Gallup rolls pic poll

The Gallup Organization is re-entering the motion picture research market with a new L.A.-based division. The new unit will initially concentrate on four separate areas of market testing and polling ranging from preview screenings to awareness tracking and post-opening analysis.

Gallup, the largest international survey research outfit, dates its involvement in the motion picture industry back to the 1930s. In 1935 it created the Audience Research Institute, which developed the basic methodology used today of gauging the interest in and appeal of films.

The entrance of Gallup into this area would challenge the longterm dominance of Joe Farrell’s National Research Group.

“The process remains pretty much unchanged but the technology and accuracy has grown immeasurably,” said Robert Nielsen, Gallup senior veep and Western region director. “The company has basically been out of this area in any substantive way for 40 years.”

Nielsen, however, felt the re-orientation period would be relatively short. Though the company has considered a move back intothe field several times, it wasn’t until last summer that he and company senior VP/senior consultant Michael Ginn decided to take active steps in that direction.

They feel the new package includes elements not currently on offer from existing film research groups or provided in a way they can top in user-friendliness.

“We are not insiders, so before setting up shop we had to create an advisory group,” Nielsen said. “This is a very specific industry that speaks a language we are not yet fully conversant in.”

Among Gallup’s advisers are Eric Sherman, a motion picture production consultant, and David Forbes, whose marketing and distribution background has included senior posts at Orion, Fox and MGM/UA.

A straw poll of studio execs, marketers and film producers generally agreed that the potential for a new market research service was significant. “If Gallup knocked on my door, I’d definitely listen,” said a studio marketing chief. “It’s obviously a very credible operation with considerable resources.”

A studio-based producer echoed the sentiment, adding that the companies working in this field aren’t keeping up with new technologies. He felt that if Gallup provided more versatile, easy access to information services, it could make serious inroads into the area now virtually dominated by the National Research Group.

NRG now does work directly for all the majors except Universal and has exclusive or semi-exclusive contracts with such companies as Columbia and Fox.

Ginn said there has been no mention of exclusivity in the limited discussions Gallup has had with studios.

A source at one studio said he doubts that any future contracts will carry such a binding clause, for several reasons. These include an NRG rival’s threat to hit the studios with a restraint-of-trade suit last year and recent media reports critical of the film research leader’s methodology.

“George Gallup established the whole field of market research for movies and walked away from it,” noted Ginn. “We consider this area part of the company’s legacy.”

Ginn said specific testing of film-oriented tracking began discreetly and in earnest around Thanksgiving. One effort at exit polling produced a 65% response rate using an 800 number. The Gallup operation can handle up to 5,000 calls simultaneously and 1 million calls daily.

Another test involved the Warner Bros. release “Grumpy Old Men.” Nielsen said Gallup was hired by an exhibitor to survey a preview screening it was having in order to pinpoint the picture’s demographic appeal. Gallup determined that the film played well to all ages, in much the same way that Fox’s “Mrs. Doubtfire” worked for audiences.

Richard Del Belso, Warner Bros.’ senior VP worldwide market research theatrical films, said he was “unaware” and “surprised” by this information. “We didn’t hire Gallup and it would be difficult to carry on a test of this type without our knowledge. Perhaps what they were testing was appeal based on response to a theatrical trailer.”

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