Last year the Twitter Effect was a major topic of conversation. As films like BRUNO underperformed and films like THE HANGOVER were surprisingly strong in 2009, many pondered the impact social media was having on Opening Weekend box office. The main hypothesis for the Twitter Effect was that Saturday audiences were beginning to be influenced more and more by what Friday audiences were saying via Twitter and Facebook. Among the many pieces: 'Twitter effect': User reviews affect box office?
Of course there were those like Patrick Goldstein who asked Is the 'Twitter Effect' on box office just big-media hype?
With the Summer Box office significantly lagging last year's you'd think Twitter and Facebook would be a greater part of the conversation. Why did THE A-TEAM tank and THE KARATE KID soar, it's got to be that Twitter Effect? Right?
No one's talking about it because, as influential as word of mouth is, turning public opinion around on a film is like turning around a massive ship, it takes time and a lot of energy. The Opening Weekend fates of most movies were decided weeks ago in the hearts of movie-goers. For any large scale release, audiences have seen enough trailers and watched enough Good Morning America interviews to more than make up their mind.
Anyone shocked at the weakness of this summer so far wasn't paying attention when, as the first official mega-film of summer IRON MAN 2 was nearing release, very few Summer films seemed to be generating any buzz beyond their core audience or those interested in the business of movies and not the movies themselves.
Removing TOY STORY 3, because it's a beloved franchise whose sequel is considered to be GODFATHER 2 level good, from the conversation, the only film that's really gotten to audiences this summer appears to be INCEPTION.
While some of the talk about the Twitter Effect last summer was partially a result of the service's 2008-2009 explosion. Some of it also had to be a result of execs protecting their asses and admitting that no matter how much money spent on marketing, their influence over box office results is only so finite*. When you have a chance check out Box-Office Blindsides: The Trouble with Tracking over on The Wrap.
Where Twitter and Facebook could have the greatest impact is in slowing down the erosion of films from one week to the next. So many films every year are well reviewed or connect with audiences, only to see their theatrical lives cut short. While others, surprise at how well received they are, only to get no marketing backup to keep that momentum going.
So the question is, could a few more years of social media influence distributors into reworking their theatrical release strategies? Marketing and distribution is still mostly built around a Open Big, move on to DVD model. Little of it, from my humble perspective, is about what actively happens in that squishy in between period. However, maybe it's not distributors who are best equipped to experiment and innovate here.
If anyone should be pioneering how to use social media at point of sale--turn your nose back down, this art IS a business--it should be exhibitors. Imagine what could be possible if theater owners leveraged their places as community hubs with the power of social media to not only better reach audiences, but to better cultivate and cater to them as well. A real Twitter Effect could be exhibitors redefining and rediscovering what it means to be your neighborhood theater.
*This sentence has been rewritten since this post went live for clarification and to lessen the snark. The original sentence can be read here: Any talk of the Twitter Effect last summer was more likely execs not only protecting their asses, but also a slimy, backhanded admission that no matter how much money spent on marketing, their influence over box office results is only so finite.