Rory Cellan-Jones

Bruno and Bono's box office blues

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 21 Jul 09, 08:52 GMT

Are Sacha Baron Cohen and Bono - two artists whose previous products were huge hits - now finding out how quickly a networked society can give the thumbs down to something it finds sub-standard?

A friend from the music industry drew the parallel between the two. Sacha Baron Cohen's latest satirical outrage Bruno - the travails of a gay Austrian fashion designer - followed on the surprise box-office smash that was Borat. U2's latest album No Line On The Horizon came five years after How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, one of the biggest-grossing albums of all time.

But while Bruno was the top grossing movie in the United States on its opening weekend, receipts fell away very sharply from $14.4m (£8.95m) on the Friday to $8.8m (£5.5m) on the Saturday.

What's being blamed? Twitter.

In the old days, a cult movie would build its reputation over weeks, even months, by word of mouth. That, and a lot of smart marketing, is what helped Borat become a big hit in the States.

In this photo provided by, Sacha Baron Cohen, in character as the Austrian flamboyant fashionista, Bruno, left, poses with Digg Dialogg host Andrew Bancroft during an interview in West Hollywood, Calif., on Tuesday, June 30, 2009And this time around, the producers of Bruno could build on that last success, with a bigger marketing campaign and a series of stunts. But word of mouth now happens on social networks. So within minutes of emerging from the cinema, many of those who saw Bruno on the opening night were bad-mouthing it.

Here are a few examples I found in a Twitter search for July 11th, the day after the opening. "I liked Borat, but Bruno was just a retread." "my roomates saw Bruno last night. From what they said i doubt ill be going to see it." "Bruno was one of the stupidest movies I have ever seen.... What a waste of $30!" And, most damning of all, "BRUNO wasn't all that funny."

And with this movie right in the middle of the apparent Twitter demographic (many Facebook users would be too young for an adult-rated film), the comments appear to have had an effect - hence the abrupt fall in receipts on the Saturday, which would normally be a bigger night at the movies.

Now let's look at the UK sales figures for No Line On The Horizon compared with those for How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. The 2004 album sold around 200,000 copies in its first week, whereas in 2009, U2 sold a very respectable 158,000 CDs - though that was after weeks of an unprecedented publicity campaign.

Friday Night with Jonathan Ross S7 : Show 13But Atomic Bomb kept on selling, with big leaps every week until, after five weeks, it had achieved UK sales of 822,000. But after five weeks in online and high street stores, from Amazon to HMV to Tesco, No Line on The Horizon had only crept up to 258,000 sales. In their fifth weeks, the 2004 album sold another 150,000 copies - whereas in 2009 U2 struggled to get to 10,000.

Now there are many possible explanations for that. The music market, as we all know, has changed radically in five years, and shifting any CD is harder. The album was leaked online before its release, and tens of thousands - perhaps hundreds of thousands - of potential customers got to hear it for nothing from the likes of the Pirate Bay.

Online retailers, like Amazon, were selling it very cheaply - for as little as £3 - and there is a theory in the music industry that lowering the price can actually damage sales by convincing people that you've got a cheap product not worth seeking out.

But here's another theory - that in a digital age where it was easy to sample the product legally, through services like Spotify, or through illegal file-sharing, word of mouth happened at the speed of light. And the verdict was that there were not enough decent songs on the horizon to make it worth shelling out for an entire album.


  • Comment number 1.

    How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was released 22 November 2004. Album sales in December are always high all round and the fifth week that you highlight the sales for would have been right after Christmas with a lot more people in the shops.

    The new one was released early in the year with no such advantage, which probably had more of an impact than any Twitter effect.

  • Comment number 2.

    Oh joy, another Twitter related blog post. Hurrah!
    I wonder what the next fad to sweep will be... And I do hope it arrives soon.

  • Comment number 3.

    I thought Bono was a spoof like Bruno, but you seem to imply he's real?

  • Comment number 4.

    As deleteaa mentioned, you are not comparing like-with-like so it's a bit of a stretch to credit Twitter. You mentioned yourself that the word-of-mouth was not as good in 2009. Surely this fact in itself is more important than exactly how people shared their opinions?

  • Comment number 5.

    Each U2 album is worse than the last, as Bono's ego gets bigger.

    Someone needs to point out to him that singing in tune might assist in a quality product, but if you were on his payroll, would you tell him?

  • Comment number 6.

    Interesting post.

    There is an upside: improved quality. U2 offered the album for free, thousands listened to and and didn't think much and in turn didn't buy it. Yes CD/download sales are down from 2004, but No Line is hardly a good, let alone great album, and its sales reflect that. (I'd ignore the reviews from Q and Rolling Stone who both produced a couple of U2 specials shortly afterwards, so clearly were pandering to the U2 fanbase.)

    Bruno's twitter reviews reflects general press critical reviews, including @wittertainment: the gag has been done, and it has few laughs.

    You use the word "cult" in reference to the film. Bruno is no cult film, almost by definition a cult movie is one which does well through word of mouth, not usually appealing to the mainstream.

    I am certain a film, missed my mainstream, will receive a huge push from Twitter. Unlike Bruno and the latest from U2, it will likely have artistic merit.

  • Comment number 7.

    "Are Sacha Baron Cohen and Bono - two artists whose previous products were huge hits - now finding out how quickly a networked society can give the thumbs down to something it finds sub-standard"

    No, they're finding out what happens when you make something a bit rubbish.

  • Comment number 8.

    What rubbish ! No Line isnt U2s best album ever but some bands cant produce a 2nd album let alone a 11th, this is to do with timing of release,illegal downloads,credit crunch and musical trends-Not Twitter!

  • Comment number 9.

    Yet another blog post over-estimating twitter's influence on something.

    Despite the media's hype, very few people are actually consistent users of it - what is the stat; that 90% of msgs come from 10% of the users?

  • Comment number 10.

    With a vast array of technological subjects and stories to choose from every single day what do we get from the BBCs technology blog?
    Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, iPhone, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, iPhone, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, iPhone, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter.

  • Comment number 11.

    I blame Stephen Fry.

  • Comment number 12.

    Sorry, but are you not just replacing what should be the words "the internet" or "social networking" for "twitter" here? There are other sites than this, even if they're not currently as fashionable in media circles right now. I think it's time this hit the fourth stage of it's shelf life.

    Having said that, it is worth visiting to read Stephen Fry, but otherwise I can't really see the porpoise.

  • Comment number 13.

    Now there are many possible explanations for that.

    Well, it certainly enjoyed enough free national advert... coverage that others could only hope to arrange in a licence-feepayer ex's-funded SoHo bistro... um... in some places.

    Go figure.

  • Comment number 14.

    Ways to get one of my favourite toys a plug - by RC Jones.

    #17,890: Claim it single-handedly brought down a movie.

  • Comment number 15.

    Perhaps you should consider a re branding - A blog about Twitter and the iPhone from BBC News

    It seems to be a more accurate description.

  • Comment number 16.

    U2's poor album sales are purely to do with everyone downloading it for free, nothing to do with the quality, the new album is much better than the last.

  • Comment number 17.

    Rory, your blogs are turning into a farce. The last two blogs have concerned nothing more than Twitter, hearsay, and the fantastic way in which word of mouth and rumour is batted back and forth on a character-limited microblogging website.

    Your audience is fed up with it. I am fed up with it. For the sake of your audience, if not the bounties of science and technology, apply at least some variability in your articles.

    I thought this was at least a blog concerning technology. Technology, being in unison with science. Science, concerning that which is accurate, verifiable. Chatter and social trend is not scientific. What circulates money and media attention is not scientific - it is merely easy to write about. Twitter and the iPhone is not the be all and end all of technology.

  • Comment number 18.

    Why does the BBC always mention Spotify when discussing music? Does the BBC have an interest in this company?

  • Comment number 19.

    The world according to Rory Cellan-Jones.

    Started the Renaissance. Twitter.
    Found the Americas. Twitter.
    Popularised Penicillin. Twitter.
    Decrypted the Second World War Enigma Traffic. Twitter. Using the iPhone.
    Put man on the moon. Twitter.
    Shot JFK. Twitter. Running an iPhone App.

    Blah blah blah.

    Find a new toy Rory, this one's boring the pants off a lot of people.

  • Comment number 20.

    PSP Go! is coming out some time in the future. Any chance of a blog about that Rory?

  • Comment number 21.

    BTW what happened to the Rubbernecking Twittergate blog by Maggie, it's got no comments and I've posted at least one in that blog!?

  • Comment number 22.

    I've posted there too, ravenmorpheus. I also emailed the BBC technical support team, informing them of the error. They assured me they were looking at it. As of yet, the article is still refusing to show user comments.

    I reckon it is censorship - that the first few comments that came in were just so derisive. That particular article from Maggie just transcends absurdity.

    It's sad to see this blog fall into such disrepute. No other blog on the BBC inspires as much criticism from its readers, whether or not that criticism is justified. Which, in this case, I feel it is.

  • Comment number 23.

    Why does twitter get accreditied for affecting sales. We don't have a blog about the telephone or normal conversation. Twitter is a medium through which opinions can be passed. Put simply, both offerings (U2 and Bruno) were a disappointment, and as such did badly. As a tech blog this fails to truly look a technology, but instead focuses on social aspects with a link to technology. Twitter and the iPhone which is simply a gadget.

  • Comment number 24.

    I am Sorry, but does the BBC now advertise Twitter in the same way it spends half it's technology life advertising Apple? I mean, hats off to these companies as they have their PR sewn up well and truly. OK so U2's Album is not to their normal standards and Sacha's film is one trick pony milked once too often. Yes it is the Summer, no one is spending money anyway and the reporter is sub standard and a little 'Daily Mail lite!' (oops! that's gonna get me shot).

    The truth is in good times both these products would have carried regardless of the bad reviews as people would have bought them anyway and the film would have been watched as something to do on a Saturday etc.
    Only last summer I remember it was impossible to get a table for two in Guildford anywhere after 8pm without waiting at least 40mins. Now we can walk in and have a choice!
    People are a little more picky with what they spend their money on too. There is money being spent but on things that reflect quality and that give people a feeling of well being. In economic terms something they feel is an investment. An investment in their quality of life shall we say.
    Now my company makes luxury goods,(my name gives you a clue) but if I mention it as much as Twitter has been mentioned I will be told off by the moderator who, on second thoughts, may not even let this post through. So i've just given my fingers a bit of a work out. See goo in bad!

  • Comment number 25.

    If U2 had made this album available for free with the option of paying a voluntary amount (as Radiohead now do) then I'm afraid I wouldn't have given them a penny for it.
    I downloaded the album ages ago, listened to it a couple of times and then deleted it from my HD to save space for something more worthwhile.

    It is frankly terrible and sounds more like a parody of a U2 album.

    Twitter played absolutely no part in this as I, along with lots of other people, don't like or use Twitter. I did post a negative comment on Facebook after listening to the album but if anything that lead to some of my friends downloading it too just to see how bad it was (all downloads from our friendly internet Pirates at TPB of course).

    Moral of the story, make a good album and people will buy it, make a mediocre album and they won't.

  • Comment number 26.

    Tengsted, I found your post funny until I got to the moon landing comment. An iPhone actually could have gotten man to the moon in '69 given that it probably has more processing power than the Apollo 11 computer and ground control had put together. Now had you said it was a Nokia, that would have been funny...

    On to the topic in hand though, I entirely agree with the comments about the over estimation of Twitters influence. I don't know anyone amongst my family, friends or colleagues (and I work in IT) who use twitter but I know enough people with a poor opinion of the two examples mentioned. I'd credit poor reviews on before I credit anything to twitter.

  • Comment number 27.

    I doubt Twitter has much of an effect. Twitter seems to be mostly well-known people with many followers, rather than less hierarchical "everyone is equal" model that Twitter would have us believe. Even if people did Tweet whole watching the film, unless they're Jonathan Ross they've probably only told about 10 people.

    I agree that IMDB is more likely to influence people's watching habits. With regards to U2's album, the lack of a hit single and video is probably at fault. Look at what's selling well now and it will probably have singles with videos playing 24/7 on MTV. No Line doesn't. Which is a shame, as it's one of U2's best albums in my opinion.

    Still, Twitter have managed to get in the news *again* - their PR team is very good indeed.

  • Comment number 28.

    As already stated above Twitter has nothing to do with either of your subjects, people still spoke about music and films online before Twitter.

    U2 - No Line on the Horizon
    1. Launched early in the year instead of during the Xmas sales period
    2. No hit singles, How to dimantle an atomic bnomb had loads their new one has none.
    3. U2 have jumped the shark, I bought their last album and will not be buying their new one as I am sick to death of them.

    1. It is the 2nd film from Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat was an original whereas Bruno is a follow up and not original
    2. Even after all the crap online about how badly it's doing Bruno is still making a huge amount of money compared to it's budget just not as much as Borat.

    You and every other tech blogger needs to wake up and realise Twitter is doing nothing new its just an instant message board and plently of people (even if you were not) were chatting online since 1999, talking about movies, music etc.
    Also plently of people were pirating music in 2004, probably more since Kazaa and friends made it ALOT easier.

    Try writing your own opinion (if you have one) instead of just recycling the latest internet rumour (probably started by Twitter's PR)

  • Comment number 29.

    Since when have album sales been a guide to quality? U2's last 2 albums (Atomic Bomb and All That You Can't Leave Behind) were fairly cynical attempts to recreate the sound that made them the biggest band in the world in the late 80's and they succeeded in terms of sales - I suppose proof that no-one ever went broke by appealing to the lowest common denominator. Horizon marks a return to their lower-selling but much more musically interesting albums of the 1990s (Achtung Baby, Zooropa and Pop) but without the lame attempts at irony, and is vastly superior to their other noughties output. But when a previously successful band goes a bit "experimental" they always risk alienating the mass market, and it has happened with Horizon just as it did with Zooropa and Pop. This is the real reason for lower sales - it just doesn't sound like the previous 2 albums.
    As for twitter - if as many people used it as wrote about it, then it might actually have some effect. As it is, this article is just barmy.

  • Comment number 30.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 31.

    What surprises me is that there is a story about iphones being in short supply and RCJ has blogged about it yet. Isn't there a rule here on the BBC Tech blogs that soon as there's a (ahem) story about either Twitter or the Iphone a blog post appears here about it immediately after?

  • Comment number 32.

    Don't worry, Phil, I am sure Rory is a-drafting as we speak. The sweet nectar of the iPhone is in short supply, even in a recession such as this. It will require a tech blog article, the vastness of which will be unprecedented, in order to restore that delicious nectar.

  • Comment number 33.

    whats bono and frank bruno got to do with each other

  • Comment number 34.

    Bruno UK box office to date - £11.1m in 11 days - $51m in the same period in the US, hardly shabby in either territory. Bruno actually outperformed Borat in the US in its opening week, although the Kazakh had the edge on the Austrian in the UK opening week figures.

    However Bruno is certainly tailing off faster than Borat and while Twter may play its part it is likely to be only one of a number of factors. Much of US and UK society is pretty homophobic at the best of times, so Bruno's subject matter and approach may not resonate with a lot of Brits and Americans who might have found it more comfortable to laugh at Borat. And Mr Baron-Cohen can't be too unhappy to have made two of the biggest comedies of modern times, regardless of how they perform against each other.

  • Comment number 35.

    It would be a sad state of affairs if this indeed was the case, a movie failed because millions of "have a go journalists" didn't like it, hurriedly writing their 140 character reviews on the bus home afterwards.

    What happened to forming your own opinion? Or at least reading or listening to someone who has a way with words, someone who expresses why they think the movie failed in a way that is fun and engaging. I'll take Mark Kermode's 5 Live podcast any day over some random tweet.

  • Comment number 36.

    There have been many films (The Avengers springs to mind) that opened well the first day, then did abysmally thereafter. The reason - word-of-mouth spread by word-of-mouth.

    I'm afraid I was one that saw The Avengers on its first night, hated it from the get-go, and made my feelings clear to anyone who would listen the few days after; I wasn't the only one.
    Twitter may speed the process up, but txting, phone or talking to people the next day will work just as well.

  • Comment number 37.

    Perhaps the target audience for both has grown up.
    Cohen is a one trick pony and others got sick and tired of being told to feel guilty and give money to Africa by a man that lives in a castle.
    U2 are also no Pink Floyd, regardless of how much they spend on publicity.
    Just a guess.

  • Comment number 38.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 39.

    God the censorship around here is harsh. Makes you wonder if we're turning into Iran or China.

    Oh well here's an edited version of what I posted, with one word changed that probably caused it to be "removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.". I'll bet this doesn't get published either though...

    @28. At 1:56pm on 22 Jul 2009, fourthletter wrote: "Bruno
    1. It is the 2nd film from Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat was an original whereas Bruno is a follow up and not original"


    3rd actually, Mr Baron Cohen has also done Ali G in da house.

    My how people have short memories.

    @34. At 5:42pm on 22 Jul 2009, DufferOfStDamian wrote: "And Mr Baron-Cohen can't be too unhappy to have made two of the biggest comedies of modern times"


    Biggest grossing in terms of profit yes. Not necessarily the best though.

    I've never really found Mr Baron Cohen to be funny in the slightest. His "brand" of humour is aimed at the lowest common denominator.

    @37. At 9:22pm on 22 Jul 2009, jensencv8 wrote:
    "Cohen is a one trick pony"


    Agreed. His style of "humour" became old when Richard Madeley tried to immitate his Ali G character.

    What I find hard to understand is that, according to the media, a large section of society feels they "must" go and see his films. Why is that? Or is it just that the media are hyping it up like they do with other subjects?

    As for Twitter, apparently only Twits Twit.

    Facebook is used far more than Twitter. Personally I'd rather just meet my mates down the pub and have a conversation with them and contrary to the medias belief I imagine that's how most people view it.

  • Comment number 40.

    [Sarcasm on.]

    As Twitter is obviously the only reason why sales dropped off rapidly after the first day, I wonder what caused that effect for films released the previous 100 years of cinema before Twitter?

    Or is Bruno the first ever film to do badly in it's second day at the box office? During a credit cruch.

    Do BBC Technology reporters get a bonus for plugging specific buzzwords? Over the past year I've seen a distinct migration of BBC coverage from YouTube -> MySpace -> Facebook -> Twitter as being the only form of communication, on the internet or in real life.

    I also read another technology site recently, and apparently there are other manufacturers of software and hardware apart from Apple! I find this hard to belive! Apparantly some company called Nokkier or something is trying to get in on the mobile phone act - they don't have a chance of beating the world's first mobile, the iPhone 3G!

    [Sarcasm off.]

  • Comment number 41.

    What's the difference between a 'Blog' and an article?

    On the BBC it seems that if you can't be bothered to report the facts and give a balanced viewpoint as you'd expect to find in a properly researched article (which I was under the impression the BBC employed journalists for, in order to differentiate themselves from the drunk guy in the pub who shouts his opinion very loudly), you can just pop it up on the website as a blog. That way it doesn't matter if it's completely wrong, it's 'just a blog'.

    And I'm loving the pre-moderation - so 1984!


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites