NOTRE DAME, Indiana — When movie reviews posted by both critics and regular viewers share similar content, it bodes well for box office performance, according to researchers at the University of Notre Dame.
A decade or two ago, most Americans scoured their local newspapers for the latest movie reviews. It’s all about online reviews these days. For example, in 2018, most US adults (63%) said they had a “moderate to heavy reliance” on online reviews when deciding what to watch. Previous studies have explored the impact of online reviews on box office ticket sales, but all of these projects have primarily focused on review volume and ratings. Much less is known about the impact of similarities in review content between reviewers and general viewers on consumer decisions.
At the center of today’s movie review industry is the popular website Rotten Tomatoes., which collects both reviews from professional critics for movies and TV shows, as well as “user” reviews written by everyday people. RT aggregates the two categories of reviews to form two percentage scores (out of 100%): a “tomatometer” score made up of all critical reviews and an “audience score” made up of all user reviews.
After analyzing the reviews available on RT, the researchers describe a measure of “topic consistency” to capture the amount of overlap between reviewer and user content. According to the authors of the study, this relationship seems to have an impact on film sales. If critics and users generally discuss the same aspects of a given movie in their reviews, it will be more memorable and increase the likelihood that people will watch the movie.
Similar reviews boost mediocre movies
Interestingly, the results suggest that this association is stronger for films with generally poor critical ratings than for films with extreme rating fluctuations. It is also more robust when ratings from reviewers echo those from users. For example, when both mention aspects like plot or acting.
“We were surprised to find that content overlap between the two groups is a positive predictor of box office revenue,” says study co-author Shijie Lu, Associate Professor of Marketing Howard J. and Geraldine F. Korth at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of. Business, in an academic version, “while the content overlap within each group is not.”
The research team focused on reviews from critics and users of the film “La La Land” during this study. Reviews generally covered the film’s potential to win movie awards.
“It will likely make a potential moviegoer remember that particular attribute and therefore make them more likely to see the movie in theaters,” Prof. Lu adds. “On the other hand, if critics and users are discussing totally different aspects of the movie, it will be less memorable and less likely to see a movie.”
The UND team believe their work can help film producers and marketing agencies. Professor Lu recommends that both groups start paying more attention to online reviews beyond what professional reviewers post.
“To take advantage of the topic consistency effect, producers need to identify similarities and differences between the responses of critics and mainstream moviegoers and engage with both types of critics to find commonalities between the critics” , says Professor Lu. “These should be exploited and used as part of the promotion strategy for the film.”
Talk about things fans want to hear
It can also produce common ground for discussion topics.
“They should introduce a common theme for reviewers and users to discuss,” Professor Lu continues. revenue at the box office, all things being equal.”
“Additionally, theme promotion can be applied to movie trailers, posters, blogs, and TV and online advertisements. This will naturally lead critics and users to address the topics in question,” concludes the author of the study.
This concept and measure of subject coherence should not be limited to movies. The study authors add that this approach can also be applied to reviews of other types of products such as cosmetics and book publishing.
The study is published in the Marketing Review.