INDUSTRY INSIGHTS: Latinos Booming at the Box Office

By NALIP member Marcia Nunes, Cinemarcia

Over the past decade, we have seen the rise of a powerful new consumer class in the entertainment space - Latinos are increasingly becoming one of the most important demographics on the market.

According to the annual Multicultural Economy report produced by the Selig Center for Economic Growth, Latinos have experienced a 108% gain in disposable income over the past ten years, a large part of which has been used towards entertainment spending. In fact, Latino households boosted their yearly entertainment budgets by 23.9% in the previous 10 years, while most other demographic groups tightened discretionary spending. The current Latino buying power in the United States is at $1 trillion, making it larger than the national economies of all but 14 countries in the world.  Moreover, this buying power is expected to grow another 50% in the next three years, to $1.5 trillion in 2015.

What this means for the film business is a huge amount of unexplored potential. The Latino market has not been directly catered to until quite recently, and the possibilities are only beginning to be tapped. In the past couple of years, demographic studies have all shown the Latino population as the most voracious moviegoers. While overall admissions in the United States were down 4% from 2010 (according to 2011's MPAA Theatrical Market Statistics report), Latinos were more likely than any other demographic group to go to the movies. They report the highest annual attendance per capita, seeing an average of five movies a year. And while Latinos only represent 16% of the country's population, they represent 24% of all frequent moviegoers (those who attend at least one movie per month), a group that drives 50% of the country's yearly box office intake.

Because there is no single "Latino" culture, defining what types of entertainment will appeal to the group is complex. Traditionally, action movies and romantic comedies have been big draws. However, as more content has been created by Latinos and for Latinos, we have seen the market follow. It is now normal to see a telenovela on broadcast's top 10 ratings charts at least once a week, and channels like Telemundo and Univision are among the most profitable on television.

In the art-house sphere, it is worth noting that La Misma Luna was released by The Weinstein Company in almost double the screens as City of God had been released in five years earlier, and grossed almost twice what City of God did, despite being a much more dramatic film with less expected wide-market appeal. At this year's Cannes Film Festival, 10 of the films in the official selection were of Latin American origin, and the top prizes in each of the festival's sidebars (Un Certain Regard, Director's Fortnight and Critics' Week) went to Latin American films (Despues de Lucia, No and Aqui y Alla, respectively). This shows not only an appetite for more content dealing with the Latino experience, but also a willingness on independent filmmakers' part to create content where none has been created by the mainstream media.

It will be interesting to see how the mainstream embraces this cultural shift in the coming years. Pixar has already announced an animated feature based on the Mexican "Dia de los Muertos" celebration.