Polling In The Dark

How do you survey people in a dark movie theater?

CinemaScore conducts exit polls in theaters by asking movie goers to pull back tabs on the ballot, the design of which has remained mostly the same over the past 35 years.

CinemaScore Ballot. Source: Las Vegas Weekly

CinemaScore Ballot. Source: Las Vegas Weekly

CinemaScore tabulates the results and reports each movie's letter grade. Only 19 movies in the company's history got an F. The score is not a simple average:

“CinemaScore has an algorithm,” [founder and president Ed] Mintz explains. “A long time ago, we tweaked and analyzed until we came up with what we thought to be the absolute right system. Obviously I can’t share that. That’s the McDonald’s secret sauce,” he laughs. “But if you have 100 ballots, even if you divided it evenly, and had 20 As, 20 Bs, 20 Cs, 20 Ds, 20 Fs — in school, that’s a C. In our curve, it’s a lot worse; a B in school is more equivalent to a C in our terms. When you start getting Bs with CinemaScore, it affects the algorithm and curve a lot harder than it does in school. If you have 20 percent Cs, 20 percent Ds, 20 percent Fs — imagine how bad that is.” (Vulture.com)

The results are used to estimate word of mouth and multiples— the overall gross in relation to the opening weekend.