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Shooting In The Dark

Is Market Research relevant for films made in India?

Marketing Research (MR) has evolved in this country during the last fifty years primarily because of a partnership between research companies and marketers. FMCG majors, particularly the likes of Levers and Colgate, invested a lot of money in developing the MR industry in this country and have reaped the benefits of this partnership. What is the environment in which MR functions in Indian Film Industry? I will look at a few characteristics in which any MR has to operate in Bollywood.

Entrepreneur and Manager

Who promotes and buys research in a large and structured company? It is never the owner. It is always the managers who manage marketing that buy marketing research. The reason is obvious: the managers are responsible for the results. If managers fail they lose jobs in the corporate world. Hence, they tend to collect a lot of relevant information to take a calculated risk.

An entrepreneur rarely buys market research because his mental makeup is quite different. He or she are very close to their products or services and hardly ever have any doubts on their capacity to make it a success. Hence, their risk perceptions are very different from a manager who needs success to retain their jobs or grow within the organisation. In the language of behavioural psychology, an entrepreneur is dominated by System I thinking the manager by System II thinking. A manager thinks first and acts later and an entrepreneur acts first and thinks later.

Individual producers are largely made up of people with System I thinking skills, when it comes to producing and evaluating the films that they have produced. Even if the producers have done MR work, they cherry pick the numbers. In this regard they are similar to politicians before the elections. No politician has ever accepted the Opinion Poll results on any channel to be correct if the results are heavily loaded against them. They rubbish the results, lose the elections but luckily the TV channels also do not pursue a loser to come on their channels and explain why their confidence was misplaced.

An entrepreneur looks for advice and not market research reports.

Genre

In most FMCG marketing it is possible to learn from failure or success of one brand and apply the learning to another brand. For example: a brand tracking done for a brand X soaps can be quite useful in interpreting brand track data of shampoo Y. Using research data carried out over a range of products some thumb rules evolve in marketing FMCG. In the case of films the industry has a system of genre that drives the success. For example: A masala movie sells more than a horror movie.

The genre system works as an evaluator of the success or failure of the film along with the cast.

Metrics

For evaluating a film what one needs is a set of reliable metrics. Let us say we have a film with a leading star and want to check what the audience will like or dislike in this film. Generally, the technique that is used is a Focus Group Technique, where groups of 10-12 people are exposed to the film and interviewed through a moderator and results are generalised. From whatever little feedback I have from the industry this method has not given any consistent results. This technique is open ended and is used simply because there are no robust metrics for measuring the likes and dislikes in a film.

Metrics can be developed only after testing 30-40 films. That is the chicken and the egg conundrum in testing films.

Overload of free data

The industry also gets huge amounts of data in the public domain. Trade and Industry magazines carry box office collections in great detail. For any film, in a given theatre one can find the box office collection figures from almost any trade magazine. These figures are collected using a very informal structure with no in-built system for verification of the authenticity of the data. The proof of authenticity seems to be that the data from different sources match.

In addition to trade information there is the social media network through which one can collect the traffic – both site hits and word flow. Capturing this data from the Web is quite inexpensive. A film can easily figure out how many hits their site had and what words are being used by how many to talk about the film. Is this enough to forecast the fate of a film? I doubt it.

The availability of free and cheap information is a deterrent to collecting more sophisticated information on forthcoming films.

Where do we go?

The way forward for helping producers get a better return on their investments is in analytical tooling, which will help producers take a number of decisions on the film, starting from cast to communications.

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