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May 1, 2013

Summertime is here. And so are its blockbusters. It seems like not too long ago Christmas was here, with all of its blockbusters. It’s a bi-annual Deja-vu. But I always felt they are different. And this is why:

Average Monthly Industry Grosses and Average Monthly Movie Release Count

First, I plotted the average monthly grosses of all movies released in the decade between 2003 and 2012 that grossed more than $1M. But that was a pretty obvious graph (the blue one).

However, when you add the average number of monthly releases to the picture – things get more interesting: in the summer, the number of releases plunges, while total grosses soar, while in contrast – around Christmas the number of releases goes up together with the grosses. (Also notice that August, September and October are the season for a ton of releases that don’t fare too well at the box office – another interesting phenomenon). This is an anomaly that sheds a lot of light on the whole strategy behind different kinds of films and more importantly – different kinds of audiences.

If fewer movies mean more total grosses in the summer – then this means that the industry has determined that “network effects” draw revenue from people who would otherwise not go to the cinema at all. In other words: kids, who are the prime audience in the summer, either go to watch a blockbuster or they don’t go at all. That’s why no small movies dare to go up against the blockbuster – if you’re not confident you can hit the initial critical mass of viewers required to get traction – you shouldn’t enter the race at all.

In winter, however, more releases go together with higher total industry grosses. I believe that the explanation for this is that in the winter, especially around Christmas and New year’s, adults too have some time off and they are more inclined to go to a movie even if it is less hyped up, especially during Oscar season.

The bottom line is that in the winter – more movies battle for a pretty big cake, while in the summer, everyone is scared of the few bully-movies battling for an almost identical total cake. In winter you have a chance to get something even if you are not a heavyweight, but in the summer – you better stay out of the way of Iron Man and his buddies.

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  1. Interesting… It feels like summer is the “risky” move (you either get the pie or nothing at all) and Christmas is more of a “safe bet” (you’ll probably make some cash, but you probably won’t hit the sky). Would be excellent to see a list of blockbusters released on each season and see if there is a pattern in which kind of movies studios feel more confident about…

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