The following post was originally published in The Economist’s Lean back blog on February 25, 2014.
I take it as a given that Boomers love going to the movies. Notice I said “going to the movies,” not “watching a film” on some unspecified screen of indeterminate size.
For years—the 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s—Hollywood loved Boomers back… and why not? The Most Valuable Generation filled drive-ins, movie palaces and mall-based multiplexes for four decades.
But the movie business is not unlike the fashion business: there is a constant infatuation with the glamour, image and style of youth. In the late ‘90s, Hollywood unceremoniously dumped the Boomers in favor of younger audiences. At the same time, the revenue from international distribution and other “out windows” (i.e. video rental, premium cable, VOD, etc.) upended the financial model of the business forever.
Hollywood targeted virtually all of its marketing dollars to 18-to-34 and 25-to-49 year-olds to drive opening-weekend box office, since this was—and still is—the most important predictor of a movie’s ultimate success. However, with the growth of high-speed, high-quality digital and wireless technologies, the proliferation of multiple viewing screen options gave rise to non-linear, on-demand viewing among younger consumers.
So now Hollywood is facing a conundrum: just as it is becoming easier to distribute content to younger audiences, the business of making movies without the promotional “launch pad” of Boomer-fueled opening-weekend box office is becoming riskier. For evidence, one need only review the lackluster performance of this past summer’s crop of youth-targeted movies—both at the box office and an all other distribution platforms.
But fear not, for this story may have a “Hollywood ending.” It turns out Hollywood wants Boomers back. After all there are nearly 80 million of them, and they still love going to the movies. Boomers adore the velvet seats, the smell of popping corn, the Coming Attractions and, of course, the BIG SCREEN! Plus, Boomers have the time and money to indulge their passion for Hollywood-style entertainment, even as tastes have evolved.
The Box Office numbers back this up: according to the MPAA, the number of Adults 50+ going to the movies increased 25 percent from 2009 to 2012 in spite of a sluggish economy. In addition, MPAA trend statistics show that Adults 60+ is the only age cell to show consistent growth in movie attendance during the same period.
So, the Boomers and Hollywood have a new “marriage of convenience,” and this year’s Oscar nominations are more clear evidence. Not one of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture are Sci-Fi fantasy blow-‘em-ups or Gen-X rom-coms. Witness also the large number of recent releases –such as Last Vegas, The Monuments Men, Nebraska and Philomena—celebrating age and starring older Boomer icons.
We are living in an era of unprecedented creativity within the movie business—probably the greatest in its history. If Hollywood can re-learn how to market and message to Boomers, I predict that the next two decades will be the new Golden Age for Hollywood and Boomers.