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Can Twitter Control the Box Office?

There's a science of show biz! Twitter may be a tool that can not only predict which films will be hits (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show), but one which may actually be able to create an audience for a movie. Word of mouth builds an audience: Movie makers have long known that while advertising and major stars may create a big first weekend, no film has "legs" unless people tell their friends about it.

Computer Scientists at Hewlett Packard studied 3 million tweets about 25 movies, including the mega-hit "Avatar," and found that the RATE at which messages were produced could be used to accurately predict the box office BEFORE the film opened. In BBC News, "Our intuition was that the faster people tweet, the more likely they are to go and see it." An analysis of the contents of the tweets also helped predict success. In BBC News, Jonathan Fildes quotes HP's Bernardo Huberman as saying, "Our predictions were incredibly close." For example, when his system predicted that zombie film "The Crazies" would make $16.8m in its first weekend in the US, it actually took in $16.06m. When his team predicted that the romantic drama "Dear John" would make $30.71m in its first US weekend, it actually made $30.46m.

But what studios REALLY care about is what they call "legs," meaning big box office receipts for a long period of time (weeks and even months). The Twitter analysis predicted this as well: Their analysis showed a large number of positive tweets about the Oscar-nominated film "The Blind Side" after it was released, but revealed the opposite "New Moon," despite the fact that "Moon" had a big first week b.o. that dropped off suddenly.

Most of all, studios would like to be able to spot the "sleepers," like "Little Miss Sunshine" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which nobody expects will be hits. If they could catch good Twitter buzz about them early, they would put them into more theaters.

Fildes quotes HP's Bernardo Huberman as saying, "It's tapping into collective intelligence." With all this in mind, will movie studios may try to CREATE hit films using Twitter by salting the site with "fake" tweets, extolling a particular film? We predict you'll see these soon!

In fact, you may see this sooner than you think. In Adweek, Brian Morrissey reports that Twitter has a new system called Promoted Tweets, which allows advertisers like movie studios to buy their way into the stream of short-message updates Twitter users consume. According to Morrissey, "The system will need to win over users to the idea of brands injecting themselves into social media conversations, a tricky proposition that has bedeviled many social networks. Twitter is trying to strike a balance between making Promoted Tweets part of the stream of content while not tricking users. It said the brand messages will be 'clearly labeled' as ads."

We'll believe THAT when we see it (er, Tweet it). And we don't need twitter to predict is that our tickets to this year's Dreamland Festival will sell out again, so don't get left out, get your ticket today. And find out how much fun we had last year!

To learn more, click here and here.

Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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