Think you're better than Hollywood at gauging whether an upcoming flick will be a box office bomb or a sleeper hit? You'd get a chance to put your money behind that under two proposals that movie studios are denouncing as legalized gambling.
The proposals the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission are expected to rule on this month would let movie fans, industry executives and speculators bet on expected box office receipts. Investors profit if their 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 from such an exchange - the six major Hollywood studios - have rallied against the proposals.
Although the companies behind the exchanges still plan to proceed, regulators pushed back a decision on one of the proposals, Trend Exchange from Veriana Ventures, amid the last-minute opposition.
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 movie industry by authorizing "legalized gambling on movie receipts."
The organization also complained that it would be "virtually impossible" to prevent insider trading.
The backers of the proposals say they don't need studios' involvement to succeed.
"The studios only represent a small part of the hedging community," said Rich Jaycobs, president of the proposed Cantor Exchange.
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 have doubts about the box office potential of some projects and would be willing to take part.
Cantor Fitzgerald already runs the Hollywood Stock Exchange, a virtual market in which shares of celebrities and movies rise and fall with their popularity. But while that market trades on "Hollywood Dollars," those using Cantor Exchange would use real currency.
(Cantor Fitzgerald is also behind a venture that lets people use wireless devices to bet on sporting events while roaming around casinos. )
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, absorbing some of the risks from producers and other investors.
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.
Cantor would allow trading accounts starting with just $50 in them, allowing most members of the public to participate. By contrast, Trend Exchange's higher minimums and stricter trading standards would prevent amateurs from taking part. Cantor would allow direct trading by investors through a Web site, while Trend Exchange would require brokers.
If Harry Potter ends up making $250 million when the month is up, the speculator would gain $50 for every contract bought at $200. That $50 would be paid by the hedger. However, if the movie makes only $150 million, the hedger would pocket the $50 difference - paid by the speculator.
Multiple those figures by hundreds or thousands of contracts, and Hollywood investors could cover a good part of their risks.
Source: China Daily/Associated Press