Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2009:
#4: The Twitter Effect
By David Mumpower
January 2, 2010
Another fascinating aspect of this discussion involves the reviews and buzz of a pair of summer titles Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and GI Joe. Both of these titles are based upon popular 1980s cartoons. Both of them had massive opening weekends. Revenge of the Fallen's $109.0 million is currently the eighth largest box office debut of all time. G.I. Joe's $54.7 million is the 13th largest debut of 2009. Mediocre to poor word-of-mouth should have truncated the legs of both titles. That did not happen. G.I Joe earned another $95.5 million after opening weekend, giving it a respectable (for a huge opening action film) final multiplier of 2.75. The Transformers sequel made a massive $293.1 million after opening weekend. To put that number in perspective, consider that this post-opening total on its own would edge out Up to be the third most successful film of the year behind Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Avatar. Revenge of the Fallen's final box office multiplier was 3.69, quite a bit better than a much higher quality summer blockbuster Star Trek managed. That title's final multiplier was 3.25, placing it squarely in the middle between G.I. Joe and Revenge of the Fallen. Summarizing, even though consumers had the knowledge that G.I. Joe and Transformers 2 were sub-par in quality, consumers still gave them the benefit of the doubt. If the Twitter Effect exists, it was negligible in these instances.
What we're left to determine is how real a phenomenon the Twitter Effect is. A leading market research firm for the industry determined in October that only 12% of moviegoers use Twitter. Due to the nature of emerging Web sites, that number is probably being understated as the site's user total grows markedly each day. Even so, if only one out of every eight consumers have access to Twitter, should that mean word-of-mouth is only impacted on a small scale? Not necessarily. We live in an era where in order for a thought to attain ubiquity, it must go viral. If someone says something funny, albeit nasty, about a movie on Twitter, the consumers who read the quote are likely to pass it along to their friends. Ergo, only one out of every eight potential customers may see the original quote. The problem is that this relaying of the quote doesn't end there.
Once someone has mentioned it on a message board forum and/or quoted it on their Facebook account, all of their potential readers have access to the same information. And the scary thought is that several people who see it at one of those places may repeat the process, creating a re-tweet system that isn't self-contained on Twitter. In this manner, the spread of the stray thought has organically increased exponentially, no matter how large a group the original number of people who could have read it may have been. What cannot be denied is that the nature of the Internet in its current form is interconnectivity. Nothing happens in a vacuum any more. A single stray thought mentioned in one location may be picked up at another place, passed down as words of wisdom at others and become an instant sensation, all in a span of a day.