Data Deep Dive: Do Screen Counts Predict Weekly Drop %?

Last week in this space I looked at Thursday data to see if that gives you an edge in predicting weekend box office.  This week, I take a look at screen counts and what impact, if any, they have on how much the revenue for a film can drop from week to week.

Why should you care?

If you like to roll your own on predictions, you probably spend some time looking at factors that influence how much films drop compared to the previous weekend.  In fact, those numbers are reported weekly by the movie industry.  As part of that, you might be wondering how much screen counts are a part of that drop each week.  Screen counts can be difficult to come by prior to the Fantasy Movie League submittal deadline, so seeing how determinative they are is an important factor in building forecasts.

Where’d I get my data?

I looked at data going back to Week 1 of the Summer FML season through Fall Week 2.  In particular, I compared screen count changes from week to week relative to revenue percentage changes from week to week.  Note that this data does not include new films as they have no drop since they have no prior week with which to compare.

What were my findings?

If you plot that data in a scatter graph, with screen count changes on the X-axis and percentage revenue changes on the Y-axis, you get the following:


I grouped the individual movies into three color-coded categories.  The movies 80 that dropped a significant amount, 245 screens or more, are in blue.  The eight movies that added a significant amount, 250 screens or more, are in green.  The remaining 37 movies in between those extremes are in red.

The first thing that I noticed when I plotted this was that adding screens is no guarantee of increasing revenues compared to the previous week.  The worst example of that was the weekend of 8/14 when “Ricki and the Flash” added 461 screens but still dropped 31.1%.  It did, however, work out for “Inside Out” over Labor Day weekend when it made an end-of-summer push by adding 2204 screens and had a jump of 139.8% with a $3.2M weekend gross.

Of the blue films, “Fantastic Four” lost 1423 screens in its third week of release and saw a drop of a whopping 54.3% in its weekend gross.  That was a horribly reviewed film, though, so not all of that revenue drop can be attributed to the screen count.  On the flip side for the blue films, “Pitch Perfect 2” lost 726 screens on the weekend of 6/12 but dropped only 15.5% of its gross compared to the previous week.  A Rotten Tomatoes rating of 67% and the presence of the Green Bay Packers in a film that generally appealed to women couldn’t have hurt.

In the red films, the worst drop in the sample was experienced by “Poltergiest” in its second week of release.  It gained two screens but dropped 64.4% of its revenues, clearly influenced by its poor reviews as well as the new release of “San Andreas” that same week.

All that said, common sense tells us that the number of screens a film appears on in a given weekend acts as an upper limit to how much revenue it can bring in.  But those numbers can be difficult to get ahold of in advance of the submittal deadline and while they can be a factor, the data suggests they are one of many factors to consider along with competition, reviews, number of weeks a film has been out, and comparables.  In other words, if you can get your hands on screen counts in time, they can help refine a forecast, but it isn’t the end of the world if you have to rely on other factors.

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