NEW YORK: With the 2015 Academy Awards set to be held on Sunday, a new study in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR) has demonstrated that pre-release online word of mouth can be a "strong predictor" of a film's performance on its opening weekend.

The paper – entitled E-Word of Mouth: Early Predictor Of Audience Engagement – How Pre-Release 'E-WOM' Drives Box-Office Outcomes of Movies – analysed 62 movies, which recorded average box-office earnings of $20.7m on their first weekend.

In examining the role of electronic word of mouth, the authors – C. Samuel Craig and William H. Greene from NYU's Stern School of Business and Anthony Versaci from AIG – addressed two specific factors: awareness and intention to view.

The first variable involved combining the number of times a trailer for each film was played back on selected websites with the amount of related comments it received.

"Someone who viewed the trailer for a film was considered to be aware of the film, as was someone who posted a comment," the authors wrote.

In determining the "intentions" metric, they looked at the percentage of people indicating they intended to see a movie through votes cast on Fandango's digital platform.

"This variable is expressed in terms of the percentage of individuals who 'Can't Wait' to see a new release. It reflects affect and is a proxy for intention to go and see a particular film," Craig, Greene and Versaci said.

And their results suggested that "pre-release awareness and intentions are strong predictors of how well a film is going to do on its opening weekend."

In determining how to drive this kind of activity, they found that "star power" and a film's rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) are not "significantly related" to awareness, but other factors were.

"Whether a film was a sequel had an influence on awareness, with sequels generating greater buzz. Neither 'star power' nor MPAA rating was significantly related to awareness," the authors reported.

Assessing the intention to see a particular film – "potentially a more critical variable" – equally showed that big-budget pictures, sequels and action films all performed better in generating pre-release online chatter.

Data sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by Warc staff