Ticket to futures market: Hollywood

The Hollywood sign in Los Angeles.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Tess Vigeland: I'll be in Vegas during the Academy Awards this weekend. Probably drop a buck or two on my favorite to win Best Picture, "The Hurt Locker." Strictly funny money, of course. But imagine if you really could get in on the movie action. Maybe, say, put a little scratch on how well a certain movie is going to do. Well, pretty soon, you can. It's a new offering in the futures market called the Cantor Exchange.

Richard Jaycobs is the company's president. And Richard, is this a version of the Hollywood parlor game where everyone has a prediction of how a movie is going to do at the box office?

Richard Jaycobs: Well, it's certainly the case that everybody has an opinion on how our movies are going to do at the box office, and we're giving them a properly structured exchange, where they can go in and buy and sell that one-one millionth of a box office receipt.

Vigeland: All right. Take us through exactly how a trade works. I know your futures look six months out, so assuming that trading starts in April, I looked at a few end-of-the-year releases and let's say I want to bet good money on the new "Tron" movie, which is out in December (I am a child of the 80s after all). How would I do that?

Jaycobs: Well, we'll have an auction six months before the "Tron" movie comes out. That will establish the opening day price and after that, it'll trade just like any other futures contract or stock contract, where buyers and sellers will show up at the market, the market will move up and down. Finally, when "Tron" is released into movies, we'll get the opening weekend results, traders will adjust their positions. After that fourth weekend, we'll settle the contract to the value that was actually earned in the box office. And the way we do that, we take the total box office receipts divide it by a million and that's the final value of the contract.

Vigeland: OK, so say I wanted to put $1,000 on "Tron" doing really well. How would I know how much a share is, for example?

Jaycobs: Well, when you come to the Cantor Exchange Web site, you'll actually see the price at which other folks -- and you're always trading against other folks -- are willing to sell and buy the contract at. And let's say in the case of "Tron," I'm not sure what the level would be for "Tron" right now, but let's call it a $100 million movie. That would make each contract worth $100. So if you were looking to invest $1,000, you'd have a choice of buying or selling up to as many as 10 contracts.

Vigeland: I see. So then the number of shares you get are based on a prediction on how well the box office is going to do.

Jaycobs: Correct.

Vigeland: Got it. So you definitely want a movie with legs that, not just a big opening weekend.

Jaycobs: Legs is a big part of the equation. If you think a movie's going to have legs -- "Avatar" was an example of this -- buying it and seeing those legs benefit the upside of your position is certainly one good strategy.

Vigeland: There are some movies that aren't going to make it on your exchange.

Jaycobs: They have to be wide-release movies and beyond just being wide release, they have to sort of meet the internal test. We have to just be certain that that movie is going to come out and that we don't have a complicated situation.

Vigeland: Doesn't that prevent you from being able to bet on, say, a sleeper hit, an indie hit?

Jaycobs: It does, and for example, "Slumdog" would've been a movie that we would not have listed. But again, we are very concerned about the integrity of the marketplace and the sleepers make that challenging.

Vigeland: If you are up and running already, which of the Oscar movies, aside from "Avatar," obviously, might've been the big movers?

Jaycobs: That's an interesting question. So much of that depends on the timing of your trade. Even "Avatar" was a sleeper right up until and through the opening weekend. What really made that film work for the people who are buying was the fact that it had the legs. So, you could've bought some films, probably made more money than you did even on "Avatar" if your timing was right.

Vigeland: I wonder if that would've applied to movies, you know, like "Blind Side" -- which I think also lasted longer than folks expected -- even "Up in the Air"?

Jaycobs: Both of those movies did very well. "Blind Side" was incredible. It opened on our exchange for something on the order of $40 and nobody saw -- well, they were blinded by it, if you will -- and I think that movie settled for $140, which as a percentage return, is much higher than you received on "Avatar." There are films that are the other way; the Jonas Brother movie that came out earlier in 2009 was disappointing. And so, futures trading and all trading is risky and this is no different.

Vigeland: Boy, you really can put your money on just about anything, can't you?

Jaycobs: We're focused on movies for now.

Vigeland: Richard Jaycobs is president of the Cantor Exchange and is a member of the board of directors there as well. And we've been talking about the pending release of a new exchange, where you can bet on how movies are going to do. Thanks so much for your time.

Jaycobs: Thank you.

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