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‘Ted 2’ Struck by Lightning-Fast Negative Social Buzz at Box Office

Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, feedback that once took weeks can now immediately help or hurt a movie

In the not-so-distant past, the box-office performance of Seth MacFarlane‘s “Ted 2” might have been hurt by tough reviews and reports from opening-weekend moviegoers weeks after it debuted. But today, social media-fueled buzz can impact a film within hours, and that’s what happened to “Ted 2,” which disappointed with its $33 million opening.

Lightning-fast feedback can also help a movie in a hurry, too.

At the same time negative Twitter and Facebook comments were muzzling Universal’s trash-talking teddy bear, “Max,” a family film about a heroic military dog, was getting an immediate boost from positive social media buzz and over-performing for Warner Bros. And last weekend, Pixar Animation’s “Inside Out” got a ton of momentum – and buzz accelerated by social media — from strong Thursday night and Friday showings and took off on Saturday.

In short, the same word of mouth that once affected the box office of movies over the course of weeks is now being felt almost immediately, forcing on-the-fly adjustments by theater owners and studio marketing and distribution executives.

“The digital age we are living in creates these exponential shifts that you just can’t predict,” said Nick Carpou, Universal’s distribution chief. He had a front-row seat for this weekend’s buzz-fueled tumble of the “Ted” sequel and the recent explosion of another Universal movie, the blockbuster “Jurassic World.”

“When we got word about the sellouts in key theaters at prime times, I immediately got on the phone with exhibitors and asked them ‘are you watching this and responding?'” said Carpou about the dinosaur sequel’s opening day.

While theater counts for movies are set prior to the release, the screens designated for a particular film are not, giving theater owners the ability to add or cut the number of screens designated for a film based on its performance and buzz. That’s happening much more frequently and extensively as theaters look to provide as many showings of a hot film — and cut those of a cool one.

“Ted 2,” which stars Mark Wahlberg, Amanda Seyfried and Morgan Freeman, had other problems. The concept of a talking teddy bear didn’t seem fresh this time around, and the critics didn’t like it either. But some of the buzz that followed its debut was, in typical Twitter fashion, pointed and nasty.

Because that social media buzz doesn’t wait, the studios have had to alter their strategies to counter negative buzz, amplify the positive and, in general, keep up.

“You look at a studio like Disney, which for years didn’t comment about its films’ performance over a weekend, and now they’re feeding the media updates on Friday morning, afternoon and evening, telling us how the film is doing,” said Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations.

“They realize that people are going to start talking about their films immediately after they see them on Facebook or Twitter, and they want to get their positive word out just as quickly, and be part of the conversation about the film,” he said.

Some films are more vulnerable — or able to be helped — by the instant feedback. Mature-skewing movies aren’t as impacted because older adults aren’t as active online, and the same goes for films aimed at kids.

But for movies like “Ted 2,” whose primary audience is the young adult, most active on Twitter, it can make a big difference — and fast.

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