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Older Demo Drives Surprising Sales

7 Jul, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

While much of Hollywood — and most everyone else — continues to zero in on the lucrative 18-to-34 demographic, studio executives say they're seeing a strong uptick in DVD purchasing by the over-45 crowd.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment president Craig Kornblau cites internal research that shows older adults this year are buying 10 percent more DVDs than they were in the hit-filled fourth quarter of 2004. They're also renting 5 percent more.

“Don't underestimate the power of the older consumer,” Kornblau said. The studio is taking square aim at the 45-and-up consumer by stepping up anniversary editions of older films — recent releases include a 30th anniversary edition of Jaws and a 10th anniversary edition of Casino — as well as older TV shows like “Dragnet” and “Quincy.”

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment also is catering to the older DVD consumer with classic TV shows like “M*A*S*H” and, later this year, a 40th anniversary edition of The Sound of Music.

“The early adopters were a highly technophilic group of young males, and they've been in the market a long time now,” said Fox president Mike Dunn. “Now you're starting to get the less enthusiastic consumers of media into the marketplace, and they're older. And one thing we're seeing is they do buy movies and they do buy TV.”

Indeed, Universal's Kornblau said two of his studio's biggest overperformers for the year — Ray and Friday Night Lights — generated staggering DVD sales numbers, in large part because of high demand from older consumers. Ray earned nearly $150 million from DVD sales and rentals, twice its box office, while Friday Night Lights took in $100 million against a theatrical gross of just $60 million.

“Look at how this works, when you hit them with the right product,” Kornblau said. “You're seeing it over and over again — the biggest overperformers are titles that hit the older demographic.”

Benjamin Feingold, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, said he was astounded at how well the Sony Pictures Classic title Being Julia sold after its March 22 release.

“Sellthrough was much bigger than it would have been a few years ago,” he said. “We saw a lot of action through accounts like Borders and Barnes & Noble.”

So, what's driving the older consumer to the video store — or the DVD department of a bookstore or other big retail establishment?

Shorter windows between a film's theatrical bow and its video release is certainly one factor. Another is that many people who have held out buying a DVD player until now are older.

“The older demo has traditionally shied away from change, but DVD hardware is so affordable and easy to use” that they're finally crossing over, said Brant Berry, VP of R2 Entertainment, which specializes in releasing classic TV talk and variety shows on DVD.

A third factor is the proliferation of home theater systems. Older consumers are typically more affluent, and once they sink a lot of money into home theater systems, they're determined to enjoy them.

“They're adapting to the DVD lifestyle,” Kornblau said. “They've been slow on the uptake, but now that they've discovered DVD and incorporated home theater systems into their lifestyles, they've become aggressive buyers.”

Video marketers have learned quite a bit about how to maximize sales among the 45-and-up crowd, mostly through trial and error.

For one thing, said Fox's Dunn, “the 45-and-up audience is not a Tuesday audience. You can look at our movie, Sideways; you can look at The Aviator; you can look at Million Dollar Baby. This audience doesn't rush out and buy the first day the title is in stores. It takes a long time to cume these older-skewing movies.”

Steve Beeks, president of Lions Gate Entertainment, agreed. Beyond the Sea was an eyebrow-raiser for two reasons, he said: “It was a surprisingly strong seller, and it sold better its first weekend than its first two days.”

Studio execs also say marketing has to be a lot more targeted than the broad prime-time network buys that are common for hot new theatricals.

“You get off the networks,” Fox's Dunn said. “Our adult programs are advertised on cable, so we can strengthen media over a long period of time — Bravo, FX, Lifetime, A&E, ‘Law and Order' on cable, ‘West Wing' reruns and, of course, Fox News. We're all over Fox News.”

R2's Berry is a big fan of TV Land. “For the much older audience … we've experienced great direct-response results by running infomercials and spots on cable networks like Court TV and the TV Guide channel, as well as local media in heavily populated senior areas like Palm Springs, [Calif.],” he said.

Universal's Kornblau concurred that targeted marketing, chiefly on cable, is the way to go. But he won't offer specifics.

“That's our secret sauce,” he said. “And we have a lot of titles coming up, like The Interpreter, where we're going to need it.”

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