Forget about the teens. The most dependable and growing demo at the box office is the 50-plus crowd. That was the takeaway at the CinemaCon panel “Movies for Grownups: Films for Older, Loyal, and Growing Theater-Going Audience.” The over-50 bunch didn’t just account for 37% of movie ticket sales or 330M tickets sold last year, but they’re the most habitual demo. Long after the 18-35 crowd has tapered off, even for tentpoles, the 50-plus folks keep going.
“The demographic feels an emotional connection with the moviegoing experience,” said Meg Grant, AARP’s entertainment director.
Russ Collins, founding director of the Art House convergence and an exhibitor in Ann Arbor, MI, cited the stat that the over-50 crowd, who embrace biopics, specialty titles and historical dramas, shell out on average for 32 titles a year. Half of the titles they see are at the arthouse, while the other half they’ll watch are at the multiplex. In sum, the 50-plus account for $178B in entertainment spending, and they’re the same types of folks who go to museums and the symphony.
Currently, Bleecker Street’s Eye in the Sky which has remained in the top 10 during its wide break over the last two weeks, has been drawing a strong over-50 crowd with a current running cume of $11.1M. One interesting fact about the film which is an indicator of its demos’ moviegoing habits: 50% of its business is conducted Monday through Thursday, whereas for a tentpole title, only 30% of its business is generated. Some exhibitors when booking titles often overlook the mid-week business, and just look at weekend ticket sales. “I think the numbers can be greater (for these types of films) if we’re holding these titles over a longer time,” said Bleecker Street Media CEO Andrew Karpen. Since it first opened six weeks ago, Eye in the Sky has held as the No. 3 title in Sony Lincoln Square in New York City, even as it has faced the onslaught of big studio movies like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and The Boss. This has been a trend for Eye in the Sky seen in other markets around the country.
However, if exhibitors recognize the B.O. potential for these over 50-plus demo targeted films, there is a lot of money to be made. The over-50 bunch prefer to avoid weekend foot traffic, and also take advantage of midweek ticket discounts that many local theaters offer.
Expounded Karpen, “When people ask me about competition, I tell them competition is good. The more movies we have 12 months a year for all types of audiences and genres, then our job is to determine which movies they will go to. But when we don’t supply movies all year, especially to older moviegoers, and have a lag of three to four months, then the challenge becomes getting them to go to the movies.”
The quintessential place for these older-skewing titles are on screens 5-10 in a ten-plex, and it’s important for exhibitors to “not just look at the box office gross as we supply these movies for this audience,” said Karpen. Films catering toward an older demo are “the easiest to get pushed aside,” said Karpen as exhibs go for the newer titles.
In addition, the 50-plus crowd is an efficient one to market to. Since they’re frequent moviegoers, their want-to-see is fueled primarily by in-theater trailers and word of mouth. This was the case for Broad Green’s Learning to Drive. Broad Green Pictures distribution president Travis Reid mentioned that the label only spent $8M in targeted media to open the Robert Redford-Nick Nolte Labor Day release A Walk in the Woods wide in 1,960 theaters. The pic grossed $8.2M in its first FSS and posted a 3.6 multiple with a final cume of $29.5M, drawing a 45+ crowd. Those watching Learning to Drive were cosmopolitan, highly educated whereas Walk in the Woods pulled in a more mainstream crowd. Another example of a title bringing in a reliable older crowd over a long time is Universal’s Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, which is headed to the $50M mark off an $18M production cost.
“One of the mistakes with the cinema business is that we think of it with such singularity, which isn’t done in the music business,” said Collins about how the music industry has its pulse on its buyers’ trends, “There’s a more sophisticated understanding of the music audience, but not the movie audience.”