'Hunger Games' Tracking Big: But What Does It Mean?

This week's Hobnobbing explains the film's pre-release numbers.

Fans of Suzanne Collins' dystopian teen drama "The Hunger Games" have long predicted that the series' big-screen adaptation would emerge victorious from its box-office battle. And now, it seems, preliminary estimates support the stan speculation.

Deadline reports that the early tracking figures for the March 23 release are "numbers every film studio can only dream about," with 23 percent of respondents selecting the film as "First Choice" and 54 percent indicating "Definite Interest." In fact, one estimate Deadline editor Nikki Finke received predicted the film could open to more than $70 million — narrowly besting the "Twilight" opening-weekend gross of $69.6 million. All good news for fans fretting over the series' fate ... but what do these numbers really mean?

Tracking, in essence, measures the results of a studio's marketing campaign and is by no means an exact science.

"The real use of tracking is to measure the effectiveness of the marketing weeks out from release, so you can make adjustments while there's still time," Vinny Bruzzese, president of the worldwide motion-picture tracking firm OTX, told TheWrap as part of an interesting piece examining the practice. "By the time the official prediction comes out on the day of the release, it's fairly useless."

Clearly, Lionsgate's clever campaigns (including Capitol Couture, puzzle scavenger hunts and advanced screening giveaways) have resonated with fans and non-fans alike, gaining plenty of exposure for the fledgling franchise. However, we must remember that tracking is not necessarily meant to prognosticate box-office returns (TheWrap's story calls such predictions nothing more than "parlor tricks").

For argument's sake, however, let's say that "The Hunger Games" does indeed meet its $70 million expectations. Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer told Bloomberg that the debut installment would need to earn $100 million in overall domestic sales to justify a sequel. With a potential $70 million opening weekend, the film would need to gross only $30 million more to reach that benchmark. And unless attendance drops off as steeply as the Arena's cliff, it will prevail, all but guaranteeing "Catching Fire" will, well, catch fire.

Are you cautiously optimistic about the "Hunger Games" box-office outlook? Sound off in the comments below and tweet me @amymwilk with your thoughts and suggestions for future columns!

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