Movie Studios Pull Back on Releasing Box-Office Data, Streamers Pick Up Slack

Is there too much data around the entertainment industry -- or too little? In the current pandemic world, one area -- theatrical movies -- is moving to the latter.

Specifically, this concerns some movie studios foregoing the release of traditional weekend movie box-office revenue results.

This comes as the pandemic forced a virtual closure of all U.S. movie cinemas (and many around the world) from March through August 2020. In September, there was a partial opening of theaters. Around 40% of movie theaters are now open in North America.

All that put the kibosh on the measure of success for a theatrical movie.

In September, with the return of movies, studios continued to release box-office data. Now some have stopped.

Recently, Searchlight Pictures' critically acclaimed “Nomadland” did just that.

The movie was released in 1,100 theaters. Pre-pandemic, typical wide-release movies get released in anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 theaters. A smaller recent release, A24”s “Minari,” in roughly 140 locations, also went the Searchlight route: no weekend box-office data.

Studios did not reveal its reasons. But we can guess: It's about future value.

Lower financial movie numbers -- of any sort -- can have a ripple effect. Maybe some believe this could represent a new benchmark for the business, where  data has been used as a promotional device to lure in big-time talent, directors and producers.

Opening weekend box-office results of say $100 million can mean success. But $15 million or less, maybe not so much.

Last year, in the middle of the pandemic, analysts anticipated perhaps new measures might be incorporated into movie studios' box-office model -- adding the value theatrical films bring to premium home-based streaming services opening on the same day as movies in theaters.

Turns out that is a hard number to calculate. Streaming services are priced at an all-you-can-eat monthly fee -- anywhere from $4.99 to $14.99, depending on the service. How does one determine what one movie means on TV -- in terms of box-office revenue?

Not entirely connected to this -- and not anything pandemic-related --  traditional daily TV ratings have changed.

NBCUniversal, for one, just announced it would no longer be releasing daily TV network ratings -- adding to the list of other TV networks -- Fox and ABC -- doing the same. Only CBS still supplies such data.

With time-shifting and on-demand viewing growing, TV networks see decreasing value in how TV shows perform in their initial linear daily TV airings -- especially since they get to monetize that content over a longer period of time.

In a broader digital world, new entertainment usage and valuation measures are needed to determine popularity, interest, advertising worth and network promotion.

Theatrical movie executives understand this as well.

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