I just got back from a trip to Brussels, where I gave a master class at RITS on “New Business Models in the Digital World.” The audience, a combination of students and professionals from all over Belgium was managing to stay awake as I spouted off about all the various disruptive forces that were moving the film business in new directions. I talked about diminished windows, squeezed margins, pricing disparities, consumer confusion, conflicting technologies and much more.
During the Q&A period, a fellow raised his hand and challenged one of my earlier statements. I had mentioned that theatrical box office was trending upward only because of increasing ticket prices–mainly due to the premium paid for 3D–and in fact, the number of actual admissions had been trending downward for decades. This gentleman told the audience that contrary to what I had been saying, in the major European territories the number of admissions has actually been climbing, and interestingly, the boost in the box office was not from American 3D movies, but from local productions. I admitted that this was something I had not been aware of. I asked him what the makeup of the audience was. He said it was “older people.” He used his own mother as an example and said she had started going to the movies much more than she had when she was younger. I found out later that the questioner was a local Belgian distributor.
The conversation that followed was a reminder of something that I had been talking about for years, but had somehow become sublimated in all the talk of doom and gloom in the business–the fact that the older generation is where the audience is. The baby boomers are reaching the point in their lives when leisure time is increasing. The kids are mostly out of the house (except when they’ve moved back in) and daily responsibilities are beginning to decrease. This is the most film educated generation that has ever existed, having been brought up at a time when film classes were added to the curriculum of every college and university, and film societies flourished. This generation is not constantly distracted by video games and texting and Facebooking. And when given a chance (witness “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” or “Midnight in Paris”) they turn out in significant numbers.
Why is it that Hollywood doesn’t get that message? With each passing year, they churn out more and more product that is entirely geared toward teenagers, while simultaneously fretting about how that audience is no longer interested in going to the movies. They spend more and more marketing dollars trying to get the attention of an audience that has an attention deficit, while simultaneously raising admission prices until they have put tickets out of reach for the very audience they are trying to capture.
It seems that in Europe, they’ve gotten the message. Their home grown product, geared toward an older demographic, and budgeted appropriately to the size of their indigenous markets, is beginning to have an effect.
So, here’s my suggestion…let’s focus on the grown ups. I promise you that as the younger generation gets older, they too will discover the joy of sitting in a theater full of people, and sharing the experience of watching a film…together.