The international box office landscape has continued to expand beyond almost all imagination over the past decade with the often-astonishing figures being quoted capturing headlines across the globe.
But the immediate problem being faced by those who keep track of returns is how to first find reliable sources in emerging or developing markets for the data they need and even then, in some cases, how to decide what can actually be believed.
For almost 20 years now Bruce Nash and his team at The Numbers have expanded as the industry has – from the days in the late 1990s when they were following the fortunes of around 300 films to the around 20,000 they are keeping tabs on these days.
“As the industry has developed, it really has become a tale of North American tracking and of the world – and the two being quite different,” says Nash.
“In North America you have the buffer of the studios, of course, and they put out these numbers every day. When you talk to them they’ll say they report to the nearest dollar or the nearest five dollars and even though this is an approximation, it’s a very good one.
“What we see internationally is that normally the figures we are getting are from a national film board and depending on the country that can change the way things are reported. You might not think so but having the studios [in North America] act as a kind of middle man is helpful because its sets a standard that everyone can adhere to.”
Initially for Western-led international coverage of emerging markets, there’s the issue of finding people on the ground who can source and disseminate comprehensive local data but there also the issue of deciding exactly what sources can be trusted.
“There are judgment calls that we have to make where we’re bound to upset somebody along the way,” says Nash. “But at the moment, that’s the world we are living in.”
For Nash it all comes down to finding sources that can be trusted.
“That [problem] has varied over time,” he says. “One of the reasons is that now there are just so may countries to track. For us it is sometimes a struggle to have the right people in the places where they can gather the data. It’s a constant task of trying to find the right data.”
Booming numbers lead to booming headlines, too, and so Nash said getting all the information, rather that the information only about the major success, can also now often prove problematic.
“Everybody wants that big figure from the opening weekend that’s going to get the headline and deliver all that traffic but tracking what was the 12th grossing film in Australia last weekend is not something a lot of people – well, anyone except us – is doing anymore,” says Nash.
But the search for accurate information goes on.
“I would love to get better information out of India because that is such an interesting and growing market,” says Nash. “There’s real money there now. I would love to get real information out of Latin America too. It’s a small but interesting market. But as far as raw dollars, China is obviously an extremely important market. It’s one that we have to track and we have to get some understanding of, simply because it is so crucial to the industry.”