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Target Demographic

How on earth is my demographic (18-34 year-old, male, (and, let’s be honest, straight and white), or possibly 18-49, etc.)  still the most coveted in terms of sales, advertising, and apparently Broadway?  I really want to know, because I find it a bit baffling.  It can’t be because there are more of us.  Data indicates that in 2012 50.8% of the population in the US was female.  And today, the split for move going audiences is evenly split.  From Think Progress:

The gender split of American moviegoers is just about 50/50 for every age group, which means that women hold half the power of the wallet over which movies make money. Why wouldn’t they want to see a nuanced, realistic depiction of gender and race that they see in their own lives? After all, films aren’t only accessible to white men who want to see themselves depicted in every role.

And it can’t be because my demographic is the sole driver of the economy (no matter what marketers may think).  Two years ago The Atlantic wanted to make sure I understood that, “Sorry, Young Man, You’re Not the Most Important Demographic in Tech.”  The number of areas where women are the leading adopters of new technology is quite impressive.

  • Internet usage
  • Mobile phone voice usage
  • Mobile phone location-based services
  • Text messaging
  • Skype
  • Every social networking site aside from LinkedIn
  • All Internet-enabled devices
  • E-readers
  • Health-care devices
  • GPS

And yet, the New York Times considers men (not just those of us in the coveted 18-34/18-49 demographic) to be such an important demographic that they ran a story on page A1 of the Sunday, March 30, 2014 edition about how men are, “steering clear of Broadway.”  Please keep in mind that for the purposes of this article the New York Times really means straight men.

While men have been hanging back for years, their current scarcity, at a time when overall Broadway attendance is down, is particularly stark. Only 32 percent of audience members last year were men, or 3.7 million, compared with 42 percent (or 4.2 million) in 1980.

Of course this paragraph does require the reader to not think to much about math.  The 10% decrease in the number of men as a total of the audience for each year, for the years 1980 and 2013, is roughly 500,000 audience members.  And that is a big drop, but I am not sure that it should be panic inducing.  Especially since, despite the statement that, “overall Broadway attendance is down,” 2013 saw 11.56 million audience members, while 1980 saw 10 million.  Granted I did not do additional research for these numbers, I simply used what the Times provided.  4.2 million is 42% of 10 million (10 x .42 = 4.2) and 3.7 million is 32% of 11.5625 million.  Math!

The article then goes on to state that this season has not been any better

This season is not providing any relief. Yankees fans skipped the baseball-themed “Bronx Bombers,” which flopped fast. John Grisham guys passed on the adaptation of “A Time to Kill,” which closed after seven weeks. Among musicals, “Big Fish” was all about dads, and “First Date” sold shot glasses to underscore its dude appeal, yet both shows were strikingly poor sellers.

But the article fails to put the shows in context in terms of quality.  Were these good shows, to which audiences (or men, I suppose) just didn’t respond, or were they gimmicks intended to entice men regardless of the quality of the work.  We, and by we I mean audiences, are pretty good at sniffing out gimmicks, and “First Date” was clearly using a gimmick to bring in an audience.

I fail, however, to see why men (don’t forget this is straight men) should be so important that our absence from Broadway should warrant a front page New York Times article.  An exploration of a decrease in audience numbers overall, and an examination of the root causes (with some potential solutions), that is the front page story I want to read.  That speaks to the country, and the state of commercial theatre as a whole.  That strikes me as a conversation worth having.  A decline in just men, doesn’t cut it.  We are not, nor should we be, the final arbiters of success–both artistic and financial.  Appealing solely to men, for a theatrical experience, is clearly not worth it.

Yet appealing too exclusively to men can backfire. The lack of men at recent sports plays on Broadway — “Bronx Bombers,” “Magic/Bird” and “Lombardi” — surprised their producers, given the promotional support from the professional baseball, basketball and football leagues. (No leagues or teams put money into the shows, the producers said.) Tony Ponturo, a lead producer of the plays, said he and his partners were “taking a breath” before deciding whether to do another sports play.

“Tony Ponturo, a lead producer of the plays, said he and his partners were “taking a breath” before deciding whether to do another sports play.”  And perhaps that is the crux of the issue.  This all seems to be about business decisions and not the quality of the work.  What can sell?  Not, what can inspire?  And if you rely on just reaching out to men, even what you think can sell clearly can’t.

For a fun response to the New York Times piece check out this post by Paul Rudnick:  http://paulrudnick.com/secret/straight-men-and-theater/

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