Ratings game

March 22, 2010 at 4:27 am

| Gabriel |

David Waguespack and Olav Sorenson have an interesting new paper on Hollywood (their earlier Hollywood paper is here) that contributes to the literature on categorization, rankings, and sensemaking that increasingly seems to be the dominant theme in econ soc. The new paper is about MPAA ratings (G, PG, PG13, R, NC17) and finds that, controlling for the salacious of the content, the big studios get more lenient ratings than small studios. The exact mechanism through which this occurs is hard to nail down but it occurs even on the initial submission so it’s not just that studios continuously edit down and resubmit the movie until they get a PG13 (which is what I would have expected). Thus the finding is similar to some of the extant literature on how private or quasi-private ranking systems can have similar effects to government mandates but adds the theoretical twist that rankings can function as a barrier to entry. This kind of thing has been suspected by the industry itself, and in fact I heard the findings discussed on “The Business” in the car and was planning to google the paper only to find that Olav had emailed me a copy while I was in transit.

Aside from the theoretical/substantive interest, there are two methods points worth noting. First, their raw data on salaciousness is a set of three Likert scales: sex, violence, and cussing. The natural thing to do would have been to just treat these as three continuous variables or even sum them to a single index. Of course this would be making the assumption that effects are additive, linear, and the intervals on the scale are consistent. They avoided this problem by creating a massive dummy set of all combinations of the three scores. Perhaps overkill, but pretty hard to second guess (unless you’re worried about over-fitting, but they present the parametric models too and everything is consistent). Second, to allow for replication, Olav’s website has a zip with their code and data (the unique salaciousness data, not the IMDB data that is available elsewhere). This is important because as several studies have shown, “available on request” is usually a myth.

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