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Two information aggregation mechanisms for predicting the opening weekend box office revenues of films: Boxoffice Prophecy and Guess of Guesses


Field tests were conducted on two new information aggregation mechanism designs. The mechanisms were designed to collect information held as intuitions about opening weekend box office revenues for movies in Australia. The principles on which the mechanisms operate and their capacity to collect information are explored. A pari-mutuel mechanism produces a predicted probability distribution over box office amounts that is, with the exception of very small films, indistinguishable from the actual revenues. The second mechanism is based on guessing the guesses of others and when applied under conditions where incentives for accuracy are unavailable still performs well against data.

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  1. 1.

    The number of buckets is dictated by screen size. The size of the buckets is determined by how the film is classified. “Art House” films have the smallest buckets, followed by “Regular” and then “Blockbuster” which is the largest. The movies, classifications, and buckets are discussed in Sect. 5.

  2. 2.

    The implications of heterogeneous preferences over outcomes and incentives for outcome manipulation within market systems is addressed by Rausser et al. (2015).

  3. 3.

    This idea was motivated by insights contained in Prelec (2004) and Weaver and Prelec (2013). The property could be a consequence of an “availability heuristic” or, alternatively a “recognition heuristic.” The idea also appears as a substantive principle in “false consensus” research. We use the property axiomatically and take no stand on competing explanations or the conditions under which it might be reliable as a model.

  4. 4.

    Papers by Axelrod et al. (2009) and Plott and Roust (2009) added both understanding and features. Axelrod et al. (2009) demonstrated that the addition of a time clock and an increasing price of pari-mutuel tickets would increase the speed with which information flowed into the system. Plott and Roust (2009) demonstrated that poor information aggregation was related to weak signals. When the signals are weak, information aggregation is poor, primarily because risk aversion prevented agents acting on poor information. That information exists to be reflected in the decisions of others is not revealed. Those two studies lead to the major features of the architecture implemented in Intel and in Boxoffice Prophecy. More recently the results of Kalovcova and Ortmann (2009) and Koessler et al. (2012) have added depth to the understanding.

  5. 5.

    Foutz and Jank (2010) is an exception who investigate the price path to assist in forecasts of box office revenues.

  6. 6.

    We compute the Mean BOP Forecast with a weighted average of the value assigned to each bin, weighted by the number of tickets in that bin. Specifically, if the kth bin pays off if revenues are between \(x_{k-1}\) and \(x_{k}\), we assign bin k the value of \(v_{k} = (x_{k-1}+x_{k})/2\). Since bins are equally spaced, we assign the first bin a value of (\(x_{1} + (x_{1} - (x_{2 }-x_{1})))/2\) and treat the last bin symmetrically. There are several different ways to label these extreme bins and our results are robust to reasonable treatments (obviously, labeling the last bin as having an infinite value would be problematic). Given these defined values, if the kth bin has \(\eta _{k}\) tickets in it, then the Mean BOP Forecast is simply:

    $$\begin{aligned} \hbox {BOP Mean}={\frac{1}{{\sum \nolimits _{k=1}^{1}} \eta _k}} {\mathop {\sum }\limits _{k=1}^{k}} \eta _k v_k \end{aligned}$$


  7. 7.

    We drop 10 observations due to issues related to censoring. For example, Art House films that ended up in the lowest bucket when the buckets were designed too large ex ante. Dropped titles are noted in “Appendix 1” table.

  8. 8.

    Our application of the Kolmogorov–Smirnoff test represents a calibration test that could be manipulated if the IAM were to report a uniform distribution over sales for all movies, an outcome that was not observed in our sample. Technically, the p values for the Kolmogorov–Smirnoff test implicitly assumes independence across sessions, which is unlikely to hold in the current application. Unfortunately, testing distributional equivalence with serial dependence and heteroscedasticity presents an open question in statistical hypothesis testing that is beyond the scope of our current analysis.

  9. 9.

    The Long-Shot Bias arises when market odds overstate the likelihood of low-probability events, an issue that has been discussed extensively in the literature (including four chapters in the Handbook of Sports and Lottery Markets (Hausch and Ziemba (2008)). Researchers have also observed the opposite pattern, a Reverse Long-Shot Bias, which presents as market odds overstating the likelihood of high-probability events and understating the probability of low-probability events. A number of strategic or behavioral features of prediction markets might drive these phenomena, including risk aversion (Jullien and Salanie 2000), probability weighting (Snowberg and Wolfers 2010), heterogeneous beliefs (Gandhi and Serrano-Padial 2012), and strategic models (Ottaviani and Sørensen 2010).


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We thank the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation; the Lee Center; Australian Research Council (Linkage Grant LP110200336); University of Sydney; Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS); and the Caltech Laboratory for Experimental Economics and Political Science. The computer and software development skills of Hsing Yang Lee and Travis Maron are acknowledged. Their skills and dedication made the research possible. The comments of Matt Shum were very helpful.

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Correspondence to Charles R. Plott.

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Court, D., Gillen, B., McKenzie, J. et al. Two information aggregation mechanisms for predicting the opening weekend box office revenues of films: Boxoffice Prophecy and Guess of Guesses. Econ Theory 65, 25–54 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00199-017-1036-1

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  • Information aggregation
  • Mechanism design
  • Experiment
  • Prediction market
  • Field test
  • Box office

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