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Movie Tracking – if the answer is wrong, should we look at the question?

Last Thursday 3rd September, The Hollywood Reporter wrote an article about the modern day challenges of movie tracking entitled “Summer Box Office: How Movie Tracking Went Off The Rails”. In it, questions around its validity are raised by industry insiders, those who pay for movie tracking and those who deliver it. What’s interesting about this is that its absolutely nothing new. This has been an issue for many years and whilst no-one seems to have an issue with highlighting the issue, no-one appears that eager to fix it. In my view, if you’re not getting the right answers, you are asking the wrong questions.

Let’s start with the most basic of issues. The word “tracking”. To track is to ‘follow the trail or movements’, to almost take a back seat and watch. Tracking is passive and designed to give an answer that will either be deemed accurate or materially off course, a no win scenario. Movie tracking has traditionally been designed, at great cost, to give answers up to 3 weeks before the film is released. And the answer its designed to give is finite, without opportunity to change course or the end result.

Tracking is only as good as its ability to be accurate. Its designed to create context and inform studio executives and film makers of whether they have hit on their hands. But it is NOT designed to make a difference. OR to take an active role in changing the course of events. OR to deliver a better net result. OR to facilitate key decisions such as should I spend more or should I protect my net. And where it has been used to make some of those decisions, its inaccuracy has often led to the wrong decisions, spending money where money needn’t be spent, at great cost and often impacting the net result.

If you’re not getting the right answers, you are asking the wrong questions.

So what are the right questions? A starting point would be:

  1. How can we find ways to track awareness and intent throughout the campaign period, possibly starting as early as the production stage (for key franchises with an in-built audience) all the way through to release and potentially beyond into other release windows
  2. How can we use tracking to help us make a difference whether its through distribution (changing the release date or volume of screens), or on a weekly basis reviewing marketing efforts and dialling up or dialling down investment dependent on the results. The film business has moved from an awareness business (in the 80’s and 90’s) to an awareness and intent/conversion business and research can play a critical role in that
  3. How can we use tracking to help dictate marketing and content strategy? Take the US market, according to mpaa data, there have never been more 50+’s (aged over 50) going to the cinema than in 2014. Conversely, there have never been less 12-24’s. There is something inherently wrong with the domestic marketing paradigm in my view and some serious questions need to be asked about the apportioning of marketing budgets to meet today’s audience expectations. Can’t marketing take more of a real time role in this day and age? Can’t we start with more a blank sheet of paper and research to guide our way vs. the box ticking exercise we currently use based on previous successes?

I have sat in countless meetings with major studios where there are 10 or so key stakeholders sitting around a table, each with their own objectives in what they want from research. I see absolutely no reason at all why each of those people can’t have their objectives met whether they are in research, sales, marketing, media or digital. Research and tracking needs to be re-designed for the world we live in today, and the industry as it exists both now and in the future. It needs, like anything else, to be integrated across the marketing and distribution chain.

But here’s my plea film industry. Do we agree this is critical? Do we agree it is currently very expensive? Do we agree that we are not getting the value that we want from such a high cost piece of research? If the answer to those questions is yes, the question I’d like to ask is what are you prepared to do about it? How about this, lets all sit around a table together, lets set up a forum of industry stakeholders who can voice their mutual challenges and what they need. But we need a spirit of openness. We need to accept that change is required. We need to accept that where change is required, risks are necessary. And we need to accept that where risks are taken, we will sometimes fail. Critically, we also need stakeholders to invest in R&D. If we genuinely want to fix this issue, it will take great minds, collaboration between the old and the new and investment. Lets make the next article in the Hollywood Reporter about how tracking has been fixed, shall we?

Written by Adam Rubins
September 7, 2015