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Moviegoing More Than Just Entertainment

So why do people go to movies?

A hot Saturday night date. Relief from workaday stress. An outing with friends or a need to catch a flick everyone is talking about. Moviegoing is such an integral part of American culture that the experience goes far beyond that of “entertainment.”

This key point stood out in an overview, presented in Las Vegas Tuesday at the NATO/ShoWest film industry convention, of a recently completed market research study aimed at finding out why people go to movies.

They go for reasons that are “unique and beneficial,” according to the survey conducted by Yankelovich Partners Inc. Those reasons have as much, if not more, to do with social learning and escape from personal isolation than entertainment.

“We go to the movies to cross the transom of our social universe and enter the lives of people we cannot know in our own neighborhoods,” said James Taylor of Yankelovich Partners. “Movies deliver knowledge and ideas.”

Taylor said focus groups last May in six cities across the country resulted in a comprehensive survey questionnaire about why and when people attend movies. The research firm talked to 1,204 people in 26 cities in in-person sessions that lasted about a hour. The age range was 16 to 54 years and the sampling was balanced geographically and demographically. It also included a significant number of nonmoviegoers.

Taylor said the survey pointed toward three segments of frequent moviegoers his company felt the industry needed to focus on to increase attendance. As for the nonmoviegoer - people he characterized as “not particularly social and (lacking) a strong need to know what’s going on in the world” - he advised the industry to ignore this segment.

The three groups targeted, he said, accounted for 37 percent of American adults. But they buy more than 57 percent of the movie tickets.

Taylor labeled the first group “fantastics.” These, he said, are movie buffs who “feel like they are a part of the industry itself as much so as the actors and directors and professionals who work in the industry.”

The second group or “connoisseurs” go for films that “are both thoughtful and provocative.” For this group, movies are “training ground in social reality.”

The third and youngest audience he termed “way-in’s.” These want to be “fashionable, hip and trendy and part of the crowd.” They are more likely to go to the box-office blockbusters so they can talk about it among their social circle. Moviegoing for way-in’s “is the cool thing to do,” he added.

Another group which the survey isolated are the “empty nesters,” adults whose children have moved out of the house. The survey demonstrated that an adult audience between ages 45 and 54 was “an emerging audience of great significance to long-term growth for the industry.”

All these groups share a common denominator: They are all outgoing people.

As for the physical theaters themselves, the survey found that people cared little which chain theater they attend. Moviegoers “choose the theater due to the movie that’s playing on the screen,” Taylor said.

However, “a bad or undesirable theater can drive people away,” he said. What moviegoers most desire is a clean environment, friendly employees, “tasty” concessions and safety both in and around the theater itself.