Snakes on the internet, too?

The movie “Snakes on a Plane” had enormous internet buzz before being released , but fizzled at the box office.

This has led to a great deal of discussion in both the traditional media and online about what does or does not make internet buzz translate into commercial success.

One reasonable answer to that question may be that when the buzz is faked/manufactured, commercial success will not follow.

Was the buzz around “Snakes on a Plane” artificially manipulated by people involved with the movie? Economist Cyril Morong, who teaches at San Antonio College, thinks the answer to that question may be “yes.” He has assembled some data to try to make his point.

What follows is his analysis, in the form of an email he sent to me and consented to have me post here on the blog.

From Cyril:

Over at the Internet Movie Database (IMBD), you can rate a movie from 1 to 10 with 10 being the best. One commentor said it was strange how the percentage of people giving the movie [Snakes on a Plane] 10 out of 10 was much, much higher than the percentage of people giving it 9 out of 10 (65.7% vs. 9.2%). They suggested that this was a big dropoff and maybe something was not quite kosher about the ratings (maybe a bunch of phony 10 out of 10 votes were cast).

So I looked at the other top box office movies for Friday and for the whole year to see how they did (from a website called “The Numbers”). Here are their ratios in terms of what % of the voters gave it 10 and what % gave it 9. “Snakes” is very unusual, with the 10% being about 7 times higher than the 9%. The first number is what % gave the movie 10 and the number after the / is what % gave in 9.

Snakes on a Plane 65.7/9.2
Invincible 28.4/13.5
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby 20.9/11.2
Beerfest 33.4/14.2
Idlewild 30.7/9.4
Accepted 27.3/10.2
Step Up 39.2/7
Little Miss Sunshine 52.7/25.3
World Trade Center 31.2/13.3
Barnyard 17.0/5.3
Superman Returns 28.2/15.2
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest 34.5/15
Cars 32.6/18.7
X-Men 21.8/13.1
Da Vinci Code 19.2/8.9
Ice Age 19.5/10.8
Over the Hedge 20.8/14.5
Click 34.3/12.7
Mission: Impossible 15.9/11.1
The Devil Wears Prada 20.6/14.0

Notice that the 10% to 9% ratio is usually around 2 to 3, sometimes even less. So “Snakes” is unusual. I am not sure if it statistically significant, though. But it would not surprise me.

Also, I found the rating given to each of these movies by the “top 1000 voters.” I guess those are the people who vote the most. The top 1000 only gave “Snakes” a 5.9. That dropoff of 2.0 is large, but not the largest. But given that 7.9 is normally a very good rating, and 5.9 not too good, it is interesting.

Below are how these movies did overall and then with the top 1000 voters. The number in parantheses is how many votes. Notice that “Little Miss Sunshine” also drops off quite a bit. Alot of movies drop off by less than 1 going to the top 1000 voters.

Snakes on a Plane 7.9 (19,072)-5.9(49)
Invincible 7 (356)-7.8 (5)
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby 6.6 (7329)-6.0 (49)
Beerfest 6.8 (613)-6.8 (8)
Idlewild 5.7(192)-no votes from top 1000 voters
Accepted 6.2 (1187)-3.9(13)
Step Up 4.8 (1953)-3.4 (18)
Little Miss Sunshine 8.4 (5193)-6.0(45)
World Trade Center 7.1(4587)-6.8(39)
Barnyard 4.5 (546)-3.3(15)
Superman Returns 7.1 (36575)-6.4(179)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest 7.3/10 (44,012)-6.7 (185)
Cars 7.7 (11,435)-7.0 (106)
X-Men 7.0 (37,669)-6.8 (226)
Da Vinci Code 6.5 (38,383)-5.8(186)
Ice Age 6.9 (11,672)-6.3(117)
Over the Hedge 7.2 (6,584) 6.7(93)
Click 6.9 (8,905)-5.3 (56)
Mission: Impossible 6.8(21,591)-6.2(161)
The Devil Wears Prada 7.0 (5,598)-6.2(48)

I wouldn’t say this is a smoking gun, although it is suggestive that something is amiss. Hat’s off to Cyril for going out and getting the data to test an interesting hypothesis. Do any other blog readers have ideas about how to figure out whether the buzz for Snakes may not be exactly what it seems?

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  1. scott cunningham says:

    How big was the buzz exactly among bloggers? I know there was a ton of talk, but it seemed more of a meme that genuine interest.

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  2. scott cunningham says:

    How big was the buzz exactly among bloggers? I know there was a ton of talk, but it seemed more of a meme that genuine interest.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  3. First of all I think that anything that is hyped so much is likely to receive a bunch of phony ratings, that it is unlikely to be an orchestrated effort by anyone. Regardless of which it was, the ratings on one site alone is not enough determine whether it was real or fake buzz. I think a lot of the issue is that bloggers (and especially prominent blogs like Gawker) talk about something a lot because its the talk of the moment but aren’t actually going to leave their computers to see the movie.

    And here’s a theory I’d like to throw out there, entirely unsubstantiated:
    Maybe because the buzz around Snakes on a Plane was so internet based that like many tech savvy users those involved in the buzz merely viewed clips on YouTube or downloaded the movie illegally.

    Just a thought.

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  4. First of all I think that anything that is hyped so much is likely to receive a bunch of phony ratings, that it is unlikely to be an orchestrated effort by anyone. Regardless of which it was, the ratings on one site alone is not enough determine whether it was real or fake buzz. I think a lot of the issue is that bloggers (and especially prominent blogs like Gawker) talk about something a lot because its the talk of the moment but aren’t actually going to leave their computers to see the movie.

    And here’s a theory I’d like to throw out there, entirely unsubstantiated:
    Maybe because the buzz around Snakes on a Plane was so internet based that like many tech savvy users those involved in the buzz merely viewed clips on YouTube or downloaded the movie illegally.

    Just a thought.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. queenofsheba says:

    Very interesting! If this kind of bought-hype marketing becomes more commonplace I bet detecting it will become a much more sophisticated and nuanced thing. Same principle as data-mining I guess–the richness of information on the internet makes it a much more traceable entity (like that AOL user whose searches identified her).

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  6. queenofsheba says:

    Very interesting! If this kind of bought-hype marketing becomes more commonplace I bet detecting it will become a much more sophisticated and nuanced thing. Same principle as data-mining I guess–the richness of information on the internet makes it a much more traceable entity (like that AOL user whose searches identified her).

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. Gail L says:

    I think the idea of “Snakes on Plane” was hysterical, but no one actually wanted to see the movie. It was more fun inventing the movie ourselves, andthe movie was sure to disappoint in comparison.

    I did go and see it with a good friend, and it was awfully, hilariously bad. But you have to go with a friend in on the joke.

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  8. Gail L says:

    I think the idea of “Snakes on Plane” was hysterical, but no one actually wanted to see the movie. It was more fun inventing the movie ourselves, andthe movie was sure to disappoint in comparison.

    I did go and see it with a good friend, and it was awfully, hilariously bad. But you have to go with a friend in on the joke.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0