Using Field Experiments to Test Entertainment: Process & Examples

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Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

In this lesson, you'll read about several case studies that show how field experiments were used to test movie endings and trailers, and how the results helped shaped the final version of the movie.

Field Experiments in Entertainment

Field experiments, or experiments performed in the real world to gather reactions and information, aren't just for scientists and other researchers. The entertainment industry frequently uses field experiments when deciding how movies will end and which trailers to show.

In the entertainment industry, field experiments take the form of test screenings, or preview screenings of movies before their official release dates. Attendees are given the opportunity to watch the movie free of charge, and in exchange they may be asked to fill out a short questionnaire about how they liked the movie afterwards.

Audience reactions are noted as the movie plays, and the directors and producers then take these reactions to make the final release of the movie as appealing as possible. Sometimes, the way a movie ends is changed completely because the test screening showed the audience didn't like the ending at all.

Test screenings are the field experiments used to test consumer reactions to movies
entertainment field experiment

Let's take a look at some examples.

Little Shop of Horrors

The 1986 Warner Brothers film Little Shop of Horrors, starring Ellen Greene and Rick Moranis, is about a giant alien plant that begins to eat almost everything in sight, including people. If you've seen this movie, then you know it has a somewhat happy ending, but it wasn't always so. In the original ending, the couple is eaten by the plant.

During the test screening, the audience didn't like this sad ending at all since the couple was so lovable throughout the movie. They hated seeing the couple die. So, what did Warner Brothers do? They actually spent another $5 million to shoot a different, happier ending, the one that you now see. The original, sad ending was completely deleted from the movie.

Pretty Woman

Pretty Woman is a classic movie from 1990, and is still popular today. It also has a great ending that people love. But the original ending before test screenings were performed was very different. Instead of Richard Gere's character, Edward, coming back for Julia Roberts' character, Vivian, Edward actually kicks Vivian out of his car and leaves her.

The producers ended up completely changing the ending because audiences in test screenings did not like the original. In the final version of this well-loved movie, Edward comes back for Vivian with roses in his teeth.

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