The Twitter Effect: Not to blame for sinking bad Hollywood movies?


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Whenever I talk to teenagers, they laugh uproariously at the all-too-popular media fancy that they’re tweeting away, voicing their firmly held likes and dislikes in 140 characters. Not so, they always say. Why use Twitter when you can simply text your friends, as kids do nearly 24 hours a day? In fact, when I spent a day with a bunch of high-schoolers who made up this year’s Summer Movie Posse, they said they didn’t know anyone their age who used Twitter.

So it hardly comes as a surprise to see this intriguing story from the Wrap’s Daniel Frankel, which shoots a hole in all the hype you heard last summer about how the Twitter Effect was responsible for movies like ‘Bruno’ taking huge tumbles at the box office after negative word of mouth, supposedly via Twitter, speedily spread the word about how awful they were. It turns out that my teen pals were right. As former New Line marketing chief Gordon Paddison, who’s now an indie consultant, put it: ‘The thing we’ve found that’s actually much more impressive is the amount of people spreading word-of-mouth by texting.’


This was confirmed by an OTX research study last September that found that Twitter actually had far less impact than Facebook and MySpace, along with co-worker and family interaction, when it came to spreading the buzz about good or bad movies.

So why did so many studio executives prematurely jump on the Twitter bandwagon, aided and abetted by the media, always in dire need of a new trend story? For the oldest reason of all. In Hollywood, enormous amounts of energy are expended finding ways to shift the blame for bad movies away from the people who made them to irrational factors affecting the people who actually had to watch them in the theaters. No one ever wants to believe that ‘Bruno,’ for example, was simply an example of a comic stretching a one-note comic premise too far. Or people avoiding ‘The A-Team’ or ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ this summer, for the perfectly understandable reason that the movies had absolutely nothing new to offer. It’s so much easier to let yourself off the hook by saying--it had to be the tweets.

As Paddison sagely explained: ‘People say Twitter causes a movie to bomb. I say a bad film causes people to trash it on Twitter.’ The only question that hasn’t been answered is what unlikely explanation Hollywood will dream up next summer for the flops-to-be in production right now.