Coronavirus Is Changing the Film Industry and How It Markets Entertainment to African-American Consumers

Many studios are finding that African-American salons and barbershops offer a unique platform for reaching black communities—even when they can’t open for business.

You might not think that Hollywood and black beauty venues have much in common, but these days businesses of every size all share the same threat—social distancing. It is just as difficult to maintain six feet between people in a salon or barbershop as it is in a movie theater that relies on big crowds to pay the bills. Both of these business models will have to change how they operate to move forward. Thanks to African-American media habits, they are finding ways to do it together.

Even before COVID, African-Americans consumed 21% more media content than any other demographic in America, watching 40% more television and visiting movie theaters more often than the total market does. Often, African-Americans will see a movie they like several times just to support those who made it or acted in it and encourage Hollywood to make similar content in the future. As we are all forced to shelter in, this dedication to the theater experience has now been redirected, and African-American audiences are now streaming up to 60% more than they were before COVID. 

TV viewing among all demographics is at an all-time high, and more consumers are signing up for streaming channels because they crave more content. Television can’t perfectly replicate the shared experience of seeing a movie release in a theater, but it provides an opportunity to share the experience in a virtual way, which is the next best thing right now. This is a can’t-miss opportunity for film companies that are rethinking how and when they release new content. 

When most theaters were still closed, some highly anticipated movies such as No Time To Die, Fast Furious: F9, Mulan, and Marvel’s Black Widow had their release dates postponed by months. Other studios have taken a chance on charging big-screen prices for a small-screen premier of movies like Trolls World Tour, which cost $19.99 for a 48-hour rental. 

Now, even as some theaters are slowly opening up again, there are a lot of questions about how distancing regulations will be maintained and whether streaming is the future for the industry. After all, how will we eat popcorn and candy while wearing masks? How can movie theaters survive at half-capacity? And will anyone even show up if they can’t sit with their friends and family to share the experience? 

“There’s no question in my mind that theaters will be back in business one day,” says Paul Dergarabedian, Senior Media Analyst for Comscore. “It just may look a little different. Capacity could be limited by social distancing or the same movie might show on multiple screens.”

Jeff Bock, Senior Box-Office Analyst for Exhibitor Relations adds, “I guarantee (studios) will have a Plan B, and it will be instituted right away if audiences don’t show up because they’re scared or concerned or just don’t feel comfortable. Maybe the next week, they release it on VOD. That’s going to be their safety net going forward.”

It is slowly becoming clear that Hollywood—and its marketing efforts—will have to shift online and focus more on getting people to the couch rather than the box office to survive. African-American audiences have already proven they’re willing to make that shift, making them an even more valuable demographic at this time 

African-American salons and barbershops have also been able to count on the intense loyalty of black consumers, and even though many are still closed, they are actively engaging with their vast social networks that can represent hundreds of thousands of followers. Movie studios that tap into that network can engage in authentic, real-time conversations and promote their film, television, and music projects in unique ways such as giveaways and contests. And as salons and barbershops reopen in the future, that alliance will continue to pay off, enabling studios to place items like branded styling capes, promotional t-shirts, and movie posters in the hands of salon and barbershop owners to help spread the word and build excitement for their projects.

No matter what the future of movie-watching in America looks like, Hollywood can’t afford to lose African-American audiences. How filmmakers market movies to this demographic may have to change, but gatekeepers like salon and barbershop owners can always provide a captive audience.

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