Tracking projectings

B.O. calculations an inexact science

HOLLYWOOD — “Tracking data,” whether positive or negative, is often cited as the sole evidence to support industry projections of movies’ opening weekend grosses, suggesting a nice, crisp formula for arriving at such conclusions.

No such calculation exists.

Studios track B.O. prospects through an inexact science based in part on consumer surveys by National Research Group, an L.A.-based tracking service. Its data are augmented by extrapolations from studio databases maintained on the historical perf of different film genres on various weekends.

National Research, a 23-year-old firm used by all major studios, asks prospective moviegoers three key questions each week about upcoming film releases:

  • Are you aware of a particular film?

  • Are you interested in seeing it?

  • Would it be your first choice on a certain weekend?

The info can be valuable to competish in making last-minute strategic decisions about positioning against other studios’ releases. But actual distribs generally need to get a feel for their pics’ prospects much earlier.

“First choice” numbers in particular were sky high for “Pearl Harbor.” But Disney distrib topper Chuck Viane got his first hints of how big “Harbor” could be when a short trailer played unusually well as long ago as last summer and later when auds responded noisily to a three-minute clip over the holiday season.

“That said to me, as a distribution executive, that this is a movie you have to be prepared for, because it’s obviously connecting with the public,” Viane recalled.