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The Bad Metrics of Box Office Reporting

ReelPolitik By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik October 25, 2013 at 11:24AM

In my latest Industry Beat column for Filmmaker Magazine, I continue my ongoing fascination with the way that VOD and digital distribution are impacting the independent film landscape. Mainly, the article focuses on the ways that the film industry measures success--an outdated and increasingly irrelevant metric known as theatrical ticket sales.
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"Drinking Buddies" made millions on VOD, but less than $350,000 in theaters.
"Drinking Buddies" made millions on VOD, but less than $350,000 in theaters.

In my latest Industry Beat column for Filmmaker Magazine, I continue my ongoing fascination with the way that VOD and digital distribution are impacting the independent film landscape. Mainly, the article focuses on the ways that the film industry measures success--an outdated and increasingly irrelevant metric known as theatrical ticket sales. As IFC FIlms President Jonathan Sehring told me, "It seems like such an antiquated model: People should be fixated on the entire pie, not just on what represents 20% of the revenue."

Magnolia Pictures' Eamonn Bowles likens the industry's fixation to batting average statistics in baseball. "It's like counting the number of singles a player has and calling him the best player," said Bowles. "We have had at least three films this summer, Europa Report, I Give It a Year, and Drinking Buddies, which have all grossed well over a million dollars on VOD, and two of them, grossed over 2 million on VOD."


But, of course, you wouldn't know that reading Variety, Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter or any of the major trade publications that cover the industry. They're all still focusing on a metric that dates back some 100 years. It's time for the industry to change with the times--and the media that covers it to demand that change.

While those I spoke to suggested that the right people in the industry--producers, sales agents, talent agents, etc--are aware of VOD numbers and what can be expected, a number of others--particularly filmmaking newbies--remain in the dark. 

As I wrote, "As much as box-office numbers don't lie—although they don't account for production costs and P&A spending, which makes them distortions of the truth—they are out there and readily available to chart, which is more than you can say for VOD."

And in many ways, the article goes on to say, that's always been the case. As Cinedigm's senior vp of theatrical releasing Vincent Scordino told me, "Home entertainment and ancillary performance has always driven investment and profit, and it's not reported. So maybe you can't blame the industry for [focusing on box-office], because it's the only information that's consistently been shared."

 

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