Los Angeles Think you’re better than Hollywood at gauging whether an upcoming flick will be a box office bomb or sleeper hit? You could put money behind that under two proposals that movie studios are denouncing as legalized gambling.
The proposals the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission are expected to rule on this month would let fans, industry executives and speculators bet on expected box office receipts. Investors profit if predictions come true and lose if they don’t.
These online trading forums would be similar to futures markets common for commodities such as corn, pork bellies, natural gas and silver. Although goods are rarely exchanged directly through such markets, they let buyers and sellers reduce risks by locking in prices months ahead of time. A corn farmer might want to do that in case a bumper crop pushes prices down too low.
Now, two companies want to bring that concept to Hollywood, a notoriously risky industry in which big-budget productions can go bust in a single weekend and independent movies can become unexpected hits. But the investors most likely to benefit — the six major Hollywood studios — have rallied against the proposals.
Although the companies behind the exchanges plan to proceed, regulators pushed back a decision on one of the proposals, Trend Exchange from Veriana Ventures, amid the last-minute opposition. A ruling could come today, more than a week later than originally expected.
A decision on the other proposal, Cantor Fitzgerald LP’s Cantor Exchange, is expected around April 20.
The studios’ trade group, the Motion Picture Association of America, argues that the proposals tarnish the reputation and integrity of the industry by authorizing “legalized gambling on movie receipts.” The organization also complained that so many people screen movies before release that it would be “virtually impossible” to prevent insider trading.
The backers of the proposals say they don’t need studios’ involvement to succeed, though that’s akin to corn farmers staying out of the futures market for corn.
Russ Andersson, Veriana’s director of risk management, said other players with large stakes in movies, such as directors, actors, financiers and theater owners, might be willing to take part.
Cantor Fitzgerald runs the Hollywood Stock Exchange, a virtual market in which shares of celebrities and movies rise and fall with popularity. But that market trades on “Hollywood Dollars.” Those using Cantor Exchange would use real currency.
Offsetting real deals
Under both proposals, no actual goods or shares in films would change hands. Trading would simply offset deals made in the real world. Movie fans and others without a direct interest in the films would be able to participate as well.
Investors would be able to hedge against potential flops by preselling a share of future box office receipts. The exchanges could even guard against likely hits such as the upcoming “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” sequels falling short of projections.
If a movie doesn’t do as well as expected, investors would at least be guaranteed revenue from those presales. If it does better, they wouldn’t get to keep all the additional receipts. Speculators would get a share when they bet on risky movies that do unexpectedly well.
Movie financiers also could use the system to diversify their portfolios, by investing in portions of several movies rather than placing all their money in one.
Both systems would rely on two parties making deals based on estimated box office revenue of a certain movie over a fixed period, such as the opening weekend or the first month in theaters.
There are restrictions, though. Cantor, for instance, would prohibit investors from hedging more than a third of their interests, and the exchanges and federal regulators could step in if, say, a movie studio pulls advertising to artificially lower theater attendance.