Entertainment Utility from Skill and Thrill

66 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2021

See all articles by Scott Kaplan

Scott Kaplan

United States Naval Academy - Department of Economics

Date Written: July 17, 2021


This paper uses revealed preference methods to estimate demand for non-instrumental information in entertainment. I do this by examining the "thrill" associated with the trajectory of an event, which includes both suspense and surprise, and the "skill" of performers in an event. I apply the theory presented in Ely et al. (2015) to conduct an empirical analysis that examines the effect of thrill on consumer attention. I extend the Ely et al. (2015) framework by examining spectator preferences for characteristics of the performers themselves, which I call "skill." I use game-specific, high-temporal frequency television ratings data from the National Basketball Association (NBA) to measure spectator responses to skill and thrill. First, I find that a doubling of skill present in a game leads to an approximately 11% increase in initial viewer turnout, while the expected thrill of a game has no statistically significant impact. Next, I show that thrill during a game increases viewership by 7-30%, while a doubling of skill on the court during a specific portion of a game leads to a 1.9-2.4% increase in viewership, depending on specification. Interestingly, I find a negative interactive effect between suspense and skill, suggesting that heightened suspense leads to differentially higher viewership with lower skill on the court. The findings suggest that skill of information-conveying agents primarily impacts viewership on the extensive margin (across games), while thrill is highly time-dependent and primarily impacts viewership on the intensive margin (within games). These findings have important implications for entertainment media companies, including leagues and television broadcasters, and advertisers.

Keywords: non-instrumental information, suspense, surprise, consumer attention, difference-in-differences, national basketball association, television viewership

JEL Classification: D83, M31, Z2

Suggested Citation

Kaplan, Scott, Entertainment Utility from Skill and Thrill (July 17, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3888785 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3888785

Scott Kaplan (Contact Author)

United States Naval Academy - Department of Economics ( email )

589 McNair Road
Annapolis, MD 21402
United States

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