A New Era of the Film Industry: Neurocinema

 A New Era of the Film Industry: Neurocinema

ESİL SÖNMEZ KENCE* Neuromarketing Researcher
Neuromarketing Lab. www.neuromarketinglaboratory.com info@neuromarketinglaboratory.com

The film and entertainment industry’s new assistant in predicting audience behaviour by analysing the complex structure of human nature: Neurocinema.

When watching a film, what we see is not a mere “visual” record of the images moving on the screen but is the result of a complex structure constituted by ingredients like human senses, emotions, imagination, and memories. Analyzing this complex structure and predicting audience behavior has always been a critical element for the film and entertainment industry.

For A-list productions, the potential success is realized through pre-tests. The pre-tests are based on the data collected from surveys and focus group studies on posters, teasers and trailers and piloting which then are used to formulate the marketing argument.

The analysis of static and dynamic images used to engage audiences and effectively summarize the story is considered a useful method to predict audience behavior and determine commercial performance. However, these traditional research methods may not always yield reliable results. Studies show that more than 75% of the movies released record loss during their theatrical run! (Boksem & Smidts, 2015).

Considering the filming costs and all the marketing investments of the cinema and film industry, remarkable contribution can be achieved by using new research criteria to analyze audience behavior, instead of conventional, statement-based methods.


In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the film industry in using biometric measures to identify metrics that predict the performance and effectiveness of video stimuli. This interest is based on the potential of neuromarketing research techniques to provide additional information that cannot be obtained through traditional methods (i.e., surveys and focus groups).

That claim assumes that individuals do not fully express their preferences when asked to do so. This is thought to be the result of various reasons, such as cognitive biases, cognitive control processes, etc. For this reason, neural metrics which can represent the audience’s real reactions to stimuli in a way that is not contaminated by personal biases stand out in recent studies.

Neuromarketing research techniques can easily turn into box office success by providing an alternative framework for predicting the overall performance of a film, as well as accurately analyzing the impact of marketing stimuli such as trailers, teasers and posters and accurately predicting the audience’s reaction to the content itself. This means that the potential success of a movie or TV series can be determined, and necessary precautions can be taken before release.


By providing millisecond-by-millisecond responses to video or visual stimuli, neuroscientific measurements can analyze information processing details, otherwise unavailable through traditional methods. Given these potential advantages, neuromarketing research methods can facilitate achievement of the targeted performance by identifying audience behavior.

Empirical studies using a combination of various methods such as eye tracking, skin conductance response (SCR), facial coding, electroencephalogram (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can provide accurate readings of the audience’s attention level, approach-avoidance motivation, emotional arousal levels and micro-expressions such as fear, anger, surprise, happiness with various correlations.

These measurement techniques offer the advantage of being able to analyze viewers’ direct, raw and unfiltered reactions to video/visual stimuli in the form of a data set.

We assume that most of our behavior is guided by our consciousness and free will, but Stanislas Dehaene warns in his book Consciousness and the Brain that the unconscious activities of the mind far exceed its conscious activities in many respects.

In fact, a neuromarketing study conducted for a new television program to be aired in the UK has reached a result that confirms this idea. In the study, 200 subjects were shown a pilot screening of the upcoming program and a different television program and fMRI scans were taken.


According to the results of the questionnaire administered to the subjects, the subjects stated that they found the upcoming program boring and that it was the last program they would consider watching.

However, their brains told the exact opposite. The level of immersion of the viewers in the program, that is, their interaction, gave a high value when the activation in the forebrain regions was measured. After the program went on air, the success in the UK was similarly high. It was subsequently broadcast in many other countries such as Australia and Brazil.

In a study in which fMRI technique was used to measure the impact of scenes from a horror movie on the audience, replying to the survey questions about the movie, the subject said that the scenes were very scary and that he liked them, but the result of the brain imaging was not telling the same story.

In focus groups, participants may answer questions based on what they think the interviewer wants to hear, or sometimes they may not remember the scene they watched five minutes ago. Therefore, recording physiological reactions during viewing can provide valuable information.


The same is true for trailers, which serve as the primary marketing tool to promote the movie and often motivate its storyline by capturing its key features Assessing moviegoers’ neurophysiological responses to trailers can provide a convenient way to predict the audience’s reaction to the actual movie, and hence predict the potential commercial success of the film before its release.

A neuroscientific study on the theatrical performance of films reveals ambitious results in this regard. The researchers report that their metrics, using EEG and eye-tracking devices, predicted up to 72% of a movie’s premiere performance variance, and up to 67% on subsequent weekends. The researchers state that these results correspond to a 23-fold increase in prediction accuracy when compared to existing traditional methods.

On the other hand, it is worth noting that the film and entertainment industry is also undergoing a transformation. New digital platforms that transform the viewer’s experience from passive to active, and their consumption channels, touchscreen tablets and mobile devices, offer the viewer a different and new visual experience.

These platforms are also changing the notion of audience interaction in the film and entertainment industry by characterizing the audience as “users”. Although there is limited research on the interaction of posters and trailers used on these platforms with the user (viewer), neuroscientific studies on digital platforms and consumption channels are gaining momentum.


As a result, this multidisciplinary field allows producers to track exactly which sequences/scenes excite, emotionally engage, or bore the audience. Based on this information, directors can revise the editing, re-shoot an actor’s poor performance, increase the visual effects, and optimize the film’s performance. Or the production team can create trailers that will be much more effective.

Of course, all neuromarketing research can be used not only to serve commercial performance, but also as a way to support the audience’s experience of art. Neuroscience offers an empirical analysis of the aesthetic perception of films and TV series, revealing how we experience film, how we perceive art.

As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio says, “We are not thinking machines that can feel, but feeling machines that can think.” Basically, our emotions drive our behavior, shape our feelings about the world and ourselves, and directly influence our decisions.

Countless studies in neuroscience over the last 30 years have emphasized the impact of emotions on our decisions. For this reason, neuromarketing researchers and consultants do not make predictions about emotions and attitudes; they analyze dozens of neurophysiological variables and draw conclusions about consumer behavior.

To be sure, neuromarketing is neither the only key to analyzing consumer behavior nor the magic wand, an answer to everything. As an emerging science, it is limited by our proficiency in understanding the human brain and what today’s technology has to offer.


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