Despite revving the media's engine, Twitter isn't a major driver of b.o. buzz


Twitter shmitter.

Like movies, the much ballyhooed Twitter Effect on boxoffice is mostly fiction. As is often the case with conventional wisdom, the notion that the microblog social network impacts boxoffice resists scientific analysis. Even supposed anecdotal evidence often comes thirdhand through the media -- and there's the rub.

Tweeting remains more media phenomenon than clear business-success story. Top media execs privately suggest that the site might never turn a profit as it's yet to tap a meaningful revenue stream.

But that hasn't stopped the journalist-driven delusion from taking hold that Twitter is somehow the biggest and best when it comes to social-networking sites. In truth, it is neither. User traffic on Facebook and MySpace dwarfs that of Twitter, whose user interface is perhaps best described as minimalist -- in a bad way.

My comedy-writer friend Evan neatly summed up the situation when he observed, "I first heard of Twitter from journalists, and to this day the only people I know who use Twitter are journalists."

Matt Atchity, editor in chief of movie-rating site RottenTomatoes, expressed a similar suspicion when recently asked by Forbes magazine about the so-called Twitter Effect on moviegoing.

"Twitter probably has a larger influence in the media because they are all on Twitter," he said. finds only 12% of its online-poll respondents saying they are affected by Twitter movie comments. But the media-propagated myth of the site's impact continues.

The New York Times recently quoted a handful of teenagers as saying they had no interest in using Twitter. But then it went on to suggest everybody older than 19 was somehow gaga about tweeting.

Uh, nobody I know is -- and my friends run a gamut of ages from about 35 upward. So by default, if there is a sweet spot of interest in Twitter, it must be with folks ages 20-34, right?

Let's call it 18- to 35-year-olds, as that would certainly represent a core demo for movie marketers and gets us back to the supposed Twitter Effect on film openings.

Bloggers and others cited the late-summer success of "Inglourious Basterds" as demonstrating how the Twitter Effect could help a film's opening, After all, they reasoned, the film "only" dropped 10% in its second day of release.

Puh-leeeze! So now we're citing declining boxoffice as a sign of positive tweeting?

Some suggested the outsized $45 million opening weekend of summer's "The Hangover" was helped by positive tweets from first-day patrons. Yet the Warner Bros. release declined 10% on Saturday from its opening Friday.

More notably, "Hangover" posted robust midweek grosses after its initial weekend. So some sort of positive buzz indeed was generated during its first few days in release, but it had little or nothing to do with opening-day tweets.

If you ask me, the early momentum primarily was stimulated by almost unanimously positive reviews from critics who normally might be expected to bash an R-rated buddies comedy but instead made it safe for older gals and other noncore moviegoers to check out the Todd Phillips comedy.

Universal's R-rated summer comedy "Bruno" often is cited as an example of the potentially negative effect of instant tweeting. Again, methinks not.

You had to be stuck on a desert island somewhere to have been unaware of the film's tone and content before its release. So the big drop in boxoffice during its second day of release largely was a reflection of how keen fans of Sacha Baron Cohen were to catch the pic on its first day.

Sony domestic distribution president Rory Bruer recently was quoted as touting the leggy performance of "The Ugly Truth" as a sign it got good early tweets. Rory, love ya, babe, but here's the real ugly truth: "Truth" rung up 14% less boxoffice on its second day in release than during its first.

As a practical matter, Twitter has one main purpose: To further the promotional interests of celebs and others who regularly tweet, though I have a tough time picturing macho male athletes telling their girlfriends to hold off while they go and tweet. On the other hand, limited to 140 characters per tweet, the site does do a good job of acknowledging Western civilization's declining literacy rate.

The Fox TV network asked the casts from its "Fringe" and "Glee" series to offer live tweets during debut episodes. Even pols are getting into the act, with Republicans boasting that John McCain has more Twitter "followers" than President Obama.

So, no, it's not just Ashton Kutcher and his inexplicable Internet minions who use Twitter. And in the interest of full disclosure, I have been known to tweet a link to my weekly BoxofficeTally video (though some would say I've never been particularly manly, or literate).

But to summarize the main premise of this rant, let me just say this about boxoffice buzz: It's called word-of-mouth, folks.