Once again, the movie industry fractured just a little bit more today. Ipsos OTX, one of the leading market research firms, sold its worldwide motion picture group to a group of investors led by Vincent Bruzzese. That’s the same impulse that propelled Reed Elsevier to sell Marketcast, another major market researcher, to a similar group about a year ago.
These are the outfits that quietly rule over Hollywood marketing: testing trailers, conducting research screenings, tracking opening weekend and gauging consumer fandom.
The big global players — Ipsos, Reed Elsevier — are getting out of the Hollywood game, a sign of their inability to figure out how to make the fast-evolving business function in their standardized business models.
This leaves the research landscape peppered with three big players, including NRG (still secretive enough not to have a logo). All are now independently owned, and they are joined by a handful of breakaway companies started by executives who used to work there, including Kevin Goetz and Catherine Paura.
But with all this fracturing, there really isn’t much change. None really embrace innovation offered by the age of social media. None have fundamentally rethought the way to go about understanding the habits and hankerings of moviegoers.
“We need transformation, not renovation,” Shelley Zalis (right), the CEO of Ipsos OTX who founded OTX a decade ago and sold it to Ipsos, told me in a conversation on Tuesday.
“The studios want to evolve," she added. "Everyone wants change, but the truth is it’s scary. They’ve got to be willing to be a little afraid. And be willing to put some things away.”
But what will the studios put away?
Zalis, who is currently at Ipsos, recalled how NRG founder Joe Farrell fundamentally changed the way market research was done in Hollywood. For decades — through the 1980s and '90s — Farrell (who died last year) was the big kahuna who knew the secrets of every movie mogul’s opening weekend and who monopolized the industry by bringing social science and rigorous research techniques to the process.
In the 1990s entered Joseph Helfgot, a Yiddish-speaking, former sexologist and sociology professor (true!) who founded Marketcast and brought his own unique insight to the research founded on those principles. He was the first significant challenger to Farrell and became a regular on the call sheets of the moguls.
Zalis, in this century, pioneered the use of the internet in conducting market research, which was previously done in person or by phone.
“When I started doing online research, I couldn’t walk in the door and say, ‘Here’s a new way,’ she recalled. “For a long time, I had to sign in (on the lot) as Jane Doe. If Joe Farrell saw me signed in anywhere on the lot, the meeting would be canceled.”
After the studios compared Zalis’ online research with NRG’s, they found a loophole in Farrell’s exclusivity contract, which only covered “mall intercept data.” So OTX was in.
Now all the research companies use the internet to conduct their research, but change and a deep use of social media seems to elude everyone.
Bruzzese, who is the new CEO of Motion Picture Group LLC, told me on Tuesday that he intends “to evolve our products. We want to evolve the way we talk to moviegoers with this goal in mind: is this a movie that will be well received, and at the script stage, should it be financed?”
A worthy goal, certainly. Zalis, too, hints at new tools and an approach that will understand consumer choice “in context. It’s not just: are you going to see this movie? It’s: are you going to see a movie this weekend relative to other choices?”
Those are the kinds of questions Hollywood needs to be asking in a sector that is overdue for innovation, in the age of innovation.