Julian Valdez is a masters student of Applied Psychology focusing on consumer psychology at the University of Southern California. Before this, he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at University of California, Riverside.
His current research project investigates the effect of MPAA ratings on moviegoer interest in films. Based on box office analysis, it is currently believed that violent content boosts a film’s appeal however R rated films, which are the most violent commercial films produced, are consistently the poorest financial performers. This research uses choice based conjoint analysis in order to identify trends in consumer desire to view these films independently of box office performance. The aim of this study is to inform marketing efforts within the film industry.
The Motion Picture Association of America's film ratings have become an integral part of any piece of marketing that promotes a film. The core purpose of the MPAA ratings is to warn consumers of content that they may find objectionable before they see a movie. This system, however, introduces major peripheral effects. Research has shown that box office success, and consumer appeal is positively correlated with violence in film. On average, it appears as though viewers are intrigued by violent material and are often willing to pay the cost of a movie ticket to see it. The ratings themselves act as an additional factor that limits the accessibility of such content to certain viewers. While films with nonrestrictive ratings (PG and PG-13) are often successful, restricted films, which include the most violent movies that are widely released, typically perform poorer than films with any other rating. Thus far, it is unclear as to whether the decrease in revenue for R rated films is due to the restrictions that accompany the rating, or if moviegoer interest drops beyond the PG-13 rating. This study seeks to determine 1) whether viewer interest increases continually as MPAA ratings and descriptors indicate greater levels of violence? 2) Do R rated films receive less viewer interest than PG-13 rated films as has been indicated by box office analysis?
A choice-based conjoint study was developed in order to investigate the research questions. In this study, respondents were presented with tasks that included Plot Overview, MPAA Rating, and MPAA Rating Descriptions (such as “Violence” and “Strong Language”) as attributes.
The findings of this study indicate that, in certain contexts, there is, in fact, a difference in consumer interest in viewing a film based on the MPAA rating and the descriptors which are attributed to it. However, the direction of interest as descriptors indicated greater levels of violence was somewhat surprising. while No Violence was the least favored descriptor, there was a large preference for films with Violence as opposed to those with Strong Violence in their descriptions.
When considering film ratings, contrary to what has been believed R rated films drew more interest than did films that were rated PG-13. It appears as though, in spite of relatively poor box office performance, R rated films generate greater interest than films in the much more lucrative PG-13 rated category.
Although box office data indicates that violence is a selling point while an R rating is a condemnation, the results indicate that there is more to the story when consumer interest is taken into account. When tested empirically, violence is appealing to a point. While there is a strong preference for violence in film, this preference drops significantly when the violence is described as being strong. On the other hand, an R rating only seems to be beneficial to consumer interest in spite of the fact that box office performance of R rated films is relatively poor on average.