The other day I had a peculiar conversation with my 13 year old son. One of his classmates is the son of a filmmaker and he heard that the boy’s mother’s film grossed 75-80 crores on day one. So he comes and tells me that he wants to be a filmmaker because he wants to make that kind of money. Well, his misconception that all movie collection monies go to the film’s Director aside, it got me thinking about how the narrative around new movies has changed dramatically in the last few years.
Earlier, when a film came out, you’d discuss if it was good or bad. You’d probably debate reviews, your friends’ opinions and maybe even wait to see if it wins at the awards. Now, all anyone talks about are box office numbers! Without context of how much was spent on making, promoting or distributing the film, every conversation is about hundreds or thousands of crores. Another filmmaker friend commented that this method works because it takes all subjectivity out of the picture. No one can say if your film is good or bad, the audience is saying it directly. Interestingly, this trend is also reflective of what has happened in advertising a while back, with every ad being judged on ‘virality’ and number of views over all else. But it begs a few important questions:
1. Transparency – Who’s calculating these numbers? Who’s auditing them? How long do we just keep on believing numbers published by Meta and Google? Finally these are for-profit companies, interested in showing their shareholders that they’re doing well. We’ve all heard stories of app usage numbers being fudged by Founders and TRP scams. Isn’t it about time we had an independent entity auditing all the numbers on views, reach, etc. published by Google and Meta?
2. Ethics – Let’s say all the numbers behind ad views and movie collections are accurate. How do we assess if they were generated ethically? We’ve promoted posts on our agency Instagram several times and each promoted post gets no less than 5000 likes while an organic post gets around 500. But try scrolling through the profiles of the people behind additional 4500 likes. What you will typically see – shady or no profile picture, no posts, no friends, no connection to advertising or marketing and most likely with a bio that mentions some remote part of India. Clearly it’s a click farm at work somewhere. If Meta can do this to a measly post that is being promoted for a few thousand bucks how do we know how content with billions behind it is getting its numbers.
3. Creative Evolution – Movies, music, ads and many other pop culture industries have moved forward because of a few mavericks who took chances that the audience wasn’t ready for. A select community of tastemakers appreciated their courage and they went on to create more, turning the radical into the mainstream until the cycle repeated itself. The ‘critics’ choice’ was different from the ‘popular choice’ and wasn’t that a good thing? It made room for the risky and the new. In a world where numbers govern everything, won’t we just fall back on the lowest common denominator?
Don’t get me wrong, numbers matter. Finally we’re in a creative business, it’s 50/50. What I’m lamenting is the worrying tipping of the scales towards business. Or maybe I’m just a dad who wants his 13 year old son to come tell me how much he loved the songs of a film, the action sequence of his favourite actor or to imitate one catchy dialogue in a really terrible way. Anything, but the numbers it did this weekend.