ex-box office income is critical omission

Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health,
October 10, 2011

Glantz and Polansky's paper is titled "Movies with smoking make less money" but it should have continued "... at the box office" because it failed to consider the major sources of revenue to film studios other than from box office receipts (DVD and blu-ray sales, rentals and video-on- demand or iVOD). They write that data from DVD sales and rentals are not available. However, Nash Information Services (which they reference) provide estimates from February 12, 2006 for DVD sales and for box office receipts from 1992. http://www.the-numbers.com/dvd/charts/annual/2010.php Nash explain "Precise information on DVD sales is not generally available. Our DVD sales figures are estimates based on studio figures, publicly available data, and private research on retail sales carried out by Nash Information Services. The figures include estimated sales at Wal-Mart and other retailers that do not publicly release sales information."

As can be seen, box office sales remain the dominant source of revenue to movie studios in the short term, but over time DVD purchases, rentals and iVODs combined can erode and sometimes overhaul that lead. It would be wise to re-calculate Glantz and Polansky's data (at least from 2006 from when DVD sales data is available) to see whether their conclusions hold. But this would still underestimate total revenue. While Nash provides rankings of DVD rentals, they do not provide their dollar value. In 2010, the US iVOD market was worth $385m http://www.internetretailer.com/2011/02/15/apple-has-65-streaming-demand- videos-market, a still small but rapidly growing fraction of the total income for movie studios as testified by the on-going demise of suburban video rental outlets.

I also remain perplexed as to how the proposed R-rating for smoking scenes would actually reduce exposures to these scenes in youth. As I have argued previously, studies in this field include R-rating movies in their exposure assessments. For example, in Sargent et al's 2007 paper, 40% of the films on the list provided to children to determine exposure were R- rated(1). Sargent et al have also shown that between 68-81% of US adolescents are allowed to watch R-rated movies(2-3). Many more watch without parental approval via downloads and file-sharing. Furthermore, 88.2% of youth-rated movies in the US now have no tobacco scenes (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/p...).

Putting these together, estimates of the effect of movie smoking exposure already include the impact of the R-rated solution being proposed to reduce that exposure. If youth who allegedly start smoking because of exposure to smoking in movies are already watching lots of R-rated movies, how would an R-rating significantly reduce such exposure? They would not see them in cinemas, but with consummate ease at home. Moving nearly all movies with smoking to R-rating would put the onus on parents to regulate their children's viewing. Few would disagree with that. But why would parents regulate their children more because of concern about smoking than they do now with because of concerns about exposure to strong violence and explicit sex in R-rated movies?


1. Sargent JD, Tanski SE, Gibson J. Exposure to movie smoking among US adolescents aged 10 to 14 years: a population estimate. Pediatrics. 2007 May;119(5):e1167-76.

2. Sargent JD, Beach ML, Dalton MA, Ernstoff LT, Gibson JJ, Tickle JJ, et al. Effect of parental R-rated movie restriction on adolescent smoking initiation: a prospective study. Pediatrics. 2004 Jul;114(1):149- 56. 3. de Leeuw RN, Sargent JD, Stoolmiller M, Scholte RH, Engels RC, Tanski SE. Association of smoking onset with R-rated movie restrictions and adolescent sensation seeking. Pediatrics. 2011 Jan;127(1):e96-e105.

Conflict of Interest:

None declared

Conflict of Interest

None declared