Are social network users replacing the traditional critic?

November 4, 2010


— Bob Barker is vice-president of Corporate Marketing and Digital Engagement at Alterian. The opinions expressed are his own. —

Film criticism has traditionally been the analysis and evaluation of films in newspapers and other popular, mass-media outlets and academic journals.

But with blogging giving rise to a new wave of amateur film critics and consumers on Facebook and Twitter keen to add their opinions, are we seeing a general decline in the sway of the traditional movie critic? And can the online noise around a movie really allow us to predict a film’s success at the box office?

The “voice of the consumer” is in itself not a new phenomenon. However, whereas in the past the consumers trusted source of information was the traditional critic or reviewer, the conversation has moved on to the ever changing world of online forums and social media. Amazon for example contains consumer reviews of the books and DVDs it has in stock and TripAdvisor offers reviews of hotels and restaurants from customers who have already visited the establishments. People are trusting their own peer reviews over the so called professionals.

Critics are perceived as specialists in their own field of expertise, whether they are a hotel reviewer, film or food critic, but when we want to trust someone’s opinion we ask our friends, colleagues or someone online who seems to share the same interests as we do. Social networking sites can gather a following of like-minded people who look to specific bloggers for reviews as they have found that the critic consistently exhibits an outlook very similar to their own. For example a film critic doesn’t list all the movies they have on their ‘love’ list beneath a movie review. But a blog or Twitter account may contain similar reviews of films you particular enjoy or follow the same publications and organisations that you yourself have on your Twitter list.

The impact of reviews on a film’s box office performance and DVD rentals/sales is also a matter of debate. It is claimed that movie marketing is so intense and well financed that reviewers cannot make an impact. However, social networking has become a force of nature in itself and like a tornado we are seeing a very powerful correlation between a films performance and the level of noise online around a film’s release.

The highly anticipated  ‘The Social Network’, based on the founding of Facebook, premiered in UK cinemas a few weeks ago but ahead of this the web was already awash with a mix of opinions and chatter around the film. Alterian’s SM2 social media analytics tool, found 127,056 online conversations about the movie since July (with probably a lot more now) – with spikes around trailer releases and advance screenings.  According to the Alterian tool that monitors online conversations and is used to help brands track their audience and reputation online, 59 percent of the conversations – some 75,223 occurred on microblogs like Twitter.  Facebook and other social networks were responsible for just 16,676 in comparison.

The majority of those discussing the film online were under 35, and nearly two-thirds were male, according to the report.  Commentary among those few that had seen pre-screenings, tended to be positive, with the most popular topic being the music score by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and Atticus Ross.  A majority of the negative comments were focused on comparisons of The Social Network with movie classics the Godfather and Citizen Kane. Opinions on Facebook, however, were more often overt hate or love of the film, whereas Twitter sentiment tended toward sly and sarcastic commentary.

As we move into a ubiquitious online world, this further highlights the power of such insight for brands and film producers. If a film critic is now no longer viewed by consumers as the Godfather of film reviews, then we are looking toward social networking and our peers for opinions and insight. We’re also seeing a stronger correlation and impact on a film’s performance, with The Social Network opening in the US with $23 million ticket sales in the first weekend, a 480 percent increase (from 16,000 conversations daily to nearly 40,000) in weekend social media conversations about the movie. Ninety-seven percent of these 40,000 conversations have been positive, according to the report, suggesting the film to be an overall success amongst Americans. No one can tell if a film will flop or not, but we’re witnessing the birth of a new form of film review and critique and a way in which we can start to predict if a film will perform well or bomb at the box office.

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