Holy Grails and Demographics

I have been a storyteller in theatre and film for 20 years now. That’s 20 years of making my living almost completely in the industry in one-way or another. I have been doing a lot of thinking over the past couple of days about film, television and media, the way it’s consumed and what does and doesn’t work and I’m pretty certain of a couple of things: First and most obvious of course is the fact that the way the public consumes media has been changed irreversibly. You have hand held devices, tablets, laptops, gaming consoles, streaming, DVRS, PVRS, DVDs, blu-rays, Netflix…the list goes on and on, and isn’t likely to change unless the Intertubes go and get broke (which, incidentally, I think would be awesome, for like a week).

The next thing I am certain of is that execs are still struggling to find a way to appeal to the mythical 18 to 35 demographic, to build a show that can be digested across what is in actuality, a very broad age range when you think about it. Now some shows have been pretty successful at this while building really interesting, compelling storylines that intersect with brilliant talent (your Sons of Breaking Dead Homeland Community Recreations) and coupled with that you have the other side, also extremely successful but by no means that compelling, suspenseful or intelligent (I am talking your How I met your Two and Half Big Bangs here), not really my thing but I get why people enjoy them. I do. And if you do I’m happy for you. Really.

The thing of it is, the sacred Holy Grail 18 – 35 demographic does not exist anymore. At least not like it did when I was coming up (timeline references: the unbeatable Thursday of Cosby, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court as a youngster morphing into the Friends, Seinfeld, Mad About You juggernaut in University), or even how said demographic existed ten years ago. I believe there is a new way of looking at this. Want to hear it? Here goes. Oh and of course there are exceptions to each, as with anything that speaks in generalities:

Young people don’t really watch television with their parents anymore. They don’t come home and flick on the TV while they make a snack. They come home, already on a mobile device, and then plug into a larger one. That can be anything from an MMO to Facebook to whatever other new thing is manifesting itself while I type this. It’s how a 17 year old- hell it’s how 12 year olds to 30 year olds – spend time. Also, young people go to the movies. They always have because it’s always been a thing to do with your best girl or guy, away from the prying eyes of whomever. The movies and the stories are a part of it for sure, but just as important is that as a young person, your options can be limited. When you are young, you go to the movies because it’s something to do on Friday night, or a Tuesday night, or a Saturday afternoon or whatever. It’s a type of freedom and a rite of passage.

Now people in their mid 20’s, already established, comfortable in themselves, still use media a lot, and in many forms for many reasons. These folks still go to the movies, but these professional people are more likely to come home after work, throw on the tube and finish up what they couldn’t get done so they can go out and have the lives they want to be living on the weekend. They may stumble across something that they enjoy, usually something numbing and pull themselves away from, I’m guessing some sort of laptop with Intertubes, to watch the entirety of a 22-minute episode, checking any given mobile device on the commercials. In fact, it might be so “just what I needed” that they start to PVR it so they can come home and have it. Again I say, good for you. Enjoy!

But based on the math already, that traditional demographic is broken which means the Grail is already lost….