Studios Now Targeting Older Audiences? That’s Right!

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To all you writers out there, listen up!

New trends in the moviegoing market will have quite the impact on the types of scripts that studios choose to green light in the upcoming weeks, months, perhaps even years. We’ve all had it so solidified in our minds that movie theaters are always focused on a younger crowd, but apparently that’s just not the case anymore.

Main reasons for the shift: twenty-somethings are putting just as much importance on video games as they are on movies; and while the younger crowd seeks out entertainment in various forms, the older crowd tends to gravitate more specifically to the movies—without having to worry about finding a babysitter either.

Read on to learn more about this change in the tides …

With passion and gratitude,

Originally published on
November 24, 2010, 17:55 By Dave McNary

A decade ago, an action film with a cast of mostly 50-and-older stars would have been unthinkable. But Summit’s “Red” and Lionsgate’s “The Expendables” have combined domestic grosses of nearly $200 million. 

The success of those films is helping Hollywood change its attitude after ignoring the over-40 crowd for decades. There’s a slowly growing recognition that the baby-boomer demo can’t be ignored.

The 2011 sked includes Universal’s “Cowboys and Aliens,” which stars Daniel Craig (aged 42) and Harrison Ford (68), and the fourth “Mission: Impossible,” with Tom Cruise (eternally young, but actually 48).

While it’s not exactly a dramatic reversal, there are signs that the studios’ ageism is giving way to a recognition that the marketplace is changing.

Chris Fenton, partner at management-production company H2F believes studios have been adjusting toward an older demo. Of the 15 projects his company’s set up over the past year, a third are aimed at adults over 40—far more than any other category—including “Embassy,” sold to IM Global and going into production in February; “Dirty Old Men,” set up at Warner Bros.; and “Inseparable,” starring Kevin Spacey as a mysterious American expat.

“I think that we’re seeing a real revival of interest among buyers in material that’s going to work for a specific quadrant—at the right price,” Fenton notes.

Most recent stats for 2009 from the Motion Picture Assn. of America show that the 40-and-up demo comprised 37% of the U.S. moviegoing public, while purchasing 32% of the tickets. (By comparison, the 24-and-under crowd bought 47% of the tickets, and those in the 25-to-39 demo bought 20%.)

More significantly, Kevin Goetz, CEO of research org Screen Engine, notes that older men and women have maintained their moviegoing rates in the current market. Goetz considers his firm’s research numbers proprietary, but says tickets sold to younger moviegoers are gradually declining, due to such factors as the rising popularity of videogames and resistance to higher ticket prices.

There are other reasons why Hollywood is taking notice:

• “Older people have a history, a habit and nostalgia for going to the movies, and the young don’t have that relationship,” Goetz adds.

• Kagan analyst Wade Holden says that older moviegoers “have the extra cash and they don’t have to worry about babysitters. Older moviegoers are doing well financially and looking for entertainment, so movies are one of their primary sources of entertainment. They’re not looking at their iPhone or the Internet all the time.”

• A studio distribution exec says, “Movies are the primary source of entertainment for people over 50 if they leave the house, as opposed to people who are 20 and looking for all kinds of entertainment. So why not cater to those people? Those films are less pirated and there’s crossover to younger guys when they’re well-made.”

• According to the U.S. Census Bureau, overall population for 40 and over is 47% while 24-and-under is 33%; the 25-to-39 bracket takes up 21%.

So as much as the major studios would like the assurance of releasing nothing but presold franchise films, that’s not really feasible, Goetz notes.

“The current economics are such that studios can’t sustain six to eight tentpole titles a year that appeal to four quadrants,” he adds. “So they want those projects that can sell to one-and-a-half or two quadrants—with the caveat that you have strong playability with the majority of that quadrant—recognizing that you can still make money not depending on the opening weekend.”

Tapping into that older demo has become a potential sweet spot for studios and distributors, according to Bob Berney, now president of theatrical distribution for Graham King’s newly minted FilmDistrict.

“The appeal to older people is something that you really notice in the second and third weeks, because they don’t feel the same need to be there on opening weekend,” he notes. “You saw it on ‘It’s Complicated,’ ‘The Blind Side,’ ‘Eat Pray Love,’ ‘The Proposal,’ ‘Secretariat,’ “Gran Torino,’ ‘Up in the Air,’ ‘No Country for Old Men.’”

Berney admits that the avid pursuit of younger moviegoers is particularly tricky turf these days. “For a lot of 20-year-olds, videogames are just as important as movies,” he notes.

Declares Pandemonium Films’ topper Bill Mechanic: “Audiences have aged dramatically and movies generally haven’t.

The target audience for most of the studios is still 15 to 25, but that audience has dropped off a bit.”

Mechanic notes that young auds are into multitasking. “They’re happy to see films by streaming them,” he says. “They are the hard ones to catch.”

The big mantra has become: Limit risk on nontentpole projects and keep the budget under $50 million.

Erik Feig, Summit’s president of worldwide productions and acquisitions, is a convert to the notion that the older audience will show up for films like “Red.”

“We had the older audience in mind from the very beginning when we were hearing the pitch from Jon and Erich Hoeber,” he recalls. “When the Bruce Willis character says, ‘I trained Kordesky’ and throws him to the ground, I told them that we were greenlighting it because it’s a such a strong, real message of self-empowerment—anyone who’s ever been pushed aside for a younger person can relate to it.”

Summit saw “The Expendables” rack up solid numbers in the late summer, and started pushing taglines like “Still armed. Still dangerous. Still got it.”

“It’s not just an action movie for the sake of being an action movie,” Feig notes. “Older people like movies, something that they can see with like-minded people. It’s really a wish fulfillment for older moviegoers.”




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