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David Poland

By David Poland

Whose Tracking Is It Anyway?

In trying to offer some perspective on box office prediction madness, the Los Angeles Times’ John Horn, a guy who has been around and smart for a long time, takes us further down the rabbit hole.
He writes:
Every weekend, the studios turn to three research firms to help predict upcoming box-office numbers. The companies — IAG Research, OTX and the National Research Group — conduct different surveys, but their numbers all try to answer the same question: Are moviegoers interested in a new release?
The data is called tracking, and throughout the week (but especially on Thursday and Friday), marketing and distribution executives sift through the numbers as closely as a desperate 49er panning for gold.

First, instead of getting into why tracking from all three companies is inherently flawed, he just kind of accepts that they are chasing a goal. But their goal is not primarily to find out if moviegoers are interested in a new release. The primary goal is to find out if the tens of millions in marketing and publicity is hitting the mark as it rolls out.
The simple reason for the Tyler Perry being so drastically off of the tracking number is that telephone surveying does a piss poor job of finding black audiences and hispanic audiences, just as it fails to find the audience under 22 week after week after week. Smart studio execs with a history with tracking can read around those numbers and see how they are doing with their marketing… which again, is the only real goal. Everyone likes to know the future… but studios need to feel they are spending millions and millions of dollars as efficiently as they can. It’s not about being Carnac.
Alleged journalists who now want to tell everyone they “have tracking” and that they know what it means are simply misleading the public for their own self-aggrandizement. This brings me to Horn’s second terrible misstep in his piece.
Again, “The data is called tracking, and throughout the week (but especially on Thursday and Friday), marketing and distribution executives sift through the numbers as closely as a desperate 49er panning for gold.”
They are panning on Thursday and Friday the week BEFORE opening. If they are sifting for anything on the day of release or the day before, it is only for their upcoming success or humiliation. But the real work of tracking is done when marketers can do something with the information. If you are “panning for gold” on opening day, it is, as any marketer will tell you, fool’s gold. Too late. The ship has sailed. Moreover, on opening day, execs are getting reports from actual business on the east coast, then across the country as the day progresses. And even at 7p, when the east coast has early evening numbers coming in, it’s still not anything more than 80% sure. And even on Saturday morning, when Friday estimates are pretty clear, the weekend still has major variations to come.
Of course, reading the story, perhaps all of that soft information about tracking is just a rationalization to allow the LA Times to start sifting through the numbers as closely as a desperate 49er panning for gold each week. Historically, sifting like that would be embarrassing to a savvy veteran like Horn. I can’t say I disagree with that sentiment.

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6 Responses to “Whose Tracking Is It Anyway?”

  1. modernknife says:

    As the Box Office saga goes on and on, played out like a Gladiator sporting event ever week, it saddens me that the actual discussion of films is slowly disappearing.
    What would all these people do if the studios simply stopped reporting the grosses?
    What a breath of fresh air it would be to not have that black cloud hanging over every film every weekend. I know this is an old conversation…but really…how can it get any better from here when all the attention is so not focused on the quality of the film itself?

  2. Wrecktum says:

    Waaaa! My name’s modernknife. Waaaaaaaaa!!

  3. jeffmcm says:

    Way to add to the conversation.

  4. doug r says:

    How about if you just made a good picture and advertised it?

  5. David Poland says:

    Good or bad, marketing is what drives box office now, at least for the first week. If making a good picture was enough, great movies would be making more, no?

  6. oy, I thought I was done discussing this one thread over. And this time it’s even worse because its not just “why do we care about box office” instead it’s “why do we care about box office when we should care about quality”. Christ. Use you brain.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon