Evolution of Dance vs. Titanic


I’ve just been chatting with my online students in Australia about emerging media and it led me to do some quick sums on the merits of Titanic, the biggest grossing movie of all time, and Evolution of Dance, the most popular video on YouTube ever.

So, Judson Laipply’s frankly rubbish Evolution of Dance comes in at 58,381,789 views.The real figure is probably a lot more because people uploaded loads of duplicates (and still do) and also upload them to other video sharing services as well as ripping it and sending direct via e-mail.

Compare this to something like cinema and you start getting a picture of how powerful hyperdistribution can be.

(this post is quite long, so read on for more…)

Titanic is the top U.S. grossing movie of all time with $600,788,188 domestic box office takings (i.e., just the U.S. – bear with me whilst I use that figure). The average cinema ticket price in the U.S. is an astonishingly low $6.55 (boy do we get ripped off in Australia and in the UK). So that’s 91,723,387 tickets on average or about 1/3rd more than a short, badly recorded video of a lame dance comedy act.

So far, so good for cinema. Now lets look at how much both of them cost to make.

Titanic’s budget was over $200 million. For every one of those $6.55 tickets sold, it cost $2.18 to ‘make’ it. So, in the U.S. at least, they made $4.37 per ticket and some of that will have gone to the cinema owners.

Of course it’s not that simple – worldwide Titanic took $1.8 billion in gross revenue and there’s also the merchandising, DVDs, etc. (I think that figure includes that if it’s listed as gross revenue – those stats are from WIkipedia).

On the other hand I’m sure Laipply has had plenty of spin-off action from his success (although he seems to be struggling to get the rights for the music he used in the video, which is preventing him from cashing in on it as much as he could).

That said, Laipply didn’t invest in anything much other than his rehearsal time and the cheap camera he recorded it with (if, indeed, he did the recording), some digitising time plus a bit of bandwidth to upload it.

If you were to make an independent film in Australia and get it shown in every cinema in Australia (which wouldn’t happen) for two months (which also wouldn’t happen) I would reckon you’d be lucky to get about 2 million people viewing it (Australia’s population is currently 20,434,176 – so that’s guessing that 10% of people would bother to go and see an independent film). In any case, I would imagine that would be considered amazing (and would never happen).

For comparison, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has taken AU$33,992,807 in Australia so far. Divide that by average ticket prices to get a rough viewing figure: Tickets were on average $10.37 in 2006, so even without adjusting them upwards for 2007 that’s a paltry 3,277,994 million views for Hazza and his magical mates.

Although it’s not an apples for apples comparison (as it’s Australia vs. worldwide) that would be well under the top 100 clips on YouTube. Position 100 is currently held by the brilliant Little Superstar at 6,989,901 views.

Incidentally, a cinema ticket in Australia requires 48.35 minutes of work to earn enough to buy it, on average, compared to only 16.11 minutes in India. (That was in 2003 – the stats haven’t been updated since then).

As is probably plainly evident I’m neither a statistician nor an economist and it’s also late.

Anyone care to take a look at my figures?

(UPDATE: First thoughts are of course that viewing figures aren’t the same as ticket/DVD sales, although in terms of the web the former is more important).

[tags]titanic, evolution of dance, youtube, cinema, economics, hyperdistribution[/tags]

4 Replies

  • Of course, the motivations for making Titanic and Evolution of Dance were not the same… One of the reasons for making Titanic was maximise cash. It was made to be one of the biggest box office successes of all time. Earnings was a massive driving force behind its development…

    Evolution of dance wasn’t made for YouTube, it just happened to make it onto YouTube, it’s wide distribution was a happy accident of the medium.

    I think it probably doesn’t mean much to compare YouTube happy accidents to the massive marketing engine of Hollywood in terms of earnings or otherwise.


  • Interesting point of view, but it exactly for those reasons that I think the comparison is interesting. When one thinks of the cash spent marketing Titanic for what that then brings, it’s totally disproportionate.

    For the point about earnings is only important in that it’s used to ratify the success of a film. Ultimately, if you make creative content for public consumption, it’s audience that you want, not just earnings. Obviously that’s not why studio execs are in the game (although they would argue differently). Feature film funding is basically about risky but potentially massively rewarding investment.

    From my experience working with artist colleagues, they’d be held in high esteem to have a one-person show in a major gallery or to have their film shown in two or three high-profile festivals. But that would only garner perhaps a few thousand viewers (if they were really lucky). So there’s that cultural perception that’s also in play.

    It interested me to make the comparison also because I just interviewed Matt Hanson from the A Swarm of Angels project (for IF magazine too). ASOA is not only crowdsourced in terms of the creative process, but also funded via subscriptions and will be released completely open-source and DRM-free. The funding, at least, is a kind of Zopa for film in the sense that it cuts out the studios. (Perhaps it’s more like that site where you can invest in unsigned bands – can’t remember the name now…).

  • Ok, but I would argue that having 6 million people see your stuff on YouTube isn’t automatically better than having 1000 people see your stuff.

    It takes no real time, cognitive or emotional commitment to click a link and watch some bad quality video that a mate has sent you but it takes some motivation and costs something (even something small) to consume a cinema, gallery or live experience and so what you take away has more meaning and value (positive or negative)…

    Ultimately, most artists would value that more than audience size any day.

  • That’s true and I know a flaw in the workings above is that it’s hard to know what constitutes a ‘view’ on YouTube. Does the whole thing have to be downloaded and played to the end, or just clicked on? (I suspect the latter, right?).

    The post grew out of a conversation about media ownership/power and how much more bottom-up it is now, hence the comparison. I don’t think it’s apples and apples, though, but it was an interesting exercise nevertheless. Well, I thought so at 2AM.

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