Last year at the ShoWest exhibition convention, Motion Picture Association of America (Mpaa) chairman Dan Glickman announced a study to try to pin down the truth about that mysterious animal, the movie-goer.
While there was a sense of who comprises the cinema-going audience, there has been no hard and fast survey with statistical data to support the industry's collective gut instincts.
The survey of more than 600 film-goers, conducted by Nielsen, was unveiled just prior to this year's ShoWest. Although some details may vary from received wisdom, overall the results are devoid of surprises. Half the audience is in the age range of 12-29 years and about one-third of ticket buyers classify themselves as frequent movie-goers, seeing at least one movie a month at a cinema.
According to Glickman and Mpaa research president Dean Garfield, the study was conducted over a two-month period with respondents aged 16-65.
It concluded that 80% of the audience consider going to the movies time and money well spent. Only 4% said they had no interest and the remaining participants favoured seeing movies at home on DVD. The message put the best face on the "experience" and neglected to include any caveats.
Flaws in the cinema experience
According to a studio executive privy to the results, one certainly could not conclude that all those lumped into the 80% favourable category loved everything about contemporary movie-going. People complained about mobile phones or Blackberrys, noisy patrons, high concession stand prices and on-screen ad programmes prior to the coming attractions.
At a post-presentation press conference, National Association of Theatre Owners (Nato) president John Fithian said it was the Mpaa's study and implied theatre owners had little input into its direction. Glickman said the results were shared with Nato and that it would be necessary to conduct a similar survey within a year to see whether the initial conclusions were consistent over time.
Addressing the issues
However, there are signs the theatres are pressing ahead with plans to address the customer concerns outlined in the study. While accepting the list of reservations, Fithian noted that several major chains were developing programmes that tackle issues of noise and interruptions.
But underneath it all, there was a sense that exhibitors and distributors are each pushing forward with their own agenda.
Fithian essentially made that clear in his convention speech when he noted that Nato's top priority was the shrinking window between film exhibition and DVD release.
He said the issue leading the Mpaa's agenda was film piracy and perhaps there was a way that both groups could get what they wanted.
The thrust was that exhibitors and distributors might work collectively toward those goals but in the current frosty climate between the two, both sides appear more than willing to go it alone.
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