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How moviegoers at different ages use technology

September 30, 2009 |  9:10 am


Digital media is changing the behavior of all moviegoers, but it's doing so very differently for varying age groups.

That's what a group of around 100 online and studio marketing executives, as well as journalists, learned this afternoon yesterday at a presentation of data from a study of 3,582 moviegoers, about 43% surveyed in person at theaters and the rest online or on the phone. The study was done by Stradella Road, a marketing consulting company started by former New Line executive Gordon Paddison, whose current clients include Peter Jackson and 3-D projection company RealD.

The research was sponsored by several of the biggest online media companies including AOL, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, so nobody was expecting to be told that this whole Internet thing is just a fad that Hollywood marketers shouldn't worry about.

It's one thing to say that computers and cell phones are more important to moviegoing than they used to be, however. The real question that Hollywood is grappling with is what to do about that fact. Sure, studios can put up Twitter accounts (like this one for "Bruno") and Facebook pages (like this one for "Fame") for movies, or run contests on niche websites (here's a new one for "Couple's Retreat" on the amusing blog Awkward Family Photos). But those are at best fledgling efforts. Nobody seems quite as sure yet how to move the dial -- at least the dial Hollywood is used to looking at -- through online ads as effectively as billboards and TV commercials and newspaper ads do.

Stradella Road's study didn't provide any simple answers. But it did make clear that consumers engagement with digital media and technology are -- and thus marketers' efforts should be -- very different based on age group:

-For teenagers, it's all about socialization. 56% go to the movies in groups of three or more and 33% in a quarter or bigger. Those same habits translate online, where they spend more time than any other group on Facebook or MySpace, using IM, and texting. They're the least likely, however, to use search engines to find specific information. To get teenagers, in other words, marketers have to be where they're talking.

-18-29 year-olds are just as comfortable, if not more, with online media than teenagers. In fact, they go online for information more than any other group. They use social networks -- but don't chat -- nearly as much and spend significantly more time actually reading online content. And they're particularly interested in review aggregation sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.

Unlike teens, however, they usually go out in couples, not with several friends at once. So information, much more than communication, is key online.

-30somethings, as most movie marketers already know, have plenty of money to go to the movies but not nearly as much time as others, particularly if they have young kids. They're young enough to know how to use most technology, but a lot less likely than those younger to use newer online options like social networks and video.

On the other hand, they're the most likely to have broadband Internet and a cell phone and to not only own a DVR, but to use it to skip commercials. They're tough to persuade, in other words, but when they do go to the movies, technology still plays a critical role.

-40somethings: They're in what Paddison called "a transitional period for technology usage." Translation: They use the Internet a lot, but they're not comfortable with every new device and still enjoy old-fashioned print media.

Like 30somethings, they spend a lot of time online, although they're even less comfortable with some new technologies. This is the youngest group, for instance, for which a majority don't regularly update their own Facebook profiles or comment on other people's.

Many of them have kids and go to the movies as families. But since their children are older, their kids are a lot more likely to influence which movies they see. In other words, if you're thinking about how to get 40somethings to the movies, you should probably scroll back up and re-read that section on teenagers.

-50 and up: Once the kids leave the house, adults become "re-engaged," meaning they go to the movies in couples, like 20somethings do. No surprise that they're not nearly as engaged on the Web as their juniors, but they do use it for very specific tasks. 97% use the Web for information gathering, virtually the same as those in their thirties and forties.

The big difference is that moviegoers over 50 are less likely to watch online video, actively use social networks, or blog. They might look for specific information, like a showtime or review, online, but they're still casually influenced the way that their parents were: through old fashioned media and through non-digital friends.

No matter the age group, however, it's worth noting that old media is far from dead. True, 44% of moviegoers first hear about a film online, compared to 16% in a newspaper ad. But even more find out about films through television commercials (73%) and trailers in the theater (70%).

--Ben Fritz


Charts courtesy Stradella Road.