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Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2009:
#4: The Twitter Effect

By David Mumpower

January 2, 2010

You will be assimilated.

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Perhaps no emerging discussion topic was more passionately debated in 2009 than The Twitter Effect. For those of you who only gained Internet access within the past 72 hours and somehow missed all of it, the premise here is simple. At all points during the history of cinema, the most important factor in a movie's long term success is its word-of-mouth. Yes, strategies may be employed to counter this to some extent, but it is a lot easier to sell a movie that people like enough to tell their friends. Conversely, it is much, much harder to get consumers to want to see a title that their friends have told them is a complete waste of money. Combining the power of word-of-mouth with the changing dynamics of global communication and interaction has created a problem for exhibitors and distributors.

Until the mid-1990s, the only ways a consumer could find out that a movie was terrible were through movie reviews and communication with friends. While the Internet existed during this time frame and was used by a technologically advanced group of early adopters, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of potential movie-goers read reviews in the paper and a few reliable magazine sources such as Premiere and Entertainment Weekly. Siskel & Ebert also provided some guidance as they were noteworthy television critics. Otherwise, if a person wanted to find out about the quality of a film, they would have to be motivated enough to ask friends. Conversely, if a person wanted to hate on a film, they had to be motivated enough to track down their friends then rant and rave about the lackluster quality of a title. Prior to the Internet era, if you tried to seek out full intel on the quality of a movie release, you had to want it.




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Over the past 15 years, that situation has changed dramatically. On a prior version of this Web site, we introduced a feature we called Critical Mass back in 1998. The idea was simple. One of our long time contributors, Lexy Green-Seal, would find as many online reviews as possible and she would post links to them on our site. The technological setup bordered on the dark ages as poor Lexy was left to do almost all of the legwork herself. Due to her love of movies, she willingly took on this task and provided a tremendous service to the small but loyal fanbase we had at the time. I remembered thinking at the time that in just a few years, I could see such a service becoming hugely popular with consumers. The problem we faced in the early days of the Internet is that few newspapers immediately adopted an online presence that gave away all of their content away for free online. As such, there weren't that many free reviews available in 1998. Fast forward to now and that statement seems ridiculous.

With the advent of Rotten Tomatoes and its overwhelming popularity, a single site collating all respected movie reviews on the internet made it an oasis in the desert for movie goers. Finally, they had a one-stop shopping location for all possible opinions about a movie's quality. Surprisingly, the process was streamlined further with the onslaught of social media Web sites in the early 2000s. A single Facebook status update offered a consumer the opportunity to quickly express their feelings about a film they had just seen. And that process was again enhanced in terms of quickness of spread message due to cell phone improvements that allowed internet access. A person walking out of a movie theater could immediately express their displeasure on the Internet, just as Comic Book Guy had threatened would be possible. What used to take days if not weeks had become an instantaneous process.


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