It’s age-old knowledge that the audience reaction to a film decides its long-term potential at the box office. Earlier, this would be referred to as “reports”, as in reports are good, mixed reports or poor reports. Today, the more correct term, “Word Of Mouth” (WOM), is being used to describe the impact of audience reactions on the long-term business of a film.
A good opening does not imply that the audiences liked a film, because an opening is entirely a function of the campaign’s buzz and appeal, which in turn is a function of starcast, promos, genre, music, director, banner, marketing budget, etc. Come the second day, the impact of WOM begins to kick in, albeit only just. But by the fourth day, the WOM around the film has spread like wild fire, and depending on how strong or weak it is, the box office holds or drops.
A large part of our film research work is around understanding the WOM of a film. In this piece, I attempt to answer only a few aspects related to it.
How do we measure WOM?
WOM is a score out of 100, referring to the percentage audiences who will definitely recommend to their friends that they watch the film in a theatre. This data is collected by us over the first four weeks after release of each film, across 19 cities in India. Over the last three years, 3 Idiots scores the highest on WOM at 91, while the other end of the spectrum includes films like Raavan (17), KLPD (20), Khatta Meetha (26), Joker (28) and Mausam (29).
Of course, we don’t ask the audience a direct Yes/No question. In India, asking that would mean getting a predominant “Yes” from most respondents. The WOM question is a proprietary five-point scale question, tested to correlate the WOM score with the actual box office. While I can’t share the question here, the results simply reflect the likeability of the film on a 0-100 scale.
Relationship between WOM and Lifetime Box Office
The relationship between WOM and Lifetime Box Office is a function of the scale of the film. The relationship varies for three types of films – 20 cr+ opening day, 5-19 cr opening day and 0-4 cr opening day. Below, I have used the middle segment (5-19 cr) to illustrate the relationship.
The table below captures how WOM impacts the Lifetime BO for this segment of films. A sample of 15 films released in 2012 has been chosen as a case study. Let’s understand what each column stands for.
- Day 1 BO: Opening day nett collections of the film at the domestic box office.
- Adjusted Day 1 BO: Since some films released on a holiday, or are affected by other factors (e.g. Diwali Puja), the Day 1 BO has to be adjusted to what it would have been had the film released on a normal working Friday.
- Lifetime BO: Domestic nett lifetime box office of the film. The numbers for Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Son Of Sardaar are projections. Boxofficeindia.com has been used as the source for these figures.
- Multiplier: Simply a ratio of Lifetime BO and Adjusted Day 1 BO. This multiplier represents how many times did the film ends up multiplying its first day’s business, after removing the holiday factor.
- WOM: Actual WOM score of the film collected from theatre audiences (0-100).
- Ratio: This is a ratio of WOM and Multiplier, whose significance I shall explain soon.
As you can see, in this sample of 15 films, the WOM ranges from 78 to 28. Also, the multiplier ranges from 12.3 to 4.2. But what remains amazingly consistent is the “ratio”, which hovers between 6 and 7 for all films. What does this mean?
The consistency in the “ratio” implies that the WOM score can be used to accurately forecast the Lifetime BO of a film. All one needs to do is as follows. Divide the WOM of the film by 6.6 (average of “ratio” across 15 films) to get the multiplier. Multiply the Day 1 BO of the film with this multiplier, and you get its lifetime box office.
Let’s take Talaash’s example. The film did 12.5 cr on Day 1. If the WOM was a below-average 45, its lifetime business would be 12.5*(45/6.6) = 85 cr. However, if the WOM was a healthy 60, its lifetime business would be 12.5*(60/6.6) = 114 cr. If the film had to do a business of 100 cr, it will have to generate a WOM score of 100*6.6/12.5 = 53.
We start getting information on the WOM from Tuesday onwards after release. But it takes about a week for the score to settle down. For example, Son Of Sardaar showed a WOM of 70 after the first two days (which I tweeted as well), but eventually settled at a more modest score of 53. Let’s see where Talaash’s WOM settles, but wherever it does, rest assured that the lifetime BO will follow the relationship, driven by the magical 6.6 factor!
Implications for Producers
The key implication for a producer is that their box office task is clearly divided into two sub-tasks. One is to maximize the opening day through a good campaign, and second to maximize the WOM through a good (read audience-friendly) film. While a lot of focus is going on the first one today, the second part, which this article illustrates, is being left to a creative process with little consumer intervention.
This is where we believe the game can be changed. And this change has already started! We have “tested” more than 20 films in the last two years, where the focus is to pre-measure the WOM score, and to prescribe a series of changes in the content to improve the WOM score. For example, consider a film that scores a WOM of 42 in the research. The research will recommend a series of steps (linked to edit and possible re-shoot) to increase the WOM. If the changes were made, they can actually increase the WOM to about 50 in a typical case, which means a straight 19% jump in the film’s lifetime business, given the same opening day business.
Our product that achieves the pre-measurement of WOM and its analysis is called Moviescope. In another post, I will share how Moviescope works.
But meanwhile, it is suffice to say that much as the focus has shifted to the opening, content does play a crucial role in the lifetime business of a film. Just that “good content” in this case has to be defined from the audience’s perspective, not from that of the trade or the critics.