BY AARON SAGERS
In one of the most extensive studies on Halloween and the horror genre, research from cable network and website FEARnet shows the entire country has been overtaken by Oct. 31 fever - with the business of scary becoming a multi-billion-dollar industry.
According to the study (the graphic for which, left, is embiggenable), in 2011, Halloween-related spending "neared 7 billion dollars; up from 3.29 billion dollars in 2005." What's more, the research revealed that most people will spend, on average, $72 on costumes, candy and decorations. And you know those pop-up Halloween stores that overtake mini-malls each season? There will be an estimated 15,000 of them to choose from. Additionally, there will be a potential 41 million trick-or-treaters, and costume sales for them will drum about a billion bucks. Costumes for adults will rake in about $1.2 billion. The outfits for Fido, Tabby and the nation's pets will generate $310 million. On the candy front, the sweets industry makes more during Halloween - about 23 percent of its annual sales - than in any other season.
All these numbers add up to what horror nerds have instinctively known for years: Scary is a lifestyle.
"That’s why it surprises me that more people don’t realize that this genre isn’t just a Halloween business," said Peter Block, president and general manager of FEARnet (and former President of Acquistions & Co-Productions at Lionsgate). "There’s a reason adults spend so much money on costumes each year; We want to revisit what we loved as children."
That desire extends to about 44 percent of people choosing to dress in costume each year, and 23% planning to visit one of more than 300 haunted house attractions at theme parks, historic sites, zoos, etc. - and generating upwards of $200 million annually for those venues.
"This genre is a passion, and there’s no on/off switch for people’s passions—it doesn’t just start up during October and fade away once November arrives," Block said.
"There’s a constant thirst for it," he added. "People love being scared, and they love being scared together ... We’re seeing this addressed more and more, especially on TV, where just about every network has a genre show."
Block's point is a good one. On the television front, season three of AMC's zombie drama The Walking Dead bowed to about 11 million viewers when it debuted Oct. 14. Then there are other horror-themed shows like Grimm, 666 Park Avenue, American Horror Story, Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Dexter, all of which command dedicated fan bases. And more horror series like The Following and Hannibal are on the way.
Within the film community, the Halloween spirit continues beyond Oct. 31 as well.
Last year's Paranormal Activity 3 opened with $53 million in its first weekend. That made it the biggest October opening ever, and contributed to the $3.3 billion that the horror/thriller/suspense genre earned in 2011. According to the FEARnet research, January 2012's The Devil Inside had the third biggest opening in history for that month, and the Saw films, the top-grossing horror franchise, has earned $873 million.
Block acknowledged that horror has traditionally been a genre that many advertisers have stayed away from, but that, "right now, it’s something to be embraced, and advertising is beginning to reflect this."
"At the end of the day, advertisers are always going to go where the eyeballs are," he said.