Monday, August 03, 2009

Quit Fooling Yourself

I am tired of being saturated with overly hyped meaningless statistics. At least, I am 63.78% sure that I am. The film industry has been getting away it for years and this chicanery cannot go on. The is one of the few industries that publicly denies that inflation exists. The only inflation that they are aware of involves either bicycle tires or their own track record of success.

The only statistic that is publicly acknowledged is Gross Revenue, or how much money they took in. Now it is one thing to report a statistic such as this, but it is another thing to flaunt it. This film had the largest opening for a non-action film debuting on a second Thursday in July since 1974! I am sorry, but that is really disingenuous.

The business world does not fawn over Gross Revenue numbers like this. They use calculations like Net Profit and Return on Investment (Money you make / Money you spent). And guess what, companies don't break all time records every three weeks!

Another example is baseball. Aside from the sport's recent spotty numbers, they have not inflated their statistics. For instance, what if baseball did what the film industry does and multiply home runs by average price of admission? This year (2009) the average ticket price to a Yankees game is $72.97. The year before (2008) the average price was only $41.40. So Alex Rodriguez's 35 home runs last year would equal 1449. This year's 19 home runs equals 1386. So by the movie theater logic, he is 1 home run away from besting last year's rousing success. I don't think so. Let's go back to $5 dollar seats in 1961 and look at Roger Maris's amazing 61 home runs. Wait no, that only equals 305. ARod is almost 5 times better than Maris this year according to the industry.

So, what is the solution?
A simple acknowledgment of total ticket sales . Now there is once again a problem with this because the population has grown, but not near as much as prices have. Or maybe we can use a percentage of the total census that saw the movie. So in 2009, 17.5% of the population saw that movie. So for example, so far this year, roughly 47 million Americans have seen Transformers 2. Impressive. Current figures put the number of people in the country at 307 million. So Transformers 2 sold tickets to 15.33% of Americans. Now there is a statistic I can buy.

Let's put this in perspective a little. In 1993, Jurassic Park came out. So far, Transformers 2 has sold $30 million more than the Crichton classic. But wait, ticket prices were different back then. Jurassic Park sold more than 86.2 million tickets in America. In 1993, the estimated population was around 258 million people. Jurassic Park sold tickets to 33.41% of Americans.

So while Transformers 2 has grossed more than Jurassic Park did, Jurassic Park attracted twice as much of the population to the theater.

So if we unwind, all of the inflation gobbledygook, we are left with the following list of movies that were 'huge' in my conscious lifetime. And whether you liked the movies or not, you can remember that these movies were huge events out there.

  1. Titanic-1997
  2. Jurassic Park-1993
  3. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace-1999
  4. Forrest Gump-1994
  5. The Lion King-1994
  6. The Dark Knight-2008

Come on Hollywood, let's be realistic.

1 comment:

III said...

I'm not sure you can go purely by ticket prices. How do you account for economic conditions when a movie is released? In times of recession, people cut back & don't go out to the theater as often. If TDK was released 3 years earlier, does it exceed the ticket sales of the other movies on this list?

Also, this decade has brought the rise of HD. Who needs to go see a movie on the big screen when everyone has a big screen at home? Or at least has a buddy or family member that does. And with the rise of Netflix, those subscribers that already pay a "monthly movie fee" are less apt to go pay even more money to watch a movie they'd essentially be able to watch for free a few months later. I know that personally I've gone to see only 2 movies in the theater in the last 3 years for those two reasons.

So, all that said, I think we may be living in an age where watching a movie at the theater is in decline.

I think that the best thing ticket sales are a measure of hype. At least first & second weekend figures. It's a measure of how well studio marketers did of creating an appetite for a given movie.