Scientists Learn To Predict A Hit

Researchers discover box office equation

Empire’s friends at the Institute of Physics (we have friends everywhere) have tipped us off to some new research by Japanese physicists at Tottori University, who have come up with a set of mathematical models that seem to accurately predict blockbuster box office success (or failure). Never mind The Dark Knight Rises; this morning we bring you The Hit Phenomenon: A Mathematical Model Of Human Dynamics Interactions As A Stochastic Process.

The research, published in the IoP and German Physical Society’s New Journal of Physics, comes up with a way of forecasting how many people will go to see a film, based on monitoring advertising data and word-of-mouth in the form of online blogs and social networking sites. The scientists’ model was originally designed to predict how word-of-mouth communication spread over social networks. They applied it to conversations about movies in particular, and found that when they overlapped their predictions with the actual revenue of the films they focused on, the numbers were very similar.

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the findings seem to demonstrate that the web has the power, and that the size of a studio’s marketing spend doesn’t much correlate to a movie’s level of hit-ness. The timing of advertising campaigns turns out to be far more important than their size.

It’s all weirdly like Issac Asimov’s psychohistory system of predicting future human behaviour, but limited to whether people are going to watch Pirates of the Caribbean. Maybe forecasts of intergalactic warfare and migration come later. For those who can tell their WOM from their SNS and their exogenous factors from their coefficients, the research is here (with a handy video abstract). Executives behind future John Carters and Green Lanterns are already reaching for their calculators.