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Does Topic Consistency Matter in Movie Reviews? A Study of Critic and User Reviews and Their Impact on Movie Demand

Does Topic Consistency Matter in Movie Reviews? A Study of Critic and User Reviews and Their Impact on Movie Demand

Eunsoo Kim, MengQi (Annie) Ding, Xin (Shane) Wang and Shijie Lu

laptop screen rotten tomatoes

Many consumers read online reviews to decide which movies to watch. According to a survey in 2018, 63% of U.S. adults indicated moderate to heavy reliance on online reviews before seeing a movie. While there is plenty of research focusing on review ratings and volume, we have relatively less understanding of how similarities in content posted by critics and general users impact consumers. Both movie critics and general users leave reviews on platforms, such as Rotten Tomatoes, and content from these different sources plays a potential role in movie sales.

Critics and general users do not always share similar opinions about a movie’s quality or focus. The different opinions conveyed by reviews from these two groups, and the interaction between them, can affect moviegoing decisions in a complex way. Critics and users can write about different topics, such as movie plot, acting, and cinematography, and each can approach the topics from different angles.

Two questions arise:

  • How do consumers evaluate a movie when users and critics mention common versus separate topics in their reviews?
  • How does the effect of topic consistency between users and critics vary by the consistency of numeric ratings and average movie ratings?

In a new Journal of Marketing study, we investigate whether topic consistency in content between critics and users increases movie demand and, if so, why. Our research interest was sparked by considering what critics and users discuss when reviewing the same movie and we specifically quantify the degree of overlap, or topic consistency, between both sets of reviews.

Can Topic Consistency Increase Movie Demand?

We employ text analysis and machine learning to quantify topic consistency. We collected both user and critic reviews from Rotten Tomatoes for all movies released in the U.S. between January 2013 and December 2017. We also obtained advertising expenditures, daily box office revenues, and other movie characteristics. Our final sample contains 750 movies and for each of them we quantified the topic consistency using the degree of overlap in the underlying topics conveyed by user and critic reviews.

Our analysis shows that the content overlap between critics’ and users’ reviews is positively associated with movie demand and that this association is more prominent when it comes to movies with mediocre review ratings than for movies with extreme ratings.

High consistency between critic and user reviews produces a repeated voice from both review sources, which makes the movie and the topics under discussion more salient. Based on the theory of persuasiveness and information recall, such repeated information predisposes moviegoers to retrieve these movies at the time of movie selection. Also, drawing from encoding variability theory, the same movie attribute becomes stronger, clearer, and more accessible to consumers when exposed to both critic and user groups, as opposed to only one context.

How Are These Findings Relevant to the Industry?

Based on our findings, we provide the following suggestions for the movie industry:

Listen to critic and user review content

Movie producers and marketing agencies should expand their attention beyond conventional online review information like movie ratings and review volume and actively listen to voices of both professional critics and general consumers. Producers should identify similarities and differences between the topics that critics and everyday moviegoers focus on and engage with both types of reviewers to find commonalities between reviews. These commonalities can then be leveraged and utilized as part of the movie’s promotion strategy.

Generate a common ground of discussion topics

Movie producers and advertisers should consider inducing a common topic or theme for critics and users to discuss. We observe that an increase of one standard deviation in topic consistency produces a 4.63% increase in box office revenue, all else being equal. An important factor to remember: users and critics do not necessarily have to agree on all aspects of the movie for topic consistency to have a positive effect on revenues.

Influence what topics appear in movie reviews

Producers and advertisers can foreground discussion topics by highlighting narratives in promotional activities. For instance, topic-driven promotion can be applied to movie trailers, posters, blogs, and TV and online commercials. Such promotional choices will lead critics and users to address these topics in their reviews.

Beyond movies, the concept and measurement of topic consistency can potentially be extended to other experiential product reviews like cosmetics or book publishing. Consumers rely on online reviews due to the uncertainty they face in the pre-consumption stage. Investigating topic consistency allows both experts and general users to be heard. Managers in other experiential industries can also factor in feedback from professionals and general users in their marketing promotion plans.

Read the full article

From: Eunsoo Kim, MengQi (Annie) Ding, Xin (Shane) Wang, and Shijie Lu, “Does Topic Consistency Matter? A Study of Critic and User Reviews in the Movie Industry,” Journal of Marketing.

Go to the Journal of Marketing

Eunsoo Kim is Assistant Professor, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

MengQi (Annie) Ding is a doctoral student at Western University, Canada.

Xin (Shane) Wang is Associate Professor of Marketing and MBA ‘80 Faculty Fellow, Western University, Canada.

Shijie Lu is Howard J. and Geraldine F. Korth Associate Professor of Marketing, University of Notre Dame, USA.