The story pops up from time to time, often after awards season, and it suggests that the relative success of a few adult-oriented features - "Argo," "Zero Dark Thirty," and "Lincoln" are examples this year - might somehow alter Hollywood's focus on the under-40 crowd. (Here's a NYT story from February 2011.) Well, it might. But the relative success of these Oscar winners is incidental to the basic franchise-building, risk-averse strategies of the major studios. As the LAT reports, the number of people in the 25-39 age bracket who went to the movies at least once a month jumped to 9.7 million in 2011 from 7.7 million a year earlier. Frequent moviegoers in the 40-49 bracket declined over the same period and those 50-59 rose just slightly. No numbers yet for 2012, but it would be surprising to see any big change in the trend lines. The focus on youth-oriented tent poles is a big problem for the theater chains, as I point out in the February issue of Los Angeles magazine:
Of course theaters have faced adversity before, most notably in the 1950s with the advent of the television networks. When admissions plummeted 27 percent from 1950 to 1959, industry leaders urged Hollywood to focus on blockbuster adventure films as a way of differentiating between the two entertainment formats (The Bridge on the River Kwai was a big deal when it hit screens in 1957). Decades later came audience declines due to the explosion of VHS cassettes and DVDs, though after each setback the theaters recovered. Maybe this time will be the same. But the industry dynamics have changed: Visiting the neighborhood multiplex is no longer a priority because there are simply too many other ways to watch a movie. In fact, only 26 percent of a typical film's revenue is generated at the box office; the remaining 74 percent comes from DVD sales, pay-per-view, premium cable, cable, and network television. Still, it's a critical 26 percent, considering that initial buzz determines success on the other platforms. This is leverage the industry clings to, despite efforts by the studios to shorten the theatrical window to weeks instead of months. "What I like is having an experience that I can't duplicate at home," says USC business professor Mark Young, who studies the management techniques of entertainment companies. "So when you see a blockbuster on a giant screen in 3-D, no matter how good your home television, it's very hard to duplicate."