Using Tweets to Predict Box Office Success #stratfest #broadway

Does the number of tweets a theatrical production receives correlate with its success, and can the tweets be used to predict a production’s popularity?

In May, I began a study examining the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s use of Twitter. Over the past several months I have been using Netlytic, a web-based system being developed here at the Lab for automated text analysis and the discovery of social networks, to collect and analyze tweets made by and about the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (See Figure One below). One objective of this preliminary study was to determine whether the number of tweets made about a production correlates with the production’s economic success (ticket sales), and to discover whether the number of tweets made about a production can be used to predict how successful the production will be. The short answer to both of these questions is that yes, the number of tweets made about a production usually does correlate with its ticket sales, and can in fact be used to predict how successful a production will be. However, the straightforwardness of this statement over simplifies the reality of the situation, as many factors influence the number of tweets a production receives, and whether these tweets do in fact correlate with a production’s popularity.

Figure One: Stratford Shakespeare Festival Production Tweets by Frequency

The most popular production at Stratford during the 2011 season has been Jesus Christ Superstar (See Figure Two). This is reflected on Twitter, where this production has received by far the most tweets (2,195, which is almost 800 more than the second most tweeted production) (See Figure One). Jesus Christ Superstar first began receiving tweets during previews, but the number of tweets it received exploded after it opened to rave reviews on June 3rd (See Figure Three) Ever since then tweets have continued to pour in, largely because news about this fantastic production has continued long after its opening. Critics from  around the world have travelled to Stratford to view this production. Even Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice (the show’s creators) visited Stratford to view this particular production of Jesus Christ Superstar and granted rave reviews. In fact, Andrew Lloyd Webber stated that Jesus Christ Superstar: “is very probably the best acted performance of the show I have ever seen and fully worthy of the fantastic reviews it has received” (The Really Useful Group, 2011). Ever since then, buzz about the possibility of this show transferring to Broadway has been amplified. Positive news surrounding this production has only continued with the leads of Superstar performing live on CBC Radio Q, an announcement that the production would be transferring to La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego for the Winter, and an eight show extension in Stratford. With all the buzz surrounding this production it is not surprising that is has been so popular on Twitter. News announcements about the production were released almost every week, providing tweeters with much fodder for discussion. As shown it Figure Three tweets about Jesus Christ Superstar still continue to increase because the buzz around this production has remained so high.

Figure Two: Seat Availability for all Productions as of August 7th 2011


Figure Three: Frequency of Stratford Shakespeare Festival Top Production Tweets by Date

Overall, for the majority of productions, the number of tweets generated roughly correlate with the number of tickets that have been sold for the production (See Figure Two). However, this does not hold true for the productions of Richard III or Titus Andronicus (See Figures Four and Five). Richard III is the second most popular production in terms of seats sold as of August 7th, but has received the fewest tweets of all productions. On the other hand, Titus Andronicus has received far more tweets, yet is one of the least popular productions being staged. Further analysis will need to be completed to determine why this is. However, we hypothesize that Titus Andronicus has been so popular on Twitter because it has been greatly promoted by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and many ticket deals have been offered on Twitter (which are often retweeted). As a result, Titus Andronicus has received a large number of tweets, but these are mainly originating from the Stratford Festival itself, and not the general public. This is evidence that the volume of tweets in and of themselves do not tell the whole story.  It appears that the number of people who originate a tweet about a particular subject are often much better predictors of a subject’s popularity.  Further analysis must be completed to understand why the ticket sales/tweets disparity exists for this production of Richard III.

Figure Four: Seat Availability for Titus Andronicus and Richard III as of August 7th 2011


Figure Five: Frequency of Tweets Generated for Titus Andronicus and Richard III by Date

While I have begun to answer a number of the questions posed at the start of my study, further analysis must still be undertaken to fully understand the reasons behind these observations and their possible implications. Based upon my preliminary study thus far, there is tantalizing evidence that Twittter can be useful as a prediction tool in certain circumstances.  However, a lot more data collection and analysis must be done before Twitter can be considered a proven and useful planning tool for the theatres.


The Really Useful Group (2011). Andrew on the Stratford Festival production of Jesus Christ Superstar Blog post Retrieved from: