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Introducing Comprehensive International Tracking

November 10th, 2014

We’re pleased to announce another new feature at The Numbers today: comprehensive international box office tracking. This new coverage will include detailed breakdowns of the international performance of leading films, including weekend-by-weekend coverage in each territory, with updates as soon as we receive numbers from sources worldwide. Our tracking differs from other sources in a number of key aspects, all designed to provide the most comprehensive, timely, and accurate breakdown of the international performance of films in theaters (more on that below the fold). The first film we’ll be tracking is Interstellar, and we’ll be adding new movies regularly.

To understand how our tracking differs from other numbers you’ll see reported, we need to take a step back and understand how international coverage has traditionally worked.

Most of the numbers you see reported are the figures announced by the studios. All of the major studios have distribution operations around the world that are responsible for the release of the film in each territory. They gather information about the local performance of the film and report it back to the global distribution arm of the studio, which is also getting data from their own sources. The central office compiles all this data and reports it to news organizations. These are the numbers you see in the trade press and other news sites.

Studio tracking is very helpful to everyone in the business, and it's great that the studios track the numbers. Still, there are several problems with this system in terms of getting the most accurate and complete set of data on a film.

First, the studios are understandably most interested in their own films, so coverage of independent films can be spotty, at best. To address this issue, we have developed a system for tracking down overseas grosses for films that go beyond the studio reports. We’ve been using this for several years to research films for our private clients, and it explains why our numbers for independent films are often considerably higher than you will see elsewhere. As an example, the total international box office for Winter’s Bone is $9.6 million—far more than the $7.3 million that is sometimes reported. These missing numbers make a huge difference when one is analyzing the potential performance for an independent film.

The second issue with studio reporting is that it is inconsistent. Again, this understandable—the studios need data that helps them understand particular markets according to their in-house models. But it means that care must be taken with reporting the numbers. Some studios report numbers for Switzerland as a single country, some report Switzerland as three separate territories: French-speaking, German-speaking and Italian-speaking. Some reports use South Africa, some Southern Africa (which includes Botswana, and sometimes other countries). And so on.

The third problem is that these inconsistencies can, if one isn’t careful, lead to double-counting. We’ve seen reports that include Puerto Rico in both the domestic and international grosses for a film. Reports that include the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Czechoslovakia as if they were three separate countries (even though Czechoslovakia hasn’t existed for 20 years!). Reports that double-count South Africa and Southern Africa. With 80-odd territories being tracked, there are ample opportunities for error, and we’ve seen many cases where the total reported for a film has double-counted several countries.

The final problem with studio tracking is that it will often end before a film has finished playing in some territories. Using the studio numbers therefore often misses considerable amounts of revenue earned at the box office after studio tracking has finished.

We’ve been working on these issues for years in order to help our clients get a true picture of the performance of films internationally, and we’re now rolling out our international tracking on The Numbers. Wherever possible, our numbers are taken from local sources (and we welcome suggestions from readers around the world on the best sources for data in your country), although we will still rely on studio numbers in some cases, at least for the time being. We will also update our records with data from local film boards, who will often report on the performance of films at the end of the year. We also track data from trans-national data compilers such as the European Visual Observatory. Finally, we are careful in combining all of this data to produce the most accurate and complete picture for an individual film possible.

As well as compiling the data, we’re also working to provide context and analysis for all of the numbers. The international summary contains a chart of the top-grossing territories for the film, and you can drill down in a individual territory to see how the film is performing on a weekend-by-weekend basis. We’re already planning on further improvements to this analysis, so watch this space.

All this is obviously quite a lot of work, so we will be rolling out the service one film at a time to begin with. If there are films you particular want to see us cover, please email us at

Filed under: Analysis, International Box Office, Interstellar