Given the fact you are reading this article on this site, you have had a fair amount of experience going to the movies, but for the sake of being thorough, let’s walk through the steps. You step up to the box office, you tell the ticket seller which movie you would like to see and he or she pushes a few buttons and your tickets print out. You hand your tickets to the usher, get them ripped and watch the movie. In 2002, this happened around 1.63 billion times in the United States alone. That is almost 6 movie tickets sold for each man, woman and child in the US. Despite the massive amount of accounting involved with tracking all the moviegoers going to different movies, produced by a variety of companies, distributed by a variety of companies, and exhibited by a variety of companies, all the grosses are nicely organized by the next afternoon, sometimes before the average moviegoer hits the snooze button on his alarm clock.

The person working in the box office starts the process of creating the data that will later become the box office charts. They enter in what movie you want and the computer tracks all tickets sold from their terminal (POS – point of sales). Companies like Radiant Systems supply many of the major chains, like AMC and Loews, with the software and hardware they use to track all their internal sales from popcorn to advanced ticket sales. With the magic of networking - hard work and lots of wires - all the terminals report to one computer and by the end of the night, each theater knows everything from how much each movie made to how many medium popcorns were sold to which candy sold the best during the 7:00pm rush. There was a time before computers and this description obviously only applies to recent years and to theaters that employ this system.

From up to 175,000 daily showings and millions of tickets sold, internal theater networks and databases simplify the problem down to 5,712 different sources of information. If we lived in a world of monopolies, it would be a simple task of adding up the thousands of sites, but those 5,712 theaters are owned by a multitude of companies that all have to report to another multitude of companies that distributed the film. While each theater usually reports back to their home office with their sales data, there is little communication between exhibitors. Regal is not about to send all their sales data to AMC or Carmike’s.

The solution to this problem came in the form of Entertainment Data Inc. in the mid 1970’s. Marcie Polier worked at a theater and it occurred to him that instead of calling up each studio, it would be a lot easier if each theater could report to one source. This idea worked pretty well, and in 1997, the mega-company of number crunchers, ACNielsen bought EDI. ACNielsen was later acquired by the even bigger VNU, a massive Dutch publishing company that employs close to 40,000 people and generates $4.3 billion a year. Just to give you an idea of VNU scope, here’s a few companies and services it owns: Hollywood Reporter, Golden Pages (yellow pages), Billboard, Adweek, and other trade publications.

Theaters call up EDI at the end of the business day and tell an EDI operator the grosses for each movie. The EDI operator then types everything in to their database (yes, this sounds inefficient, but that’s how it is down for now) and after a few thousand phone calls, the box office grosses are ready to be distributed to studios, exhibitors and millions of curious moviegoers.

Lee's Movie Info archives this information and supplements it with other reliable sources.

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