

The left column represents hours spent per day

RIP: the Good Old Days

Nobody ever got promoted in Hollywood because they had better inside knowledge of what audiences wanted to see, simply because, until fairly recently, that didn’t matter. The industry had an unassailable stronghold on our leisure time, and so the factors of success were, for the most part, intrinsic (the product), rather than extrinsic (the market).

  1. The New York Times article notwithstanding, Hollywood is having a great year with critics and audience scores so far;
  2. There’s definitely a lot of volatility in the scores, regardless of the production budget, meaning there are hidden variables (beyond budget) influencing scores;
  3. It’s very clear that production budgets do have a very substantial impact on both critics and audience scores. Here again it seems Hollywood’s bet on CGI has largely paid off.
  1. Production budgets are less and less of a predictor of box office success, meaning that as financial exposure rises, so does financial risk. This is not good (for a long time it was the opposite), and is a substantial reason why Wall Street has been so tough on entertainment stocks lately;
  2. Audiences are becoming extremely adept at predicting and judging the quality of a film;
  3. Quality here is a very subtle measure of how much, and where, a film innovates in its story and character mechanics, and how much — and where — it doesn’t.



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Yves Bergquist

Co-Founder & CEO of AI Startup Corto. Director of AI & Blockchain @ USC’s Entertainment Technology Center. Member/Researcher, DSL@Columbia University