“Hispanics are far and away the most important consumers at our cinemas,” declared National Association of Theater Owners head John Fithian at Sunday’s Produced By panel on the voracious spending habits of the growing Hispanic population. Fithian described Hispanics as “the most valuable component of moviegoers” and credited them with the 5.8% boost in ticket sales in the family flick-filled first quarter of 2014. A sizzle reel opening the session called the demo “the biggest game changer since the baby boom,” a claim supported by NATO and Nielsen stats with even more growth projected by 2050, when one out of three Americans will be of Hispanic descent.
According to Fithian, 44% of Hispanics go to the movies a few times a month, 63% rent movies on DVD or Blu-ray, and 76% own high quality televisions in their home – all in numbers higher than other ethnicities. Naturally, theater owners would like Hollywood to cater more content to their highest-volume customers. They’re also taking the initiative by testing an in-theater app that can translate English language films into multiple languages live during a movie. “We are testing simultaneous translation, personal devices that sync up with movies with an app while you’re watching a movie,” Fithian revealed.
Related: NATO’s John Fithian Considers Texting In Theaters
Encouraging moviegoers to use their smart phones during movies might invite piracy and disturb other moviegoers, obvious downsides that NATO is trying to work around. “We are talking to a couple of companies who will be working with our members to test usability and any possible disruption to other patrons,” a rep for the organization told me. “Since smart phones can also record, we want to make sure the apps are usable when the devices are in your pocket, so ushers don’t have to worry about a lot of people pointing phones at the screen and trying to guess if they are pirating.”
Until theater owners figure out simultaneous translation, they’ve got other ways to capitalize on the consumption habits of the audience segment that goes to the movies more often and in bigger numbers and spends 30% more on concessions than other groups. “Hispanics want higher end concessions and alcohol as part of the cinema-going experience. We’re lobbying almost every jurisdiction in the United States to allow alcohol in cinemas,” Fithian said. “This is the future of our business, and thank God.”
Addressing a theater filled with producers, the panel suggested creators might tap into the Hispanic demographic through content that appeals thematically to relatable cultural values. Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness screenwriter Roberto Orci, who is helming the next sequel in the franchise, drew laughs describing Paramount’s Star Trek reboot as “about two brothers from different cultures – Spock is a legal immigrant who makes best friends with a gringo, and together they conquer the stars.” In July he debuts his action-drama Matador on Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network, a spy series set in multi-cultural L.A. with an assimilated Hispanic protagonist who doesn’t speak Spanish but values family and plays soccer.
It’s not just movies starring Hispanics and made for Hispanics that can connect with the demo. The key isn’t so much authenticity, but embracing the values and interests of the audience, said Nielsen NRG EVP Ray Ydoyaga. Last year’s Orci-produced Now You See Me was a hit with the demo thanks to its themes of magic and suspense, said consultant Gail Heaney. Faith-based hit Son of God tapped into the Hispanic market by offering the film in Spanish in 25 percent of theaters, and Summit’s YA actioner Divergent campaigned directly to Spanish-language TV viewers on Univision.
“Hispanics love the movies everyone else loves, only a little bit more,” said Fithian who also noted the ticket-buying power of female and African-American audiences. “If women buy 52% of tickets, I don’t understand why 18% of major directors are women,” he said. “Diversity would help us sell tickets.”