New Pre-Launch Test Calculates a Movie's Box-Office Success Model Could Help Movie Industry Fine-Tune Ad Strategies

Article excerpt

THE secret to Hollywood's blockbuster box office sales so far in 1993 is simple: The movies are good.

But in an industry where "gut instinct" is still the order of the day, a new mathematical model, developed to predict a movie's sales prior to its advertising and promotional leadup, could become the crystal ball of the motion picture industry.

"This whole notion of understanding better consumers' enjoyment - trying to predict what kind of entertainment experience they're likely to enjoy more or less - is a very hot and timely topic," says Jehoshua Eliashberg, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. This new model, he says, could save the movie and other entertainment industries a lot of money.

Professor Eliashberg developed the model over three years with Mohanbir Sawhney, assistant professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

The movie industry has shown interest, Mr. Sawhney says. One studio, which he declines to name, plans a test of the model within the next six months, he says.

The model assumes that consumers go through various mental stages in deciding to see a movie. In measuring a movie's prospects, the model uses pre-release advertising, such as newspaper and television ads, simulated positive and negative word-of-mouth conversations derived from movie clips or sneak previews, and the reaction of a test audience to the movie.

These factors are then converted into a mathematical formula that translates consumer attitudes into movie attendance. This in turn is translated into dollars.

The model could be used for any new entertainment product such as compact discs and TV shows, where word of mouth and advertising have a big impact on the consumer's decision, Eliashberg says.

The researchers tested their model earlier this year on two quite different movies, "Groundhog Day" and "The Cemetery Club," both released nationally on Feb. 12. Using 140 students at the University of Pennsylvania, the researchers projected movie attendance on the university campus.

Although the professors only tested their model on college students, their national box-office projections (determined mathematically from the university attendance) were considered fairly reliable because 16- to 24-year-olds constitute 70 to 80 percent of moviegoers.

The results: The model projected gross sales of $67. …