What is the relationship between spoilers and movie box office? It is easy to tell a story that spoilers reduce anticipated enjoyment and so lower attendance at movie theaters. (I write during times of Covid so it is hard to imagine how anything reduces attendance further but you get the general idea). Is this the case however?
Reviews And Spoilers
Joseph Ryoo (an past student of mine and co-author) along with Shane Wang (my most frequent co-author) and Shijie Lu (who I was lucky enough to also work on the movie piracy with) investigated the effects of spoilers. (April, 2021 — Joseph has just obtained his PhD, congratulations Joseph.)
To understand the impact of spoilers they text mined reviews.
To capture the degree of information in spoiler review … the authors propose a spoiler intensity metric and measure it using a correlated topic model.Ryoo, Wang and Lu (2020)
Nowadays topic models can quickly extract key features of text, the themes/topics. (A correlated topic model is an updated version of a topic model that imposed fewer restrictions).
What Did They Find Looking At Spoilers and Movie Box Office?
Put simply spoilers were not hurting the box office.
…the authors find a significant and positive relationship between spoiler intensity and box office revenue.Ryoo, Wang and Lu (2020)
A hint can be found in where the effect was strongest.
The positive effect of spoiler intensity is greater for movies with a limited release, smaller advertising spending, and moderate user ratings, and is stronger in the earlier days after the movie’s release.Ryoo, Wang and Lu (2020)
At the risk of seeming obsessed with marketing this can be seen as a type of marketing. Specifically an informational effect. The impact is more effective when the movie isn’t the sort of thing you are likely to know a lot about otherwise. The information likely plays a role in reducing the movie goers perceived risk of attending. With a spoiler the potential attendees have a better idea of what they are going to get. This likely helps them commit to a theater visit.
Could This Still Spoil?
Of course, given the authors looked at box office and not some measure of consumer enjoyment I guess it is still possible that people went to the movie but where less happy than they might have otherwise been. Still tickets were still sold.
Read: Joseph Ryoo, Xin/Shane Wang, and Shijie lu (2020) Do Spoilers Really Spoil? Using Topic Modeling to Measure the Effect of Spoiler Reviews on Box Office Revenue, Journal of Marketing