Tika Sumpter, Niecy Nash, Kevin Hart

Tika Sumpter, Niecy Nash and Kevin Hart attend the “Ride Along” Los Angeles premiere held at TCL Chinese Theatre, Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, in Hollywood, Calif. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Invision/AP)

At the recent CinemaCon gathering in Las Vegas, movie theater owners and industry professionals were presented with new data that highlighted the growing importance of African-American audiences. It was good news, but not entirely unexpected. The Motion Pictures Association of America has been tracking data on Black movie ticket buyers for a few years, and 2013 was exceptional in the number of offerings that featured popular Black screen stars or tackled Black subjects.

The financial success of “Lee Daniels The Butler,” and “12 Years A Slave” was also claimed victory not only in receipts, but attracted a wider audience with their critical acclaim. Add to that list hit comedies like “The Best Man Holiday” and “Ride Along,” and it was a little easier for theaters and studios alike to be more convinced about the untapped potential.

The MPAA presentation points out that the share of tickets sold to Whites and Hispanics declined, while the share of tickets sold to African-Americans increased for the first time since 2009. African-Americans attended the movies on average more often than whites (4.2 times per year versus 3.4) in 2013.

Among the studio’s biggest or “tent pole” films, African-Americans proved vital to box office success. The African-American audience contributed a relatively high percentage (22%) to the box office earned from Iron Man 3, five percentage points above the average (17%) they represent among all moviegoers.

According to Target Market News’ report, The Buying Power of Black America, Black consumers spend more than $1.1 billion annually on movie tickets.

Black moviegoers may actually have turned out in larger percentages than the report reflects. The survey asked respondents to self-identify themselves as white, African-American, Hispanic or other. It did not, however, ask those who said they were Hispanic what race they are [Hispanic identifies an ethnicity, not a race]. It is likely that a significant portion of those who said they are Hispanic were also Black. Black Hispanics represent one of the fastest growing segments of the Hispanic population.

The MPAA commissioned Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) International to study motion picture cinema attendance in the United States. A survey was conducted among a national probability sample of 4,988 adults comprising 2,504 men and 2,484 women 18 years of age and older, living in private households in the continental United States. Completed interviews consisted of 35% conducted via cell phone and 65% conducted via landline.

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