Moviegoers Online: The Wisdom of Crowds and the Web

With the summer blockbuster season officially underway, audiences can expect to see more movie marketing campaigns appearing across all types of media. As an avid Internet user who is behind on my theatre-going, I wondered how people engage with online content around a film and how it might figure into their decision-making process about what to see.

To try to answer this question, I looked at the patterns around three big Hollywood films that were released in May — two of which I haven’t seen – Iron Man, Speed Racer, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

From the data, it looks like audiences are looking for different types of information and experiences at different times. Before the release, they are open to interacting primarily with official channels, but afterwards more people tend seek out opportunities to interact with other audience members on movie aggregator sites like Yahoo! Movies and IMDb.

The chart below shows unique visitors to each of the movies’ official websites (ironmanmovie.marvel.com, speedracerthemovie.warnerbros.com, and indianajones.com) before, during, and after the week of the release. Notice that visitor numbers consistently increase before the movie opens, peak during the week of release, and fall steadily afterwards.

But I saw a different pattern on the movie aggregator sites I looked at: Yahoo! Movies and IMDB.

  • Relatively few people visit these sites before the movie releases
  • These sites get many more visitors during the release week too, but at about 216% and 474%, the increase is relatively much greater than the official sites in that same week
  • The change in traffic is much slower from release week to the week following, and it doesn’t always decline

So, why would this be? The answer may be in the type of experience the different types of sites offer to the audience.

Some features are different, but all of the official sites offer users a somewhat passive, non-participatory experience. Visitors can read cast bios, character descriptions and plot synopses; download screensavers, chat icons, and other graphics; watch video; and follow links to buy tickets.

Sites like Yahoo! Movies and IMDb offer many of the same features that the official sites do: cast bios, plot synopses and photos, as well as video. One of the major differences, however, is users’ ability to read and write reviews and rate the films.

The summer movie season is just beginning, so we will see over the next twelve weeks if we can see the same patterns for the next crop of blockbusters. In the meantime, I’m on the fence about Indiana Jones. I might pass on Speed Racer.

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