Let’s Focus on the Grown Ups

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.

7 thoughts on “Let’s Focus on the Grown Ups”

  1. Thanks for this Ira. I’ve been saying this to my friends and colleagues for several years now. Some nod their heads politely, and not surprising, the young students and film makers I encounter, only look at me sideways and nod, awkwardly.

    I will admit my position is in part self serving, as the scripts I write portray adults doing things, instead of children thinking about doing things. Or, in the case of over the top 3D features, people doing things that no one could ever hope to do.

    So please, let’s continue hearing this idea put out in the world. Perhaps, a few brave souls who hold purse strings will bebmorebwilling to see its obvious wisdom. Or more likely, if at all, when Europe stops supporting big budget distribution chains, the deep pockets will take another look at who’s watching what where and buying tickets

  2. I was caught by the leading idea of the piece that “grown ups” make the difference in Europe’s film going audience. There may be a fallacy that this phenomenon conveys to the United States. I believe that Europe has more “grown ups” in the demographic you are referencing than there are in the terminally adolescent American population. NY Times has a related article revealing that bookstores are flourishing in France while dying in the US: http://nyti.ms/MMiLgn

    Don’t forget that there are significant cultural differences.
    However, it’s a wonderful thought that American films could move beyond comic books, fireballs and beer swilling, gross out comedies.

  3. Think of the film industry as a microcosm of macro economics. There’s only one thing that drives film production and that is demand, and demand is measured NOT at the box office, but at the concession stand. I fail to see how more people don’t “get this”.

    Why would an exhibitor — like me — want an “adult” film when I might be lucky to get a $2 per capita concession return, when I can run a “non-adult” film, pay the same percentage on the ticket, but see a $7.00 per capita at the concession stand.

    Hollywood doesn’t make movies that exhibitors don’t want, and exhibitors don’t want movies that cater to people who don’t spend money at the concession stand. It’s really as simple as that.

    If the boomers want movies targeted for them, then they need to not just attend those movies, but must also buy concessions. That where the true power is.

  4. David,

    My question to you would be: have you ever tried selling something other than Skittles and bright, glossy cheese nachos at your theatre? While these products may be exactly what drives those kids to drop $7 at your concession stands, they could also be the sole deterrent for the grown-ups to add to their order of… water.

  5. I’m sure Hollywood thinks that the “formula” is much more of a success predictor. And they cling to it because ultimately those people don’t know what makes a good movie. I am one of those boomers reaching retirement age. Only instead of retiring, I’m using my increased leisure time and discretionary income to make movies. Hopefully movies that I’d want to see. The information about the hunger and potential power of this demographic seems to be making the rounds with increasing frequency. Ultimately it’s the “build it and they will come scenario.” You’ve got to have the courage of your convictions. Hey, my hat’s in the ring.
    –Michael Medeiros is currently in post production on Tiger Lily Road, a dark comedy about the sex lives and relationship struggles of middle aged women. http://www.bennettparkfilms,com

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