A multimillion-dollar budget, all-star cast, superb special effects – none of these is a guarantee of box office success. Take for example “The Lone Ranger” – a Hollywood blockbuster starring Johnny Depp with big-time director Gore Verbinski at the helm: The move chalked up a loss of roughly $100 million, putting it at No. 4 on the Wikipedia list of all-time “ box office bombs ”. It is not known whether the film’s producers ever bothered to consult Vinny Bruzzese. The former statistics professor branched out a few years ago and is now working as a so-called “script doctor”: For $20,000 he and his team will analyze a script and rate its chances of success as measured against other comparable movies.
“Demons in horror movies can (either) target people or be summoned. If it’s a targeting demon, you are likely to have much higher opening-weekend sales than if it’s summoned,” observed Bruzzese in a 2013 interview with the New York Times . Movie critics however fear that an over-scrutinizing of Big Data could lead to a plethora of virtually indistinguishable movie ideas. And filmmakers are not the only ones guilty of promoting “Hollywood sameness” – the behavior of moviegoers is also contributing to the malaise.
In an analysis of Big Data, search engine giant Google discovered that moviegoers use an average of 13 different sources to decide which movie to go to. According to a whitepaper Google can predict the success or failure of a film on its opening weekend at a 92-percent probability rate. Even four weeks in advance of opening day, an analysis of click patterns for the film trailer can lead to realistic predictions on the movie’s success during the first few days of its release – leaving very little room for "movie magic".
The benefit of search engine analysis and related services for Hollywood studios has long been clear to Netflix, with the result that this has become part of everyday business at the company – and a guarantor of its success. The instant hit status of the company's "House of Cards" series was anything but a surprise. Back in 2011, when the rights to the series were up for grabs, Netflix took advantage of the vast amount of information it had amassed on its customers and their viewing habits to calculate the show’s probability of success .
Without ever having viewed a single scene from the series, Netflix executives offered $100 million for the rights to the show. Why? "We know what people watch on Netflix, and we’re able to understand with a high degree of confidence how big (an audience will be) for a given show, based on people's viewing habits," explained company communications director Jonathan Friedland to Wired magazine . And success bore him out: More than five million new subscribers – an increase of almost 20 percent – nicely rewarded the company’s initial investment.