Variety‘s Gabriel Snyder has written a savvy story about how tracking from the three big companies (NRG, Marketcast, OTX) sometimes varies wildly, and how “midway through the summer, the studios have become keenly aware of cracks in their crystal ball.”
Tracking, or the survey data that’s supposed to give a strong clue what films people are interested in seeing, “has become the key source of studio expectations over B.O. prospects,” Snyder writes. “But the information, once closely guarded, has gone public at the exact moment that serious questions are being raised over its reliability.”
The biggest complainer in the piece, understandably, is Universal’s co-chairman Marc Schmuger, who was irate over an item I wrote from Cannes about The Break-Up that noted that 30% of people polled had a “definite interest” in seeing the film, and only 5% said it was their “first choice” to see that weekend, which seemed to mean that “the game is pretty much over,” I wrote. (Snyder says the author was “a blogger from” I guess there’s no way to stop people from calling HE a blog, but I prefer the handle of “columnist.”)
I was just repeating what I’d been told and the figures weren’t inaccurate, but the verdict wasn’t a fully considered call on my source’s part or my own, and I’ve openly admitted this and tried to learn from this episode. (Schmuger says that NRG, MarketCast and OTX “were in complete disagreement on how The Break-Up was going to perform along every step of the way…when your information is in such disagreement, you’re in complete confusion…it was a classic case where tracking was significantly off from where the performance was…it was the most frustrated I’ve ever been in my many, many years at a studio.”)
I consider myself a bit wiser about tracking as a result. I learn something new every time I sift through it. Snyder’s article points out four flaws in the surveying techniques of the three companies, and these same flaws have been pointed out to me by a Universal publicist pal, and I wrote about them myself. So let’s hope that tracking improves down the road.