While the tragic shootings on July 20, 2012 instantly rocked the suburban community of Aurora, Colorado, the full impact of the events may continue to be felt in Hollywood and elsewhere for years to come.
After the initial shock of the tragedy began to wear off, people started looking for answers. A national dialogue arose with people seeking to understand how anyone could randomly start shooting people in a crowded theater and what should be done to prevent such things in the future. While many national pundits had their own opinions, as is our usual approach, we decided to ask the public what they thought. For this analysis, we went out to 500 Representative US Adults and 300 Tweens between the ages of 12- 15. The survey was placed August 3rd – 6th, 2012, a little over a week after the shootings.
TOLERANCE FOR VIOLENCE?
Some of the first commentaries to come out after the shootings raised the question about the role that violence in movies and TV has played in a perceived increased in the number of ‘Random Acts of Violence’. In our survey, we asked US adults and Tweens how their level of concern regarding violence in movies and on TV had changed since the tragedy. We found that over 1/3 of adults (34%) claimed that their level of concern was ‘A lot more’ or ‘Somewhat More’. Among Tweens the increase in concern was less than that of Adults, but it was still 3 in 10 (30%).
The increased concern shown by Tweens is something that should worry movie producers, as there has been a steady decline in movie-going market of the 12 – 24 year old age demographic. Since from 1975 – 2010, the 12 – 24 age group has gone from 60% of the market down to 32%.
When we looked at the Adult data broken down by gender, there was a significant difference in attitude. The increase in concern among Females was nearly 2X higher than among Males (42% vs. 24%). Among Tweens, the concern data did not show the same disparity.
IMPACT ON MOVIE ATTENDANCE
The majority of respondents, both Adults (80%) and Tweens (76%) said that they would probably see the same number of movies in theaters as they would have if the shooting had not occurred. However, 19% of Tweens and 18% of Adults claimed that they would see fewer movies at the theater. If 19% of the 221 Million moviegoers in 2011 were to watch one less movie, the financial impact would be a $333 Million annual reduction in sales (42 Million people times an average ticket price of $7.93). It is true that often times after a significant cultural event, there is a temporary behavioral shift that reverts back to the norm over time. In this case however, the rapid expansion of On-Demand Viewing and other emerging digital entertainment technologies makes the true long-term impact difficult to predict. As consumers seek alternatives to the theatrical movie experience, this provides a real window of opportunity for at-home or mobile content providers to reach audiences that previously would have been difficult to reach.
As concerns over random acts of violence increases, there have been significant debates over what, if anything should be done to minimize the possibility of similar events happening in the future. The two primary trains of thought have been to either regulate the amount of violence shown in TV and movies or to place further restrictions on gun use and ownership.
The prevailing attitude among Adults is that there needs to be a ‘stricter stand taken against the depiction of violence in movies and TV shows’, by a 55% preference over ‘stricter gun laws’. There is less than 1% difference in the attitudes of Men vs. Women, which is surprisingly consistent relative to other cultural data we have seen where the is a much lower level of agreement between the genders.
When looking through the data from any of our research, we regularly create and evaluate a large series of breakouts in search of sub-groups of people who drive the overall data either up or down. In this case, our diligence was justified as we made a very interesting discovery.
The largest factors that we were able to identify which influenced respondent attitudes toward regulation were marital status and presence of children. If one was married, there was a 16-point shift in attitude in favor of more regulations on violence in entertainment. If the respondent was also a parent, the preference for entertainment regulations increased another 8 points.
Overall, the change in preference for regulations on entertainment between Single Adults and Married with Children was 24 points. This was not due to generational attitudes towards firearms as there was no discernable pattern when the data was analyzed using age demographics.
Among Tweens, there is a slight preference for stricter gun laws, with a slight 52% preference over restrictions in entertainment. It seems a bit counter-intuitive, but Tween Males actually favored more gun restrictions (56 vs. 44) while Tween Females slightly favored greater restrictions on violence in entertainment (52 vs. 48). We also saw that Rural Tweens were much more favoring restrictions on entertainment (65%) while City Tweens favored more gun control (52%) in a dynamic that mirrored the Adult data.
As Hollywood continues to struggle to offset declines in movie attendance and grow box office revenue by raising ticket prices and offering premium-priced 3D options the Dark Knight shootings make this challenge even more difficult. As a small, but meaningful portion of moviegoers seeks alternatives to theatrical movies for their entertainment needs, expect continued growth in the On-Demand market. There also appears to be an increasing distaste for violence both on TV and in movies, particularly among Parents. At a minimum, this suggests lower interest and audience for the more violent content and could potentially lead to government intervention if public opinion continues to move in this direction and the industry does not make some attempt to self-regulate.