Universal slams CMR, charges huge discrepancies in totals

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Hollywood studios have grumbled under their breath for years about what they say are inaccuracies in Competitive Media Reporting's data on advertising spending. Now one studio is speaking out publicly about what it calls a "nightmare" situation.

CMR, the leading provider of ad spending information across major media, said it is not aware of any specific problems and defended the accuracy of its data.

Universal Pictures shared information with Advertising Age to reveal what it said were media spending discrepancies for five of its films and wide differences with figures reported by CMR. The films, all 1999 releases, were "Best Man," "American Pie," "Virus," "Bowfinger" and "For the Love of the Game."

`BEST MAN' OVERSTATED BY 25%

For "Best Man," for example, Universal said CMR overestimated its network TV spending by 25%. CMR reported the studio had spent $4.4 million; calculations based on percentages provided by Universal peg network spending at $3.5 million. For "American Pie," CMR listed spot TV spending at $1.9 million; a difference of 20% from $2.3 million calculated from Universal's percentages.

According to the studio, CMR overestimated its newspaper spending for "Virus" by 50%, showing $2.4 million compared to calculated spending of $1.6 million. CMR's figures for outdoor advertising spending for "Bowfinger" appeared to account for only 1/6 of actual spending. CMR reported spending of $418,000, but calculations put that number at $2.5 million. Universal said CMR numbers were also off for "For the Love of the Game," with spending on syndicated TV reported at $732,000, 27% higher than the $576,900 Universal spent according to the calculations.

Marc Shmuger, president of marketing for Universal Pictures, said he decided to release internal marketing data because of the impact of the CMR data in the marketplace. The figures are used by studios to help determine marketing budgets against rivals' films and to calculate investment returns. Studio executives also said they regularly come under fire from producers and directors who blame poor box-office showings on a lack of ad support. Still others said the figures can affect their parent companies' stock prices, as well as the perception of their overall financial health.

"There is a hyper-focus in how much we are all spending," Mr. Shmuger said. "When this sort of information gets splashed on the front pages, it's a nightmare. The people in the marketing positions at the studios are constantly under the gun."

Several of the major studios -- along with some consumer products companies -- have complained privately about inaccuracies in CMR data for years. Few have been willing to go on the record to detail those complaints.

One veteran media executive who didn't want to be identified noted CMR had underreported spending on New Line Cinema's "Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me." CMR quoted $13.7 million spending on the film while the the executive said the actual total was $23.7 million.

Mr. Shmuger said there is much at stake in the hotly competitive movie business. "Unlike other consumer products, our facts and figures such as box office are a national obsession," he said. "They are in consumer magazines, such as Entertainment Weekly. There is one company that is quoted as the gospel for [these data], and so these erroneous facts get out there. Some one needs to shine a light on this."

But CMR said it is not aware of any problems with movie studios in general, or with Universal in particular. "I'm not aware of any issue. I have no knowledge of what they are looking at," said David Peeler, president-CEO of CMR. "I'm happy to review any information and try to help them with whatever discrepancies they think are involved with our data."

Discussing possible reasons for discrepancies between CMR and studio data, Mr. Peeler said the media service has no way to know about the negotiated rates for individual deals.

Overall, he defended CMR's data as "a very good barometer of what is going on in the marketplace. "The network information is provided to us from the networks; the spot information is generated from individual stations, advertisers, agencies and the [Television Bureau of Advertising]," Mr. Peeler said.

In some cases, CMR is right on the mark. For Artisan Entertainment's "Blair Witch Project" the service reported spending of $14.4 million. Executives close to Artisan put the total at $15.1 million.

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