Meaningful Media Now


As an organization interested in media impact, our “water cooler” chatter around the office often includes TV series that moved us, games we’re addicted to, and media trends that affect us. Read on to see the meaningful media and cultural phenomenons HI staff has been talking about in July:

  1. Featuring: Pokémon Go
  2. Orange is the New Black and Mother Jones
  3. Male Sexual Assault on Television
  4. YouTube Music      

1. Featured Analysis: Pokémon Go

They’re everywhere. The launch of Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game, has allowed for masses of people to participate in a mutual journey to catch Pokémon. As players vie to “catch em all,” they are instructed to walk around in pursuit of Pokémon. As players roam neighborhoods, they are notified of Pokéstops (areas that provide free items), lures (areas that are drawing Pokémon for 30 minutes), and Pokémon spawning in the area. A GPS tracker calculates steps as players walk. The game is compelling, addicting, and has gone viral since its July 6 release.

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Ben Robbins and the Making of Madoff



“This isn’t a financial story – this is a psychological story.”

This was the strategy behind Madoff, the ABC mini-series written by Ben Robbins that tells the tale of Bernie Madoff, the stockbroker associated with one of the largest Ponzi schemes and fraud convictions in American history. Ben joined Harmony Institute to discuss the production, the developing relationship between news and entertainment, and what captivates viewers.

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Film Forecast: Skyfall


There is only one wide release in North American theaters this weekend, but it’s a monster. Skyfall, the much-anticipated James Bond film will debut after a scorching opening week in Europe.

It’s been four years since Bond fans last had the chance to see their hero on the big screen, and with good critical reviews Skyfall could be the most successful installment of the Daniel Craig era. There is a consensus among journalists and industry insiders that this film will post big numbers at the box office. The only question is: how big will it be?

This time, our model’s prediction is in line with, or slightly below other forecasts. The 95% confidence interval ranges from $63.6M to $75.7M. Look for Skyfall‘s actual revenue to be closer to the upper end of this range.


HI Prediction

L.A. Times

Box Office Guru







Update: 11/13

Skyfall set a new franchise record with a domestic opening close to $90 million. The latest Bond film has grossed upwards of $1.7 billion worldwide and is helping keep Hollywood on track for a record-breaking 2012.

Image: Still from Skyfall | Columbia Pictures

Has Hollywood lost its hold?

Seth MacFarlane

Last Monday (10/29), Michael Cieply of The New York Times provocatively asked whether movies have become irrelevant. By some accounts, movies are on the decline—2011 was a poor year for Hollywood’s box office. Theater attendance was down 5% compared to the year prior and total revenue, although still over $10 billion, fell slightly.

Even more ominous are changes in patterns of consumption and distribution as audiences are fractured across a variety of small screens. Television, in particular, looks to be in a much stronger position, with lavishly produced series like Mad Men capturing big audiences, stars, and a new breed of adventurous television directors. The Times article asks what it means for the Academy Awards to be hosted by Seth MacFarlane, a comedy writer primarily known for his work in television.

Is there more to this picture than meets the eye? Hollywood, like any business, faces competition, but it seems tenuous to call it “culturally irrelevant.” The movie industry has made more than $10 billion in domestic theatrical revenue every year since 2009.

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Film Forecast: Competition at the box office


Four new films will enter the box office fray this weekend. In this crowded marketplace, the competition for viewers will be fierce.

Both reviewers and experts expect revenue to cool off from a surprisingly successful fall season. With a smaller pie to fight over, these films may disappoint financially.


HI Prediction

L.A. Times

Box Office Guru

Silent Hill Revelation




Cloud Atlas




 Fun Size




Chasing Giants




Because our model doesn’t take competition (and the limited attention and resources of audiences) into account, look for the HI predictions to be slightly high. This is most obviously the case with the high-budget and equally high-concept Cloud Atlas, adapted from David Mitchell’s novel. The ambitious, star-studded film may struggle to find an audience.

Both sets of experts expect the latest Silent Hill movie (adapted from the popular video game franchise) to edge Cloud Atlas as the top-grossing new release, although our model suggests otherwise.

Update: Monday, October 29

A combination of weak films and an impending storm on the East Coast made it a lackluster weekend at the box offices. None of the four opening films topped the earnings list—holdovers Argo and Hotel Transylvania captured the top two spots.

Of the new films, Cloud Atlas led the way with a disappointing $9.4M launch, slightly below lukewarm studio expectations and well below our model’s prediction. Silent Hill: Revelation was hurt by a crowded horror market place and took in $8M, also below forecasts. Fun Size ($4M) and Chasing Mavericks ($2.2M) failed to register at all. Overall, the revenue of the top 12 films was down 12% from the same weekend last year as Hollywood’s business cooled off following an impressive slate of fall releases.


Image: Still from Cloud Atlas | Warner Bros. Pictures

Film forecast: Horror franchises

After a break from predictions, the film forecast returns with two movies hitting theaters this week. The consensus pick to top this weekend’s box office is the horror sequel Paranormal Activity 4.

In our model’s limited history, we haven’t done well with horror, a genre that seems capable of generating surprise hits. Last week, the low-budget horror movie Sinister beat our expectations with a gross of around $18M. Even though our prediction interval was relatively wide (it ranged from $1-$13M), Sinister easily topped our upper limit.

Paranormal Activity 4 is part of a franchise with a proven box-office track record, making it more of a known quantity (although the original film was one of the biggest surprises in Hollywood history). Because our model doesn’t take past performance of Paranormal Activity films into account, we feel that our estimate is almost certainly too low. The film should make well above the $28.8M upper limit of our prediction interval. Some insiders are predicting a $50M opening for the found-footage horror movie.


HI Prediction

L.A. Times

Box Office Guru


Paranormal Activity 4





Alex Cross





Alex Cross is a detective thriller starring Tyler Perry, adapted from James Patterson’s novel. Like Paranormal Activity 4, the film has received largely negative reviews, hence our weak box office prediction. However, with both of these films we suspect that we may be giving too much credit to critics’ ratings as a factor in predicting box office success, so look for them to surpass our prediction this week.

Update: Monday, October 22

Our model’s prediction for Paranormal Activity 4, while bearish, was an antidote to inflated expert forecasts. The horror film’s $30.2M gross fell far below industry projections and just outside the $28.8M upper bound of our confidence interval.

Detective thriller Alex Cross fell more in line with expectations, taking in $11.8M over the weekend. The Tyler Perry film was disappointing, although our model probably overcompensated for its extremely negative reviews. As we revise some of the weights and inputs in the coming weeks, we’ll be sure to incorporate lessons learned during this fall season that, overall, was quite successful for Hollywood.


Film forecast: Sequels at the box office

This weekend’s box office will see three films competing for audiences. Our model projects a clear winner, the action-packed Taken 2. Sequels get a significant bump in our model, and the Liam Neeson thriller will take advantage of the surprise success of the original movie. The film’s dismal critical ratings are unlikely to detract too much from it’s financial performance.


HI Prediction

L.A. Times

Box Office Guru


Taken 2










Pitch Perfect





When compared to experts quoted in the L.A. Times, our $35.1M prediction for Taken 2 looks conservative—some experts predict a $50M opening, well above the $40M upper limit of our 95 percent confidence interval. However, the expectations of executives at distributors Twentieth Century Fox are right in line with our $35M prediction.

There is more consensus between the experts and our model regarding the other films scheduled for release this weekend. Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie may suffer from competition with the similar Hotel Transylvania, which topped last weekend’s record-breaking box office.

Quirky musical comedy Pitch Perfect has followed a different strategy for distribution. Last weekend it played in a limited release of 355 theaters, and will expand to a wide release of 2,781 theaters this weekend. Executives hope that positive word of mouth and buzz will help the film. The film’s excellent $15,000 per-screen average in limited release is a good sign.

Will Taken 2 beat our prediction at the top of this weekend’s box office? Let us know what you think, and check back as we update our model next week.

Update: 10/8/2012

Taken 2 had a spectacular opening weekend, racking up almost $50M in ticket sales despite receiving negative reviews. Worryingly for our model, the film’s actual gross fell well outside the upper $40.1M limit  of our 95 percent confidence interval.

Box Office Guru notes that the film’s performance falls outside October norms, behaving more like a summer blockbuster. We will continue to track whether the top films outperform our predictions and will revise our model in the coming weeks.

Both Frankenweenie and Pitch Perfect slightly underperformed our predictions, although their actual gross was well within the bounds of our intervals.

Filmmaker conversations: Tamra Davis


In our ongoing quest to better understand the influence of entertainment, we often focus on results—how films engage and inspire their audiences. We believe that it is equally important to understand how a film takes shape from the perspective of the filmmaker or storyteller. That is why we were excited to host accomplished filmmaker Tamra Davis for a talk regarding her wide range of experience in the entertainment industry.

Davis’ work shows remarkable versatility. She is among a small number of leading female filmmakers and has made music videos, Hollywood films, television, and documentary films. Currently, Davis works as a producer and director of the VH1 series Single Ladies. This scripted drama serves the underrepresented market of African American women, and portrays its characters in a manner that challenges stereotypes and the negativity of many reality shows.

Our conversation covered the ground from independent distribution to how social media shapes entertainment. But perhaps the most poetic moment came during our discussion of her most recent documentary, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child. Describing this personal film about an artist, Davis was surprised when audience members approached her with thoughts on the film’s complex social messages on race and class. How can we account for these unexpected but significant effects? As Davis put it, changes in attitudes and behaviors can be expressed in something simple and ephemeral as smiling at someone crossing the street.

Such moments are part of what makes our work understanding the influence of entertainment so interesting. It takes creative thinking and an open mind to measure these changes and effects. Davis explained that filmmakers often start with a personal vision and use storytelling techniques to craft a film with universal appeal. Looking for impact with too clinical or narrow a vision puts us at risk of misunderstanding the complex social responses to great storytelling.

That is one of the reasons that we like to work as closely as possible with filmmakers to choose impact metrics. By taking our cues from storytellers, we become more attuned to narrative effects. New tools allow us to observe and analyze even subtle social interactions in online settings, and this makes us optimistic that it is possible to measure the powerful and personal impact of entertainment. But as Davis reminded us, it’s vital to to step back from the data and look at the stories that inspired us in the first place.

Image: Still from Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child | Arthouse Films

Film forecast: HI’s prediction series


This summer, we asked if it was possible to predict Hollywood hits. To answer this question we developed a regression model to identify some of the ingredients that make a financially successful film. This first attempt, while crude, revealed some interesting patterns in our data set of around 700 films—namely that sequels, films with big budgets, and good reviews are associated with higher box-office returns.

The advantage of making predictions about Hollywood films (unlike, say, presidential elections), is that there are many opportunities to put our model to the test. Each week brings us a fresh batch of new releases to test and refine our predictions. There is no greater challenge for a model than checking predicted outcomes against observed ones.

In this spirit, we are going to run our model each week for new releases and compare the results against expert opinions and the weekend’s box office returns. Whether we will be able to predict blockbusters with any accuracy is still an open question, but no matter what happens, we think the results will be interesting. For our first week, we’ll offer confidence intervals and predictions for three films getting wide releases: Hotel Transylvania, Looper, and Won’t Back Down. Read on to see what our model predicts for this week’s films and offer your opinion or prediction in the comments.

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