The study, forthcoming in the Journal of Marketing, is titled ‘Do spoilers really spoil? Using topic modeling to measure the effect of spoiler reviews on box office revenue’ and is authored by Jun Hyun (Joseph) Ryoo, Xin (Shane) Wang, and Shijie Lu.
‘No spoilers!’ say many directors. Their concern is that if publications or filmgoers reveal plotlines and surprises, the public won’t want to pay for the films. But is that concern well-founded?
The research team examined daily box office revenues for films released between January 2013 and December 2017 in the US. These films were then matched with their respective reviews collected from Internet Movie Database (IMDb), the most popular film review platform.
The researchers also developed a measurement of spoiler intensity, or the degree of plot uncertainty resolved by reading spoilers in film reviews. The study results indicate that spoiler intensity has a positive and significant relationship with box office revenue.
Ryoo explains that: ‘We postulate that uncertainty reduction is the driving mechanism behind this positive spoiling effect. If potential filmgoers are unsure about the quality of a film, they are likely to benefit from the plot-related content of spoiler reviews when making their purchase decisions.’
Consistent with this, the research reveals an inverted-U relationship between average ratings and spoiler intensity, which suggests that the positive spoiling effect is stronger for films that receive moderate or mixed ratings compared to films that receive either very high or very low ratings. The positive spoiling effect is also stronger for films that receive less advertising.
Advertising can serve an informative function for consumers and is seen as a credible signal of quality in the film industry. Less advertising should therefore lead to greater uncertainty about film quality for potential filmgoers.
Wang adds: ‘The positive spoiling effect is also stronger for films with [a] limited release, which is a strategy often employed by independent and arthouse studios associated with greater uncertainty in terms of artistic quality. And the positive spoiling effect declines over time, likely because consumers have greater uncertainty in the earlier periods of a film’s life cycle.’
This leads to several implications for stakeholders in the films industry. Foremost among these is that online review platforms can potentially increase consumer welfare by using spoiler reviews. ‘The uncertainty-reduction mechanism suggests a spoiler-friendly review platform can help consumers make appropriate purchase decisions. We recommend that review platforms keep the warning labels on spoiler reviews because of the benefit of allowing consumers to self-select into the exposure to spoilers,’ says Lu.