Book Review: Blockbusters by Anita Elberse


Book Review: Blockbusters: Why Big Hits – and Big Risks – are the Future of the Entertainment Business by Anita Elbe’s

I often remind my clients that there is a 95% failure rate in the arts & entertainment industry. I don’t tell them this to discourage them. I tell them this to build up their perseverance and manage their expectations. In this industry a successful track record is essential and you build that record based on the right people knowing who you are and your work. It is not easy. Part of the problem is that this is a business industry. The idea is to make a profit. Yes, there are those that use these channels to make a statement, but even documentaries need eyeballs to be able to acquire resources to get it to the right people who can make a difference. But at the end of the day, people who work in the arts and entertainment need money to pay their bills and more importantly, to keep creating.

But as independent filmmakers pursue their craft, they are faced with an underlying truth of the industry. Safe bets of proven plot formulas and specific superstars dominate. Why? Because it works. That is the premise of Blockbusters: Why Big Hits – and Big Risks – are the future of the Entertainment Business by Anita Elberse. Let me begin my review of this book by saying Elberse takes a broad look at entertainment – the examples she provides in the book include sports, night clubs, authors, actors, games, musicians, and of course movies. The stories are interesting and intriguing and she uses them well to demonstrate her arguments regarding blockbuster hits as the way to go.

Elberse brings up another important point – blockbusters take a lot of money to be successful. This affects budget decisions – from where do we strategically allocate our money? – to where do we get the money? Brand partners are offered as a solution. It’s the entrepreneurial answers and Danny DeVito’s plot in Other People’s Money. Don’t use your own, even if you have it. And when you get it spend it big on the big bet. The down side is that big bets carry big risks. So the studios spend more money to ensure the big bet has a greater than average chance to succeed – in essence buy its way out of failure. But it doesn’t always work. Two recent examples – Disney’s release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (BIG SUCCESS) and the Tom Cruise – MGM deal for him to run Untied Artist (BIG FAILURE). How will Kevin Spacey fare with his new directorship of Relativity? We will have to wait and see.

In the meantime, this book is a highly recommended read. It reminds entertainment professionals what the stakes are for the parties involved and inspires marketing creative with stats, stories, and strategies. Take a read and let us know what you think of Elberse’s book. Below are some quotes to tease your interest.

In the movie business, the product is the same price to the consumer regardless of the cost or manufacturing it – whether its production budget is $15 million or $150 million. Alan Horn, CEO, Warner Bros. (pg. 1)

Because people are inherently social, they generally find value in reading the same books and watching the same television shows and movies that others do. People have a taste for winners. (pg. 40)

Media products are what economists call “experience goods” that is audiences have trouble evaluating them before having consumed or experienced them. (pg. 41)

Successful songs, movies, books, and artists are not necessarily “better,” …rather what people like depends on what they think other people like and what the market “wants” at any point in time depends on its own history. (pg. 68)

The great artists and the bad artists are easy – it is the good artists that can kill you. With the great artists you just keep putting fuel in their tank. With the bad artists, you realize your mistake quickly and cut your losses. It is the good artists that bankrupt you because they are good enough to make you think they are about to turn the corner and therefore keep you spending. ~ Boxenbaum (pg. 81)

Three C’s of media licensing: compensation (highest fee), coverage (broadest audience reach), and cooperation (avoiding actions to upset the partners – avoid channel conflicts). (pg. 213)

Videos that the studios upload to video-sharing sites such as YouTube are frequently redistributed by users, either in their original form or as altered “derivative” works in the form of spoofs, remixes, and mash-ups. Such user-generated placements can significantly and cheaply enhance the spread of advertising campaigns. (pg. 227)

For more on this book:

The Official Book Page:

Harvard Magazine Book Review:

NPR Author Interview:

Roger Ebert Author Interview:

WSJ Book Review:

NY Times Article:

Hollywood’s Blockbuster Trap:


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