This article originally appeared in
February 1, 2008
Italy: Good country for old men
Europe's oldest population presents challenges for media


By ERIC J. LYMAN

ROME-- The average age
in Italy has been inching
upward every year for a
generation and indications
are that the trend will
continue for decades.
But you'd hardly know it
watching Italian television
or stepping into Italian
cinemas.

According to United
Nations estimates for
2007, the average Italian
is 42.5 years old --
the oldest average
population in Europe.

Italians have more gray on top than the Germans (where the average age is
40.9 years), the Spanish (40.3), the Brits (39.6) or the French (39.1).
Worldwide, only the average Japanese (43.5) is older, while the average
American (36.6) is a relative whippersnapper.

The trend has been building steam on the boot-shaped peninsula for more
than a quarter century. The last time Italy's average age didn't rise from one
year to the next was in 1981, when it held steady at 37.1 years. And with tight
immigration standards, a low birthrate, and improving life expectancy, some
predictions say the average Italian will be nearly 50 years old by 2050.

What are television and film producers doing about the trend? So far, almost
nothing.

"It's true that the demographics are shifting, but at this point it's had little
impact on the makeup of people who go to the cinema," said Paolo Protti,
president of national cinema retailers association ANEC. "The average
moviegoer is still very young."

Protti said that, while the number of young people in Italy is decreasing, the
impact of that trend has been muted because they go to the cinema more
often than in the past, based in part on their having more discretionary
income and more free time -- particularly during the key summer months.

Italy enjoyed record cinema attendance last year -- more than 100 million
cinema tickets were sold for the first time since 1986 -- in large part because
the traditionally slow summer months of June and July were solid. Part of
the reason for that, according to the polling firm Opinioni, is that workers
have less vacation time, leaving their children in the cities while they're not in
school.

"A generation ago, those children would be at the beach for most of the
summer," Opinioni co-director Maria Rossi said. "Now they stay at home for
a lot of that time. They have to find something to do with their time, and it
should be no surprise that a lot of them end up in the cinema."

A lot of them watch television as well. Publitalia, the country's largest media
buying company, said its studies show that the two youngest age groups --
those under 12 and the 13-19 demo -- remain the most attractive to ad
buyers, even as their numbers slowly contract. That's because they remain
the most impressionable and, aside from the over 60 group, the reliable
demographic in terms of what they watch.

"As long as advertisers continue to seek out that age group, television
content producers will continue to make programs for them," said Paolo
Sensi, a Publitalia consultant.

To be sure, some concessions are being made to a gradually ageing
demographic. State broadcaster RAI said in early January that it would start
to air what it called "nostalgia programming" -- reruns of programs popular
in the 1960s, '70s and '80s -- on the weekend in an attempt to tap into the
growing pool of viewers who came of age during those periods.

Ditto for the cinema, where films set a generation in the past are beginning
to appear more often. Last year, Daniele Luchetti's "Mio Fratello e Figlio
Unico" (My Brother Is an Only Child), for example, or "Il Negro e l'Amaro" (The
Sweet and the Bitter) from Andrea Porporati, were surprise art house
successes set in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively.

But marketing films and television programming to an ageing population will
become more difficult as time goes by, experts say.

"Remember that people retiring today have grown up with television and
movies their whole lives," said Giuseppe Mazzei, a communications expert
with Rome's Sapienza University and a frequent commentator on media
issues. "That wasn't true for someone who was 70 or 75 two decades ago.
The oldest viewers today are much more savvy than the same age group
was in the past."

Mazzei predicted that the satellite and cable broadcasters may start
developing new channels specifically aimed at older viewers and that film
producers might follow suit.

"Part of the challenge will be to come up with stories that have themes that
speak to that demographic, whether that's because of nostalgia, actors their
age, or subject matter," Mazzei said. "But something more subtle will be the
challenge of telling stories that treat older people with more dignity. In a lot of
old films, the old colorful guy was often the butt of the joke. I think we'll see
less of that in the future."
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Volume 77; Number 9
Volume 77; Number 9