Teenagers: The Holy Grail?

December 12, 2010

As I noted yesterday, I am fascinated by how the film industry in 2010 seems now to be reliving many of the same challenges it faced in the 1950s such as the end of the studio system, fading star power, the lure of technological razzle-dazzle, and the threat of television. The industry barely survived those challenges back then because it found a way to actually use television and then technology to its advantage, right up to the last several years when the threats have become so overwhelming that the industry faces the financial crisis that it confronts today. (Chapter 15 of Bringing Back The Old Hollywood.)

The 1950s and 2010 are also eerily similar in the way the studios started to focus in on young audiences. In the 1950s, we baby boomers began our lifelong love affairs with both film and television. That love affair between Hollywood and young audiences that began in the 1950s has now become so dominant that other audiences have been shunted aside or even abandoned. From my book:

Murder At MGM

The corporate mentality that now rules every studio has also led to a single-minded reliance on Madison Avenue demographics.

Whereas the giants like Mayer and Thalberg would make films they believed in and order their marketing divisions to come up with ways to sell them, the situation is reversed today.

Marketing executives are consulted on whether the under thirty year-old audience can be lured to theaters by a film. If the marketers are dubious, the film will, in most cases, never see the light of day. If Indiana Jones were sent to find The Holy Grail in the New Hollywood, his assignment would be to come back with the secret of how a fifteen-year-old boy decides which movies to attend over and over again.

Imagine for a moment Louis B. Mayer in a meeting with his MGM marketing team about Gone With The Wind in 1939. The head of marketing cautions Mayer not to make Gone With The Wind. “Sure, it’s a big best seller and all, Mr. Mayer, but the teenagers will never go for it and there are no fast food tie-ins.” The next day’s headline in Variety would have been:

“MGM’s Mayer Murders Marketer.”

The tail is not wagging the dog.

It has replaced the dog altogether.”

Tomorrow: Revenge of The Baby Boomers!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Stephen Simon December 18, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Thank you and welcome!…sorry for the tardy response but your comment was caught in our spam filter…


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