Best predictor of a movie's box-office success? Twitter. Really.

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

So Clash of the Titans took the top spot at the box office over the weekend, raking in an estimated $61.4 million domestically. Turns out that if you'd been paying attention to Twitter, just like the number crunchers over at The Social Computing Lab, that figure wouldn't have come as a surprise.

According to the paper "Predicting the Future With Social Media" (which you can download in its entirety here, if you're ready to wade through pages of algorithms), by analyzing 2.89 million tweets from 1.2 million users about 24 movies, researchers were able to accurately predict the box-office revenue generated by those movies during their opening weekends.

Sitaram Asur and Bernardo A. Huberman, authors of the paper, provide a few examples:

The movie Transylmania that opened on Dec 4th had easily the lowest tweet-rates of all movies considered. For the week prior to its release, it received on an average 2.75 tweets per hour. As a result of this lack of attention, the movie captured the record for the lowest-grossing opening for a movie playing at over 1,000 sites, making only $263,941 in its opening weekend, and was subsequently pulled from theaters at the end of the second week. On the other end of the spectrum, two movies that made big splashes in their opening weekends, Twilight: New Moon (making 142M) and Avatar (making 77M) had, for their pre-release week, averages of 1365.8 and 1212.8 tweets per hour respectively. This once again illustrates the importance of attention in social media.

But it isn't just the volume of chatter that predicts box office—it's the content of that chatter as well—so Asur and Huberman analyzed each tweet to determine what they call its "sentiment content." Once both of those factors are taken into account, Twitter analysis can be more accurate than what the researchers called the current predictive "gold standard," the Hollywood Stock Exchange index.

Great work, guys! Now for your next project, how about coming up with a formula that will tell us whether a movie's going to be any good?

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