Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Best Exotic Audience Demographic


With the Summer movie box office down 5% from last year, it would appear I haven’t been the only one having difficulty finding something worth paying to see on the big screen.

Every Friday, I’ve opened the paper for what might be available and been greeted by either another guy in tights, another reboot, another two hour commercial for a toy or some 20-something director’s examination of 20-something angst that I couldn’t get interested in when I was 20-something myself.

So, I eschewed the Imax/Dolby/$10 popcorn experience for episodes of “The Newsroom” and “Breaking Bad” or what was on Netflix.

But there’s a neighborhood multiplex down the street and two things struck me each time I drove past over the last months. One was how quickly the over-hyped Superheroes, Sci-Fi extravaganzas and raunchy comedies came and went.

The other was that one title stayed week after week after week.

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” opened at that theatre on May 25th and is still playing 14 weeks (one entire Summer) later.

To date, this modest comedy, made for a mere (in Hollywood terms) $10 Million, has earned $130 Million in ticket sales. In other words, more than the take home of a month’s worth of Hollywood mega-budget tent-pole franchises combined.

It’s a success that most in the industry have ignored, perhaps because the target audience is a group that Hollywood mostly ignores –- old people.

Now, I still don’t consider myself an old guy, but I’m obviously headed in that direction. And when I arrive, like a lot of baby-boomers, I’ll probably be there a while since 80 is widely considered to be the new 60.

I once had a psychic predict I’d die violently at the hands of a jealous husband in my 87th year. I always used that as proof of my ageless charm. But I’m sure he meant I’ll be on a park bench having an ice cream when some deranged cuckold goes on a shooting spree.

For the first time in my life an innocent bystander…


Anyway – I finally decided to see what the movie was all about last night, arriving as a busload (yes, I said busload) from a nearby Seniors home disembarked fellow patrons, all greeted warmly by the manager.

I got talking to him and discovered this is a nightly occurrence and that some have returned to see the film 3 or 4 times.

Now, you might put part of that return business down to the forgetfulness of old age. But I’m thinking that like Sci-Fi fans when “Star Trek” came along, “Best Exotic Marigold” is one of the few entertainment options these people have.

Chances are more than a few of them were also those self same under-served original “Star Trek” fans…

I don’t know why the entertainment business doesn’t cater to such a wide and growing audience demographic. But we don’t.

Maybe we’re a little afraid of one day becoming a part of that niche ourselves. Maybe they don’t fit our image of being cutting edge and cool.

“I’m the guy who’s ‘edgy’ not the one out edging his lawn.”

A couple of years back, I pitched a series to a Canadian network that targeted people over the age of 50. Mostly because I’d read a bunch of surveys indicating the majority of the North American TV audience is now in that age bracket.

The trendy, young network execs on the opposite couch couldn’t have been less interested. Story content aside, they had been tasked with attracting younger audiences, rescuing both they and the network from the Internet. As one defined the process, “planting them back on the couch”.

When I suggested that might not be possible since more and more people under 25 don’t even own a television set, it was suggested that my premise was based on “American numbers” and therefore not applicable.

As I talked with the theatre manager, I watched a stream of grey heads move from the refreshment stand into the theatre, many by way of the washroom to make sure they could last the running time of the movie.

Meanwhile, barely a trickle of younger patrons entered the auditoriums where “The Dark Knight”, “The Bourne Legacy” and “Expendables 2” were playing. After all, it was a Monday night.

But even on a Monday, the Manager was called away to resupply the candy counter. “I’ve never sold so many wine gums”, he said with a smile.

In a lot of ways, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” wasn’t my cup of Chai. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Instead it was telling all those whose grey heads shimmered with the reflected light from the screen that their lives mattered and a multitude of adventures they’d never imagined awaited them.

And isn’t that why we all go to the movies?

In the lobby afterward, there was a buzz of excitement and satisfaction. Something I don’t remember hearing from the far larger crowd with whom I’d seen “The Dark Knight Rises”.

Performances were praised. Jokes repeated. Names of those who needed to be told to see the film were exchanged. Fourteen weeks in and still the word of mouth growing.

Maybe it’s right that our industry keep pushing the creative envelopes and inspiring the young. But there’s another audience out there too. One that might just keep us in business.

And those wine gums really aren’t that bad either.


Anonymous said...

18 to 34 male demographics. Also referred to as the "fool and his money are soon parted" demographics.

Anonymous said...

What the other 'nonymous said above. When they talk about the much-vaunted 18 to 34s, they mean "willing to spend $300 on a pair of running shoes designed to mostly just stand around in, replacing the $250 pair from last year".

Me, I have a mortgage and a car payment, but when I buy something, I buy something GOOD (i.e., top of the line). You'd think the advertisers would clue into this...