LEGAL WRANGLE: Movie Research Firms OTX And Screen Engine Square Off In Court

EXCLUSIVE: Film market research consulting firm Online Testing Exchange (OTX) has squared off in court against Screen Engine, the upstart rival research firm hatched by ex-OTX motion picture president Kevin Goetz following his abrupt resignation on Feb. 25. OTX claimed it scored the first blow when it was granted an emergency injunction yesterday by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant that prevents Goetz, another OTX defector, Rachel Parness, and Goetz’s personal attorney Christine Perakis from using OTX’s proprietary “norms,” or historical research, to get Screen Engine revving.

Courtroom judgments are evidently as subjective as research screenings. Goetz’s attorneys, Robert E. Wynner and Gary W. Nevers, denied that any substantive order was issued or that Goetz has been hindered from doing business in any way. “OTX and Screen Engine, LLC are discussing a stipulation concerning the use of normative data that OTX Corporation contends was obtained from OTX, and that OTX contends is confidential and proprietary to its business,” said Wynner, who denied that Goetz has used any proprietary information in his new business.

Said Nevers: “The judge’s decision yesterday confirms that Screen Engine LLC is free to continue its business without any interruption or change in its operations.”

OTX filed a 116-page complaint charging Screen Engine with misappropriating its research data, and the firm is asking for broader injunctions and monetary damages. The complaint alleges that  Goetz–a 23-year research vet who previously worked for OTX research rival NRG–laid the groundwork for Screen Engine with Parness and Perakis by grabbing OTX historical data before exiting.

“Nobody wants to stop anyone from fairly competing in a free market, but when you misappropriate our property and intentionally take steps to harm and disrupt our business, that’s not fair competition,” said Vincent Bruzzese, Goetz’s successor in running OTX’s motion picture group. Bruzzese said OTX had “overwhelming evidence” to back its charges.

“We can assert that materials and information which is benefiting their company was taken and misappropriated before their resignations,” Bruzzese said.

Bruzzese said OTX built its own database by testing thousands of films in focus groups for nearly every major studio and producer over the last decade, and using that accumulated data as the basis for recommendations on how pictures might perform in any genre.

“You need a large number of cases and scores to say a film is above or below a norm and to determine whether a movie performed well or not, and to be able to break it down by demo segments and genres,” Bruzzese said. “What this injunction does is force Screen Engine to use norms that are limited to what they in their nascent stage have accumulated so far.”

One veteran studio marketer said that Goetz has one of the best reputations in the research game, and that he is a favorite of execs and filmmakers because of his ability to calm them during the harrowing process of recruiting audiences to criticize their films. The source said that is Goetz’s strength and that OTX should have locked him down before its recent sale of the company to Ipsos, which occurred just before Goetz exited.

Said Goetz: “As a result of the decision, I feel so vindicated. Screen Engine will continue focusing solely on responding to the needs of its clients.”

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