Saturday, December 24, 2011

Six Thoughts On Rewatchability

1) Let's consider movies that are driven at least in part by plot uncertainty. Watching such a movie a second time is by no means necessarily worse (e.g., many enjoy Inception even more the second time through), but it is different.

For example, watching a movie could really force you to question some of your beliefs and adjust your corresponding models of the world. This could be a very worthwhile experience, yet you could quite reasonably expect that watching the movie again would be unlikely to yield the same reward.

In such a case, it'd be fair to say that the experience you derived from that particular movie (i.e., watching it and thinking about it after) was better than the experience you derived from any other, yet you still might not especially want to watch it a second time.

2) Touching the Void is an example of such a movie, for me. Watching it meant a lot to me and I have thought about it often since doing so, but I wouldn't want to watch it again in the near future.

3) I'd agree that, all things equal, wanting to re-watch a movie is a proxy for how much you got out of it. But I don't think people should have to "prove" that they like a movie by watching it over and over.

4) And further, I don't think the metric is all that good of a proxy. I doubt that there'd be a very high correlation between the movies with the highest average subjective experience rating and the ones that people watch over and over.

This is because I expect people ultimately get the most out of movies that challenge them, and in the moment they are less likely to choose to re-watch such a movie, because of the insidious effects of delay discounting.

5) The counter is that people are too likely to be signaling when they merely say what their favorite movie is, which is why we need some measure of how people actually behave. I do sympathize with this argument.

For example, people tend to watch a lot of comedies, yet there are few comedies in the top 250 and actors in comedies hardly ever win awards. Yes, some of this is because humor does not cut across cultures well. But surely on some level comedies are underrated because liking them does not allow us to as effectively signal our sophistication.

6) The main upside to any behavioral metric is that it slices through the noisy opinion market. The downsides are that we might not be measuring what we think we are, and, to the extent that the metric is widely held, it can lead to costly gaming.

Full Disclosure: When a movie that I have seen more than once is brought up in conversation, I will almost always brag about how many times I have seen it, to collect some street cred.