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The NYU Cinema Research Institute brings together innovators in film and media finance, production, marketing, and distribution to imagine and realize a new future for artist-entrepreneurs. 

Exit polls: useful or useless?


Exit polls: useful or useless?

Michael Gottwald, Carl Kriss & Josh Penn


One of the advantages of living in a country whose government has decided that film and art in general deserves state support (example: the United Kingdom... Not an example: the United States), is that that state support also manifests itself in the form of an organization like the British Film Institute, which has as a directive to study its country's film industry. They can serve as cinema "think tanks," and this kind of intensive analysis is particularly appealing to us as something we've also seen in grassroots political behemoths like the Obama campaign. A brief perusal of the BFI website shows not only the stats they've gathered on titles in the theatrical and VOD markets, but comprehensive studies on things like the habits of "avid cinemagoers," diverse vs. mainstream audiences, and case analyses about specific multi-platform releases. All of these would provide a more solid starting place for any U.K. filmmaker looking to better understand the potential of their audience But what raised our eyes most of all is that BFI conducts exit polls! On every release they support, they give a questionnaire to its audience. We were immediately drawn to this because in our ongoing quest for more data in the film world, it seemed like a revelation that the BFI was collecting valuable information from its audiences. It seemed to say that the kind of information collecting of the Obama campaign was not a pipe dream for films.

However, in looking at the actual poll, it seems that the only questions asked are about marketing and/or how the audience member ended up in the audience: "sources of information" (how did they hear about the film) and "baits to attendance" (what got them to go see it). When we think data in an organizing sense, we think email address, name, age, possibly even phone number or geolocation. It allows us to build a profile, per our interview with Dan Wagner, but it also provides a means of communication with our audience via email. Are these kinds of questions -- ie the fact that 30% of people who went to see Blue is the Warmest Color knew about it from magazine reviews or articles, or that 46% wanted to see it because it won the Palme D'Or -- at all relevant for filmmakers themselves? Or just publicity people, marketing companies, etc. It certainly tells you where you can make an impact with your marketing dollar, but only when this data is crossreferenced against itself. And the variety in (budget, genre, everything) in these titles is vast.

Is there any conclusions to be drawn from this practice through the lens of grassroots filmmakers? Or is it all for naught? Tell us what you think in the comments section.