Determinants of Film Attendance in the Information Age
I Just Had to Look, Having Read the Book: Determinants of Film Attendance
in the Information Age
Patricia Williamson (***address inquiries to this author)
Department of Broadcast and Cinematic Arts
343 Moore Hall
Central Michigan University
Mt. Pleasant, MI 48859
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Dr. Robert LaRose
Department of Telecommunication
409 CAS Building
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1212
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Department of Advertising
315 CAS Building
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1212
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A/V Needs: Power Point capabilities or Overhead projector
March 31, 2003
I Just Had to Look, Having Read the Book: Determinants of Film Attendance
in the Information Age
What influences individual decisions to attend movies? Multiple regression
analysis revealed that special effects and the books on which they were
based were important predictors of intentions to attend The Fellowship of
the Ring, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone among a sample of 343
college students. Visits to movie Web sites were also an important
influence. Surprisingly, the perceived movie preferences of dating partners
and friends had a relationship to movie attendance.
Determinants of Film Attendance in the Information Age
I Just Had to Look, Having Read the Book: Determinants of Film Attendance
in the Information Age
A great deal of research has been conducted with the goal of determining
why films are successful at the box office. Some studies focused on the
content of films themselves, such as the stars, the genre of the film, or
the director (Austin, 1981; DeSilva, 1998). Others delved into the
marketing strategies used to promote films, including their advertising,
word of mouth, and critical reviews (Eliashberg & Shugan, 1997; Wyatt &
Badger, 1984, 1987; Faber & O'Guinn, 1984; Zufryden, 1996). However, most
researchers have concentrated on aggregate box office returns when
investigating movie-going behavior (Zufryden, 2000; Eliashberg & Shugan,
1997; Krider & Weinberg, 1998; Sochay, 1994). Only a few (e.g., DeSilva,
1998, Eliashberg & Sawhney, 1994; Austin, 1982; 1983) have investigated
individual-level movie attendance decisions. In this study, we assessed
the factors individuals considered when choosing to see Harry Potter and
the Sorcerer's Stone and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,
both released in late 2001.
In the early days of film, audience research was frowned upon by industry
executives. Columbia Pictures President Harry Cohn had his own "foolproof"
method for predicting the success of a film, "If my fanny squirms, it's
bad. If my fanny doesn't squirm, it's good. It's as simple as
that." (Austin, 1989). It wasn't until the 1950's that the industry
shifted from intuition to the scientific method in order to improve their
image with banks and financiers (Austin, 1989).
Even today, however, the film industry uses research for one main reason,
and that is to find out how to attract people to see a particular
film. Austin writes, "explanation and understanding, two essential
functions of theory, are clearly less
important than the hope of learning how to maximize attendance at a
specific film." (1989: 2). Currently, the industry seems to follow what
Austin calls the "uniqueness assumption," implying that results gathered
from studying any one film cannot be generalized to the next. Every film
is unique and therefore must be researched and sold independent of any
other (1989: 2). So, the question then becomes, what are the factors that
influence the decision to attend a specific film?
As the technology of film production and film marketing continues to
evolve, a further question arises about the impact of information
technologies on the film product. Much of the extant research on movie
attendance was completed before digital special effects and movie Web sites
became the fixtures of movie making and movie marketing that they are
today. What impact do these "new media" innovations add to the mix of
factors that influence movie attendance decisions?
The College Movie Audience
The college movie audience is especially relevant to the study of movie
attendance in the information age. The college aged audience contributes
greatly to box office returns. Adults aged 18-24 were more than twice as
likely as the population as a whole to have seen specific movies in the
past six months (Dortch, 1996). In 2002, individuals under the age of 30
generated half of all movie admissions (Motion Picture Association of
America, 2002). Furthermore, during difficult financial times, 18-24 year
olds don't necessarily cut back on their movie spending (Dortch,
1996). While these young adults have significantly lower incomes, they
also have fewer financial responsibilities.
Moreover, college students have exceptionally high levels of access to the
Internet and are more likely to use it as an entertainment option than the
general population (Pew Internet Research, 2002). Many college students
enjoy high speed Internet access, either in their dorms or in public labs,
counting them among the few who can fully enjoy the multimedia features and
video clips prominently featured on the Web sites for popular films.
Indeed, the movie industry is concerned that college students perhaps enjoy
that access far too much, enlisting colleges in a campaign to stamp out
online piracy of Hollywood films (Carlson, 2002). Thus, the college student
audience is essential to the success of films today and also provides a
window on the future of movie marketing.
What factors are important in movie attendance decisions? Some of the
earliest quantitative research done on movie audiences involved the role of
critics and film experts in the film-going decision making process. Katz
and Lazarfeld (1955) explored the relationship of movie experts and their
advisees. Their study found certain audiences (including both younger and
older female film audiences) tended to seek out experts in determining
which movie to see. In a quasi experimental study, Burzynski and Bayer
(1977) found that prior information about a film affected audience
appreciation. Wyatt and Badger (1984) conducted a laboratory experiment of
the effects of critics' reviews and found that (1) subjects correctly
identified the direction of reviews, (2) directions of reviews read before
viewing a film affected past viewing evaluations compatible with the
direction of the reviews, and (3) reviews affected film-viewing interest
compatible with the direction of the review.
The effect of critics' reviews was less clear when aggregate attendance
data rather than individual attendance decisions were analyzed. Eliashberg
and Shugan (1997) examined the role critics play in predicting and
influencing the commercial box office performance of motion pictures. They
theorized that critics were either opinion leaders who influenced the
commercial box office performance of films or were predictors of their
respective audiences. In regard to the "influencer" role of critics, they
found no statistically significant relationship between critical reviews
and overall box office revenues. As for the "predictor" role of critics,
the authors found that critical reviews were uncorrelated with early box
office results, but they did tend to correlate with the total cumulative
box office for motion pictures as well as the staying power (or "legs") of
the motion picture.
However, consumers are not totally reliant on the opinions of critics,
presumably they are able to judge the merits of the films for themselves to
some degree based on the content of the film and information about its
production qualities. Indeed, those visiting the theaters during the first
weekend of a new release often do not have the benefit of critical reviews.
They presumably rely on other attributes of the film made known to them
either through the producers' promotional efforts or through word of mouth.
Litman (1983) used a multiple regression model to study the impact
of production costs, critics' ratings, story type, presences of a major
distributor, Christmas release, presence of an Academy Award nominee, and
presences of an Academy Award winner. His data set consisted of movies
released theatrically from 1972-1978 and his dependent variable was
distributor revenue. The involvement of a major distributor, a Christmas
and critics' ratings were the three most important predictors of cumulative
Using individual-level data DeSilva (1998) found that the film's director,
its advertising, critical reviews, as well as the age and marital status of
the individual were the main predictors of film attendance in a multiple
regression analysis that explained approximately 20 percent of the variance
in determinants of theatre attendance. However, DeSilva's analysis focused
on the issue of film attendance generally rather than specific films. That
is, his operational definitions were phrased to ask respondents "to rate
how important each of these factors was to them when they decide which
movie to see", instead of the attributes of particular films.
A heretofore overlooked attribute of the film is its special effects.
Anecdotally, special effects have long been a major box office draw,
arguably dating back to the "special effects" scene in the very first
movie, The Great Train Robbery (1903), in which the villain appeared to
fire his six-shooter directly into the camera. Today, digital special
effects are thought to be a critical ingredient in many box office
hits. Increasingly, studios are spending a significant portion of a film's
budget on special effects. As Industrial Light & Magic president Jim Morris
points out, about 70 percent of all Hollywood films today use digital
effects (Red Herring, 1997) and the average Hollywood film has a total
production budget of $47.7 million (MPAA, 2002). New Line cinema spent $180
million to produce the The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Landro, 2000), while
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone's production cost was $125 million
Another aspect of the current state of moviemaking is heated bidding for
the rights to successful novels among multimedia conglomerates. The rights
to Harry Potter, for example, went for $1 million (Anonymous,
2001). Again, film history provides ample examples of highly successful
films based on popular novels, Gone With the Wind (1939) comes immediately
to mind. However, this attribute has been overlooked in prior research.
Films do not succeed entirely on the basis of critical acclaim, or the
merits of their component parts. Studio marketing efforts play a critical
role, particularly when it comes to generating the "buzz" that brings
audiences to opening weekends. Many films are introduced in a given year,
but very few become blockbusters. Because of this, studios often rely on
short-term, intensive marketing strategies to stimulate demand for releases
that are anticipated to have a short life cycle and limited market appeal
(Sawhney and Eliashberg, 1992).
Zufryden (1996) developed a new model to evaluate the market performance of
new film releases as a function of advertising that was intended to assist
this new-product planning process. Zufryden found that the lifecycle of
films is quite short, sometimes only a few weeks. Film diffusion patterns
were found to be characterized by a peak in box-office success at the time
of initial theatrical release, followed by a pattern of exponential decay
over time. A weakness of this study, however, is that Zufryden used a
pooled awareness model to estimate pre-launch awareness of
films. Therefore, the data is not specific to particular
films. Evaluation of advertising response, word of mouth response, and
distribution response were all measured in this study. However, specific
campaigns nor specific film distribution decisions or the nature of a
film's advertising media plan were not taken into consideration.
Movie Marketing in the Information Age
In the past, film studios relied mainly on television commercials,
newspaper advertising and publicity efforts to promote films. Since the
success of the low-budget film The Blair Witch Project, however, studios
have embraced web marketing as their fourth pillar (Fattah, 2001). At the
aggregate level, Website use as measured by website log file data and
ticket sales were directly related (Zufryden, 2000). However, this study
found that spikes in website usage for particular films correlated with
spikes in the box office figures for the same films. Thus, whether
exposure to the website caused the increase in the film's attendance or if
film attendance inspired movie-goers to visit the Website was undetermined.
In terms of film promotion, Internet sites highlight the film's "hook,"
the core concept that encourages film attendance and participation in other
aspects of the movie's overall marketing program (Sharrett, 2000). In a
sense, Web sites are often used as an extension of word of mouth marketing
(Grover, 2000). This type of "viral marketing" is growing in popularity
due to its ability to spread buzz. Viral marketing is really just a way to
use word of mouth promotion via a digital platform, which creates the
potential for instant and exponential growth in the message's exposure and
influence (Hanson, 2002). In fact, it is now seen as a necessity for most
studios when they implement their marketing plan (McCarthy, 1999). In the
year 2000 the average Internet marketing costs accounted for 0.7% of the
average 27-million dollars spent marketing each movie that
year (Fattah, 2001). Athough that figure was up 40% from 1999, it is still
a nominal cost (Fattah, 2001).
Using the internet for film marketing is a natural fit. Netizens are the
dream moviegoer. They tend to be loyal and have enough expendable income
to see a movie several times (Donahue, 2000). Furthermore, the
demographics for web usage match up nicely with the target audience for
film going. Ninety percent of America's children and teenagers use the
Internet, which is more than any other age group (NTIA, 2002).
As stated earlier, the move to expanded internet marketing for films began
to sweep the industry after the enormous success of The Blair Witch
Project, a low-budget independent film shot by film school students for a
mere $50,000. Despite a miniscule advertising budget, Artisan
Entertainment was able to utilize internet marketing and promotion,
resulting in great success for the film at the box office. The Blair Witch
Project grossed more than $140 million at the box office and, had one of
the highest cost-to-earnings ratios in the history of cinema (Douglas, 1999).
Today, nearly every theatrical trailer and movie poster features website
addresses for the film they are promoting (Morton, 2001). As a case in
point, consider The Lord of the Rings, produced and distributed by New Line
Cinema, one of the films used in the present study. Vice President of New
Line's worldwide interactive marketing and development division, Gordon
Paddison, worked with Tolkien fan sites and other content
portals to generate buzz about the film, even before production began
(Ward, 2000). The
studio set up the film's website in May, 1999, even though the first film
in the trilogy was not released until late 2001. The first trailers were
released on the official website in April of 2000. The 90-second trailer
was downloaded by 1.7 million people in the first
twenty-four hours it was available (Ward, 2000). Approximately 6.6 million
downloads were recorded within the first week, and approximately 10 million
after three weeks (Donahue, 2000). In addition, Paddison contacted 35 fan
sites, sending out electronic greeting cards hyping the preview
trailer. Plus, New Line struck deals early on with E! Online and web
browser designer NeoPlanet as part of their internet initiatives for The
Lord of the Rings (Donahue, 2000). The "Middle Earth" browser NeoPlanet
created was included on DVDs for other New Line releases that could be
found on sale copies and DVD rentals (Donahue, 2000). Early consumer
awareness was believed to have impacted licensing deals involving the film,
extended the life of the film in theatres, and boosted sales for the DVD
and VHS versions of the film (Ward, 2000).
The types of content available on film websites varies widely throughout
the industry. Most movie websites contain "flash" graphics and hi-tech
sound effects that grab the viewer, most often keeping with the current
style of movie editing and sound effects employed in the film (Sharrett,
2000). Almost every big budget movie features an elaborate website which
includes "behind the scenes" trivia, clips from the film, and even
bloopers, along with contests (Morton, 2001). Sometimes websites will also
contain information about the film's subject matter. For example, the
website for the Lord of the Rings contained downloadable video clips,
information about the story, cast, and the production itself. It also gave
visitors to the site an in-depth look into the special effects used in the
film, photo galleries, downloads (besides video clips there were also
screen savers and wallpaper) and more. It was also possible to join "the
ring", an on-line community of Lord of the Rings aficionados.
The Harry Potter Web site had a slightly different focus. Visitors were
encouraged to enroll in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft, which allows
access to "Quiddich training and wand shopping" to fans. It also allows
Warner Bros. studios to increase their marketing efforts with a pinpointed
list of Harry Potter enthusiasts. This website also focused heavily on
games and trivia, but also features an on-line community for
fans. Overall, the Harry Potter website seemed to target a much younger
demographic than did the Lord of the Rings site.
Toward a Model of Individual Movie Attendance
While box office receipts reflect the sum total of individual decisions
about which movie to attend, the factors that have been found to predict
gross box office performance are not necessarily those that influence
individual decisions. With few exceptions (Austin, 1981; Austin, 1982;
DeSilva, 1998) research on movie attendance has used the film, rather than
the moviegoer, as the unit of analysis. And, even where the individual
movie consumer has been the unit of analysis (e.g., Katz & Lazarsfeld,
1955; DeSilva, 1998), the focus has been on general moviegoing behavior,
rather than specific films. What remains, then, is to examine the factors
that influence those individual decisions.
Some determinants of box office success are likely to translate well from
the aggregate to the individual level. For example, the impact of critics'
reviews is apparently to persuade large numbers of individuals to attend
movies. Reviews are frequently consulted before attending movies
(Eliashberg & Shugan, 1997) and are extensively publicized in movie
advertisements as well (Broydo, 1997; Young, 1996). However, it is much
less clear how other factors such as the size of a film's budget or the
nature of its distribution arrangements (e.g. Litman, 1983) are influential
at the individual level. While these factors are observable to followers of
the business side of the movie trade, they are
not widely publicized and hence unlikely to be salient to the individual
moviegoer. Other film attributes, such as the presence of an academy award
performance in the film, are indeterminate to most moviegoers at the time
they make their decisions, simply because the results of the nomination and
awards process are not yet known. And, the individual filmgoer may be
receptive to the appeal of popular stars or personal favorites who have not
been honored by the Motion Picture Academy.
Likewise, expenditures on film promotion may predict box office
performance in the aggregate, but may not affect individual movie choices.
To be effective, promotional efforts must reach their intended target
audience and be favorably received by them as indicating that a movie is
worthy of attendance.
Other factors that cannot be assessed at the aggregate level may also be
important to individual moviegoers. Filmgoing is widely recognized as a
social activity (Sklar, 1994). Social influence is also recognized as an
important factor in the various theoretical paradigms that have been
offered to explain movie attendance (Austin, 1989). Beginning with Katz and
Lazarsfeld (1955), the influence of knowledgeable persons in one's circle
of associates has been known to affect movie-going decisions. Contemporary
theories of human behavior also stress social influence. In
expectancy-value theory (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975; now known as the Theory of
Planned Behavior, Ajzen, 1991) there is the perceived social norm, which
has been found to be a significant predictor of behavioral intentions
across many domains of human behavior. In this case, that would be the
belief that others with whom one normally attends movies might want to see
it. In the uses and gratifications paradigm (Palmgreen, Wenner &
Rosengren, 1984) social gratifications are
Recognized, while the diffusion of innovations paradigm (Rogers, 1995)
compatibility with social norms (e.g., the norms of one's moviegoing
Behavioral intentions, or the subjective probabilities that one will
engage in future behaviors, are a well-established approach to studying
determinants of human behavior and well suited to understanding movie
decision-making. Behavioral intentions correlate highly with actual future
behavior, provided that a well-defined behavior (e.g., attendance at a
specific movie) and a definite time frame for the performance of the
behavior (e.g. the initial release "window" of a movie) are specified
(Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). By focusing on intended movie attendance
behavior, we can capture the decision-making process independent of
extraneous factors that are outside the control of the moviegoer, the movie
maker, and the movie promoter alike (e.g. the movie was sold out, we
arrived too late, our date cancelled, the weather was bad).
H1: Perceived social support for a movie selection will be positively
related to intentions to attend a movie.
In the context of a comprehensive model of individual movie attendance, it
is possible to assess the impact of changes in movie making and movie
marketing. As discussed previously, two important changes have occurred in
the film industry since the time when the bulk of the extant research about
movie attendance was conducted: The introduction of the Internet as a
marketing tool and an increasing reliance on computer-generated special
effects. The impact of these changes will be assessed as follows:
H2: The perceived importance of special effects will be positively related
to intentions to attend a movie.
H3: The perceived importance of a film's web site will be positively
related to intentions to attend a movie.
H3a: Visitation to a film's Web site will be positively related to
intentions to attend a movie.
We also propose a variable that has long been implicitly recognized as a
key ingredient of successful movies, but overlooked in previous empirical
research: their relationship to successful works of fiction. Movies based
on well-known novels would seem to enjoy two advantages: they bring a
built-in base of book fans to the theater and their names and stories are
familiar to audiences who may not have read the book but who have been
exposed to publicity for it.
H4: The perceived importance of a film's book will be positively related to
intentions to attend a movie.
With the relationship between factors which predict box office performance
at the aggregate level and individual movie selections uncertain, we
propose the following research question:
RQ1: Which of the factors that predict movie box office success are related
to individual movie attendance decisions?
The respondents were drawn from undergraduate students enrolled in
broadcasting classes at a four-year university in the Midwest. A survey
was administered in four separate class sections on November 12, 2001,
prior to the theatrical release of the films Lord of the Rings and Harry
Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. No extra-credit was given to students who
completed the survey, nor were students who chose not to complete the
survey penalized. Participants were informed that the survey would probe
questions revolving around the subject of movie going
behavior. Participants were further instructed not to consider video or
DVD rentals or cable-television/PPV services when answering questions from
the survey. They were instructed to only consider the process of going to
see a film at a public cinema or theatre.
A total of 344 completed and useable surveys were returned. 57 % of the
respondents were female and 43 % of the respondents were male. The average
age of the respondents was 19. The average number of movies attended in a
year was 13.5, with a standard deviation of 10.3. "Frequent Moviegoers" as
classified by the MPAA are those who attend twelve or more movies a year
(Motion Picture Association of America, 2002).
Eleven independent variables were examined as reasons for attending Harry
Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Fellowship of the Ring. Respondents
were asked to indicate how important the film's stars, director, critics'
reviews, plot, website, television ads, budget, preview trailer, and
special effects were as reasons for seeing or not seeing each film. They
were also asked whether the fact the movie was based on a book made them
want to see the films. To assess the impact of social influence on movie
attendance decisions, respondents were asked whether their date and whether
their friends wanted them to see the movie in question. These two items
were combined into a social support measure for Harry Potter (alpha = .90)
and Fellowship of the Ring (alpha = .89). Responses were provide on
Likert-type scales ranging from 1 to 5 where 1 = "Disagree" and 5 =
"Agree." The means and standard deviations of these variables and the
correlations between them are shown in Table 1. In addition, respondents
were asked whether they had visited the Web site associated with the film
(scored 1 if yes, 0 if no). Gender (scored 1 if female, 2 if male) and
the number of movies attended in the last 12 months (mean = 13.5, SD =
10.3) were included as control variables.
The dependent variables were multi-item additive indexes of intentions to
attend a specific film in its opening week, during its first month in
theatres, and more than once. Responses were again assessed on a
Likert-type scale ranging from 1 to 5 where 1 = "Disagree" and 5 =
"Agree." The dependent measures were reliable with a Cronbach alpha of .87
for intentions to see Harry Potter and .83 for Lord of the Rings.
Pearson product-moment correlations were computed using SPSS version
10.1. A stepwise multiple regression analysis was performed in which the
importance ratings of 10 movie attributes specific to each film and social
support for attending them were the independent variables. Missing data on
the independent variables were replaced with means. The multi-item indices
of intentions to attend "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" were the
In H1 it was predicted that perceived social support for a movie selection
would be positively correlated to intentions to attend a
film. Surprisingly, we found no statistically significant correlation
between our social support variable and intentions to see either Harry
Potter or Fellowship of the Ring.
H2 predicted that the perceived importance of special effects would be
positively related to the intentions to see a specific film. Perceived
importance of special effects was found to be significantly, positively
correlated to the intention to see Harry Potter, r = .379, p <
.001. Similar results were found in regard to Fellowship of the
Ring. The perceived importance of special effects in that film also was
significantly, positively correlated to intention to see the film, r =
.305, p < .001.
H3 predicted that the perceived importance of a film's website would be
positively related to intentions to attend a movie. Perceived importance
of the web site was found to be significantly, positively correlated to the
intention to see Harry Potter, r = .235, p < .001. However, visiting the
Harry Potter web site was more highly positively correlated with intentions
to see the film, r = .459, p < . 001, thus supporting H3a when Harry Potter
is the specific film in question. The same general results were found when
analyzing results dealing with the Fellowship of the Ring. Perceived
importance of the web site was found to be significantly, positively
correlated to the intention to see Fellowship of the Ring, r = .187, p <
.001. Visiting the Lord of the Rings web site was more positively
correlated to intention to see Lord of the Rings, r = .464, p < .001.
In H4 it was predicted that perceived importance of a film's book will be
positively related to intentions to attend a movie. In the case of Harry
importance of the book was found to be significantly, positively correlated
with intention to see the film, r = .403, p < .001. Perceived importance
of the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings book was also found
to be significantly, positively correlated with intention to see the film,
r = .332, p < .001.
To determine which factors that predict box office movie success are
related to individual movie attendance decisions (RQ 1), multiple
regressions were run. Controlling for all of the Harry Potter independent
variables, we find that the book (ß = .490, t (333) = 3.081, p < .001), the
plot (ß = .449, t (333) = 2.862, p < .001), social support (ß = -.244, t
(333) = -3.590, p < .001), special effects (ß = .404, t (333) = 2.214, p <
.001), and the budget (ß = .373, t (333) = 2.157, p < .001) were all found
to be significant in predicting intention to see the film, Adjusted R2 =
.227 (See table 3). Controlling for all of the Lord of the Rings
independent variables, we find that the book (ß = .516, t (336) = 3.483, p
< .001), special effects (ß = .510, t (336) = 3.179, p < .001), and the
director (ß = .393, t (336) = 2.512, p < .001) were all found to be
significant in predicting intention to see the movie, Adjusted R2 = .152
(See table 4).
The present findings demonstrate the value of modeling individual
decisions to attend specific movies. Each movie would indeed seem to have
a unique mix of factors that most influence intentions to attend it. Using
specific movies, as well as individual moviegoers, as the focus of the
analysis produced a notable improvement in the explanatory power of the
model compared to prior research that examined similar factors in relation
to general movie attendance. The present research explained between 15 and
22 percent of the variance in movie attendance, compared to between 15 and
20 percent for DeSilva, 1998.
A wide variety of movie attributes suggested by prior research on
aggregate movie attendance were found to be related to individual movie
attendance intentions for specific films as well. These included critical
reviews of the film, its budget, plot, director, and stars. Two new
attributes emerged as important in movie attendance decisions: the film's
book and its special effects.
Movie-related promotional Web sites emerged as a potentially important
factor in determining individual movie viewing intentions among college
students. Both for Harry Potter and the Fellowship of the Ring, visits to
the films' Web sites were highly correlated to intentions to attend those
films. Still, Web site visits were relatively uncommon, with only 6 percent
of the present sample visiting the Harry Potter Web site and 8 percent
visiting the Fellowship of the Ring site. Overall, potential moviegoers
rated the Web sites as relatively unimportant factors in deciding whether
to attend the films. However, there was a positive relationship between the
importance attached to the Web sites and movie attendance intentions. The
magnitude of these relationships, although low, were statistically
significant and comparable in magnitude to the relationships observed for
conventional promotional activities such as television ads. Together, these
findings suggest that movie-related Web sites are a potentially effective
way of reaching the college movie audience.
However, multiple regression analysis suggested that each movie indeed had
its own unique source of appeal. The perceived importance of each film's
book and its
special effects were the only two attributes that were significant
predictors of intentions
to see both The Fellowship of the Ring and Harry Potter. The former's
director and the latter's plot and budget were significant positive
predictors of attendance intentions.
Multiple regression analysis also revealed a surprising negative
relationship between social support and movie attendance intentions for the
Harry Potter film. This finding seemingly confounds a well- substantiated
theory of human behavior (i.e. the Theory of Reasoned Action, Ajzen &
Fishbein, 1991), that perceived social support for a behavior increases our
desire to carry it out. It also violates a basic assumption found both in
the conventional wisdom of movie marketing and in the annals of social
science (Katz & Lazarsfeld, 1955), that the "buzz" that a film generates
among one's associates increases the desire to see the film.
Noting that the items in the social support measure were worded to
determine the perceived importance of each variable in movie attendance
decisions, it could be that potential moviegoers were using the reactions
of their associates to determine what movies they did not want to see. In
the terms of the Theory of Reasoned Action this might be interpreted as a
negatively valenced normative belief or motivation to comply. That is,
either I believed that my significant other did not want me to see the
movie or that I did not want to comply with their wishes. To coin a term
for the colorful idiom of movie marketing, we might call this effect
Post hoc analysis showed that the negative relationship with attendance
decisions for Harry Potter was traceable to the influence of one's date (r
= -.05, p = .388) rather than one's friends (r = .03, p = .633). This
relationship became significant only after adjusting for the variables that
preceded it in the stepwise regression, the perceived
importance of the book and the perceived importance of the plot. A
negative, but nonsignificant, relationship was also found between the
importance of the wishes of one's date and intentions to see Fellowship of
the Ring (r = -.01, p = .870).
We speculate that these results reflect a conflict in movie preferences
between individuals involved in dating relationships and on-going
negotiations to resolve such conflicts. If we suspect that this is the
kind of movie that our date likes (e.g. "my date likes silly movies"), we
know first of all that we do not want to see it (e.g. "I like sophisticated
movies"). And, if we secretly wish to see the movie for other reasons we
may not wish to reveal that and weaken our position in future negotiations
(e.g., "then my date will think I will always go to silly movies.")
Critical ratings were far less important than in previous research
involving aggregate data (Litman, 1983). This may have been a result of the
timing of the survey in relation to the release date of the movie. Harry
Potter was released in theatres four days after the survey was conducted,
so audiences may not have been fully exposed to critical reviews. The
Fellowship of the Ring's release was still four weeks in the future,
although promotion of the film had already begun and critical commentaries,
if not actual reviews, were available both from professional critics and
fans. The differential timing may also explain why it was possible to
predict intentions to see Harry Potter with greater precision than The
Fellowship of the Ring: respondents had better information about the former
movie than the latter and had perhaps engaged in more active consideration
of their desire to attend it. The ways in which the factors determining
intentions shift over the course of a film's promotion and release cycle
might be a productive avenue for further research.
Another threat to the validity of the findings was over- reliance on
single-item measures of movie and promotional attributes. Single-item
measures may be unreliable and relationships between the independent and
dependent variables may have been attenuated as a result.
The present sample was drawn from a single university campus, so our
ability to generalize to the general population of college students is
limited. However, we would expect that lawful relationships found between
independent and dependent variables would be observed in other college
populations, although the levels of the variables (e.g., the percent of
students who visited movie Web sites) would vary.
As a one-shot survey study, the present research cannot definitively
address the issue of causality. For example, did visits to the Web site
cause intentions to see the films or did intentions to see the film spur
interest in their Web sites? Or, did a third variable, such as readership
of the book on which the film was based, cause both? The perceived
importance ratings were phrased to obtain subjective impressions of the
importance of each factor in the movie attendance decision, but respondents
may not have had accurate insight into the reasons for their movie choices.
Controlled manipulations of the independent variables would produce more
credible evidence of the direction of causality.
For Further Research
The present findings suggest several avenues for future research on
individual movie attendance decisions. A better understanding of the ways
in which movie-going
dyads (e.g., dating partners) make joint decisions about which movies to
attend would be of both scholarly and practical interest. Beyond
film-related Web sites and digital special effects, there are number of
other changes in the environment for first run films in the Information Age
that perhaps deserve attention. For example, how does the downloading of
first run films over the Internet affect movie attendance? How does the
"Internet buzz" on new films and their stars found on both fan-created and
media-created Web sites affect the dynamics of movie opinion leadership?
Has the Information Age produced such a glut of movie buzz that critical
reviews have lost their impact? Do previous incarnations as successful
video games produce the same benefits for movies that books do?
Additional theoretical constructs might be productively brought to bear on
the problem of movie attendance. In the terminology of the Theory of
Reasoned Action, for example (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1991), all of the movie
attributes studied here might be considered components of the "attitude
toward the object," our evaluations of the properties of the object in
question, the film. However, behavioral intentions are also determined by
the expected behavioral outcomes for the individual and the evaluation of
those outcomes. For example, do we expect that the movie will cheer us up,
exhaust our spending money, or ingratiate us with our dating partner?
Earlier, we dismissed factors such as the availability of tickets and the
weather as extraneous factors in the movie attendance decision, but these
can be applied analytically through the construct of Perceived Behavioral
Control. We could, for example, determine the degree to which the relevant
conditions make the task of attending the movie in question easier or more
difficult. That, perhaps coupled with the perceived likelihood of
encountering those conditions, could improve our ability to predict movie
In conclusion, movie attendance decisions may be driven by a combination
of factors unique to each film. Continuing examination of these factors
through more reliable measurement, varying research methods, more diverse
populations, and more heuristic theoretical constructs can greatly add to
our understanding of film attendance behavior.
Table 1. Pearson Product Moment Correlation Coefficients for Harry Potter
and the Sorcerer's Stone
a p < .001
b p < .05
Table 2. Pearson Product Moment Correlation Coefficients for Fellowship of
a p < .001
b p < .05
Table 3. Multiple Regression of Movie Attributes on Movie Attendance
Intentions for Harry Potter
Based on book
R= .488, Adjusted R2= .227. F(5,333)=20.846, p <.001.
Table 4. Multiple Regression of Movie Attributes on Movie Attendance
Intentions for Fellowship of the Ring
Based on Book
R=.400, Adjusted R2=.152, F(3,336)=21.325, p < .001.
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