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In The Petta Vs Viswasam Box Office Collections Dispute, Who Do We Trust?


In this article we talk to film producers, distributors, and theatre owners who tell us why Tamil cinema needs a better mechanism than ‘industry trackers’ to determine box office collections, like Bollywood’s BoxOffice India or Hollywood’s Rentrack.

Since the release of Petta and Viswasam six days backwe have been getting hourly Twitter updates from the Tamil industry’s box office ‘trackers’ about the two films’ earnings in Tamil Nadu and India, and in Norway, France, Russia, China, UK, US etc. This isn’t new, it happens after big and small Tamil film releases, and the data given by the trackers have been picked up by fans, media and the producers themselves as authentic information in the past.

But particularly this week, the trackers’ tweets about Viswasam and Petta collections have been getting extra traction because their data is the only data currently available, and the films’ production houses are yet to receive official numbers.

The producers of Petta – Sun Pictures, clarified this yesterday. They tweeted: “So called trackers, we fail to understand how you are so confidently tweeting Petta’s box office numbers as we ourselves are yet to receive the official numbers from 600 plus theatres in TN.”

They were responding to the tweets by Ramesh Bala, Kaushik LM, and other trackers with the most followers on Twitter. One of Ramesh Bala’s latest tweets said that Viswasam was leading among the Pongal releases in TN by a margin of Rs 10 crore. Kaushik LM announced that Petta had entered the Rs 100 crore club worldwide.

Film producers like Dhananjayan and SR Prabhu were quick to respond to this on Twitter. There was also a panel by News 7 where producers largely agreed that the trackers’ estimates could not be relied on.

Dhanajayan tweeted that exaggerated numbers were being posted by hyper-active box office trackers to satisfy some people. SR Prabhu said that a film’s content, release date, previous success rate, promotions and many other things also mattered for a film’s performance at the box office.

Expanding on this, Dhananjayan told Silverscreen that the trackers’ reports were usually based on estimated figures from various distributors. “We can call this a guesstimate because the trackers don’t get authentic information and tabulate it.”

He said, “Sun Pictures are right in saying they’ve not got data from distributors because the distributors are on a holiday now, the numbers may come only on Thursday or Friday. Until then the trackers get some information, but it’s not 100 percent correct data.”

Dhananjayan also said he has never paid a box office tracker to promote his films. Producer Vinoth Kumar said that trackers’ promotions were not always paid, however, they were definitely not reliable.

“The trackers ask in four places and compile the information. The figures are completely wrong. No one is fooling anyone, but the thing is no one is there to give the numbers during a film’s release, or by 10 am next morning. Squads are sent for inspection but finding out the exact numbers takes time. Although it’s not such a difficult thing.”

Theatre owners inform distributors who then give official data to producers and production houses. The trackers collect information from the sources they have among distributors, and they put out data as rankings and rough estimations.

When contacted by Silverscreen, a tracker who wished to remain anonymous said, “I get data from distributors who track profits and losses. They have field officers who collect information and do a visual inspection. But there’s always going to be a 10 percent margin of error.”

He further said, “I have given numbers only for Viswasam, and not Petta. I have only tracked trends and said Viswasam was doing well in TN, and Petta was doing better globally. What Sun Pictures have claimed feels wrong, because they themselves have re-tweeted our information before. The onus is on producers and distributors to be transparent, but no one is willing to for fear that the government might ask them to pay GST and other taxes.”

When asked if his tweets were paid promotions, he said, “That is not true. Besides I cannot tweet false news because it will be called out. If I lie through my teeth on social media, people will find out.”

Another tracker who also wished to stay anonymous said that unlike Hindi or Telugu cinema, collections here were not open in Tamil cinema. Everyone has their sources, and his data was from sources. People create controversies depending on whether the information was favourable to them or not, he said.

In some of their tweet reviews and reactions to films, however, other patterns have emerged.

Producer SR Prabhu says, “Trackers are like social media celebrities, while reporting numbers they call themselves trackers, while reporting news they call themselves journalists. Both producers and trackers are making use of each other, so nothing to complain, but things should not turn ugly.”

He further said this is done for marketing, “Box office tracking has become a marketing tool. Some of them might be paid. Trade and paper numbers have always been variables, so we need a proper tracking system in place.”

When asked if he has paid a box office tracker to promote his film, he said, “Producers don’t directly deal with them, it’s all up to the PROs. Most producers don’t know whom they are paying and that’s how the business works.”

Rakesh Gowthaman, the MD of Vettri Theatres said that the trackers do call theatre owners like him to get their numbers. “The trackers don’t calculate numbers on their own. I get calls asking to rank film sales from one two three. They tweet this information with or without tagging and giving credit to the source.”

He says, “I can talk for myself and say that I do tweet numbers and give rankings, but I have reports for that data. The 100 crore thing that production houses do, that itself is not true. What floats online are mostly approximate estimations.”

Often, production houses themselves use the trackers as their source, as was seen with Sun Pictures during the release of Sarkar. 

Rakesh says this happens in Bollywood also, although they seem to have a mechanism in place. He says collections estimations for Hindi films have been made in the past without asking theatre owners in the south about the earnings in theatres. “They say world-wide and country wide collections, but how do we know it is true,” he asks.

Online ticketing a solution?

The producers and theatre owners say that online ticketing will make tracking collections easier. Dhananjayan says, “The problem is 30-40 percent ticketing is computerised, but the majority, 60 percent is not. The multiplexes and miniplexes in smaller towns are computerised but not the others. So the challenge is how to get an accurate data without computerised ticketing?”

M Tirupur Subramaniam, president of Tamil Nadu Theatres and Multiplexes Owners Association has a different figure to offer. He says 80 percent of theatres have become computerised. But he says, “First figure a way to calculate collections in these theatres, the remaining manual ones we are ready to go get official data.”

The theatre owners and producers largely agree that the Tamil Film Producers’ Council and the distributors council must do something to bring a transparent mechanism in place, because businesses were getting affected by wrong estimates, and there were unnecessary clashes among fans.

Producer Suresh Kamatchi says, “There is nothing positive about the ‘box office trackers’. The producers who believe their numbers as the truth, make more investments and determine salaries for actors depending on these estimates, they are only being fooled.” He also said that he has not paid an industry tracker before.

Industry watcher Bharath Kumar says producers should draw a line, and send out press releases with official data. “The so called trackers do it just for publicity, they create fights, fans take pride in doing this. Why can’t producers put up their own numbers? I’m not bashing trackers, but I’m saying send press releases, get the producer council to intervene.”

Members of TFPC say that there is a centralisation gap and release centres have almost become 100 percent computerised, so they have been in talks with theatre owners to set up a transparent mechanism. They are considering starting an app through which theatres can instantly update information about collections.

Tirupur Subramaniam says that the TFPC has contacted them about this, “We said we are ready to give information, we need the data about collections. But the TFPC said last year that in six months, by June 1, things will be in place. They have not taken initiative about this.”

Producer and member of TFPC, Kathiresan said that some progress might be seen in the next three months. Producer SR Prabhu said, “There should be tracking and taxing system, we are still in talks about this. But tracking through online ticketing will reduce the manual process. Practically, it might take a few years for effects to come in place.”


With inputs from Karthikeyan A

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