The Twitter phenomenon is making the Hollywood studios nervous even as they look for ways to turn social networking into a marketing tool.
“Hollywood execs are coming to the uncomfortable realization that the Twitter Effect will inexorably change their business,” argues Anne Thompson in her Indie Wire blog Thompson on Hollywood. “No more tricking audiences into buying one weekend on a bad movie, they're realising,” she adds, tongue firmly in cheek. “Now movies may actually have to be good. The horror!”
Instant messaging and Facebook has been around for some time, of course, but the burgeoning popularity of Twitter means word-of-mouth can spread with lightning speed. In the US, Bruno's ticket sales after the Friday opening slumped by an alarming 39 per cent on Saturday, suggesting disappointed moviegoers started tweeting their friends after the first sessions.
Eamonn Bowles, president of independent distributor Magnolia Pictures, says studios worry that the time may soon come when "people will be twittering during the opening credits – and leaving when they don't like them."
Marc Shmuger, the chairman of Universal Pictures, agrees that the speed of word-of-mouth has greatly accelerated through technology, and that's changing how studios approach marketing.
“Twitter is real-time,” marketing consultant Gordon Paddison told The Wrap. “It's like waves cresting on the shore. You need to be mindful of how word of mouth breaks, and as it starts to break, to be able to shape it, respond to it, or take advantage of it.”
The Weinstein Co. cleverly used the new medium by offering the public tickets to a screening of Inglourious Basterds at San Diego's Comic-Con convention via Twitter. It also staged the “first ever Red Carpet Twitter meet-up" during the film's premiere at Mann's Chinese in Hollywood, generating celebrity tweets including Sarah Silverman's "just made me smile forever" – a very odd comment for a violent film with few light moments.
However in the US, Movietickets.com recently ran a home-page poll in which 88 per cent of respondents claimed Twitter had no effect on them. Joel Cohen, the company's executive vice president and general manager, told the Baltimore Sun he thinks "we may be putting too much weight onto the Twitter Effect.” Cohen added, “You can see Twitter's benefits as a communications tool that spreads the word about a film, and the negatives have yet to be proven."
I'm not sure if the so-called Twitter Effect will have any discernible impact on Australian movie-going – mostly because the vast majority of people respect the rights of fellow patrons by turning off their mobile devices.
And if there is a steeper than normal drop-off in ticket sales here and in the US, it may be because some folks are streaming or downloading movies from file-sharing sites.