Analytics – Trust the Data and Your Gut?

By Mark • Analytics, Business Intelligence • 11 Jan 2016

So earlier this year I entered an analytics contest and I won!


TDWI sponsored the contest, using analytics, to predict the opening weekend for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. HUGE, was not an acceptable answer, so I started to formulate how one would predict such a widely variable number. Here was my thought process, based on the data available and in the end, what I felt in my gut.

I first looked at the past openings for the Star Wars franchise; removing the special editions and re-releases, Using the number of theaters each movie opened in, and what the average ticket price was by year. I also approximated the number of tickets sold ( for an average theater size).

Looking at comparable films (i.e. “Blockbusters”) for this year, I estimated the number of theaters (about 4200) that SW:TFA would open in, and this year’s average ticket price (> $8.15 a seat).

This brought me to a figure of about $176M, which I felt really low. A small sample size of only 6 movies will do that…

Next, I looked at opening weekends for this year, with Jurassic Park being the largest at just over 200 million. No way Star Wars isn’t beating Jurassic park. No way. So where would the difference come in and make this opening remarkable, considering the Disney Machine of Marketing plastering ST:TFA on EVERYTHING.

The last tweaks in the numbers were guesses really.

  • Cost different between standard and 3D; I guessed more 3D views would push the average ticket price up.
  • Number of repeat viewers, guessing 40%, maybe higher depending on how good it was… but I went with 40%
  • Social Influence, if it was good people telling their friend may push the box office $ up. This would be negligible at best
  • Generational “Drag-Alongs” (Gen X and Gen Y, who are dragging their kids along for nostalgia). This would only be first views, not multiple in most cases.
These last 4 were “thumb in the air” guesses to be totally honest. Analytics got me partly there, my gut got me really close!
My final prediction/guess was $247,575,500. Less than 1% from the actual weekend opening draw.
Considering the small sample size I had to work with of data, and the selective nature I used to create my data set, I got lucky. But the predictive/what-if piece of the analysis is really what got me close. My thumb in the air variables were pure gut instinct, but being able to model the potential future was an important factor in getting me to my final entry.
Boiled down, it was basic BI:
  • What did the franchise do in the past?
  • What have competitors and others in the industry done recently?
  • What marketing/awareness efforts are in place and how effective are they?
  • What does the customer’s sphere of influence look like?
  • What does brand strength do to the bottom line?
Is there a lesson here? Probably not, but it reaffirms to me that sometime when we try to over complicate things we can lose sight of what is real. Keep it simple, trust the numbers and let people apply their gut.


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