Predicting box office receipts for a motion picture release, whether for opening weekend or an entire theatrical run, is anything but an exact science. Leave it to the good folks at Google, those lords of the algorithm, to rely on math rather than fuzzy logic when coming up with a better formula for “tracking”, as the practice of box office prognostication is often referred. Last Thursday Google released a white paper titled “Quantifying Movie Magic with Google Search” which claims it can predict box office grosses for movies four weeks before their release with 94% accuracy.
As a white paper, the document does its job rather effectively and can hardly be faulted; it favorably promotes Google’s products and services through the use of carefully chosen facts and statistics, all in the guise of a well researched report. Its publication served its promotional purpose with industry and technology publications regurgitating Google’s findings in their own reporting. Few, if any, media outlets took the time to read between the lines and highlight the facts being presented from a more circumspect position. That is my intention here.
Don’t get me wrong, adding the kind of user behavior data Google has at its finger tips should most certainly make predicting box office far more accurate. Rather, I would suggest that Google’s narrow study conveniently produced complimentary results that most industry professionals already know or would rightly assume. In Google’s defense, it is their job to continue reminding potential users and customers of its value, even if certain facts can be deduced via common sense and observing overall consumer trends.
For instance, Google states that searching online for information about movies has increased by 56% from 2011 to 2012. We have to take their percentage at face value, but frankly it doesn’t really matter. Of course more moviegoers are searching for info online; (1) newspapers and magazines are disappearing by the day as their subscribers flock to the Internet so there are fewer and fewer places to look up showtimes and reviews, (2) more-and-more people have become Internet users in the same time period, and (3) an influx of smartphones means that more consumers can search for movie information while on-the-go, even if they don’t have a computer at home. Put another way… it’s a big no duh.