For reasons I’m not entirely clear on, I was curious about the distribution of movie theatres in the United States. Looking around on other blogs, and discussing movies with all of you, it’s pretty obvious that ticket prices vary pretty wildly, and I got to wondering what that actually looked like, whether some states were more populated with movie viewing opportunities, and whether any rhyme or reason could be determined from any of this.
When I was done, I figured it might be at least a little interesting to share.
There are a couple sites I went to for my information. First, I wanted to know the populations of the 50 states, plus D.C. and Puerto Rico. (Why Puerto Rico? I was just curious. It’s been a bit of a dull night.) So I looked up the results of the 2010 census, and found the numbers on Exploredia. Then I went to Box Office Mojo for numbers on the theatres themselves.
I decided to go by the total number of screens, rather than the number of actual theatres — figuring that most people would agree that one theatre with 10 screens is better than 2 theatres with 4 screens each, assuming all the places are within a reasonable distance. I then calculated the number of screens per 100,000 people in each state/region. I’ll include an MS Word file below (strangely, WP doesn’t allow the attachment of a plain text file…) for those who want the raw data, but I figure most people, if interested at all, will just want an overview. So I laid the results out on a map, normalizing the results and coloring according to whether they had more or less than the average, and by how much. States in white have a screen/population ratio that is approximately 14 per 100,000, when rounded to the nearest whole number. This is the nation-wide ratio, hence picking it as the midpoint. Blue states have more screens, red states have fewer. Deeper colors mean a greater difference from the average.
We can see some interesting things going on here. First, there are a fair number of white states — most of the most-heavily populated states are right at that magic “14”, give or take a screen (though New York comes in pretty low at 11.37). Some of the lower-populated areas are a bit screen-heavy, and there’s quite the sea of blue west of the Mississippi. But there are some areas that are not so fortunate in their theatre options. Now, the lowest is Puerto Rico, with only 8.64 screens per 100,000 people, but that’s not too surprising. The U.S.’s most prominent territory is fairly populous, but is probably something of an afterthought for cinema chains. What’s interesting, though, is that Delaware is only just barely beating Puerto Rico; at 8.77 it’s the lowest-ranked of the parts of the U.S. with an electoral vote. I have to wonder what the story is there; my headline jokes that Delaware hates movies, but I kind of doubt that’s the case. Initially, I figured that being a small state geographically, and surrounded by other highly populated states, perhaps the people of Delaware simply cross state borders for their movie going. But there are a lot of other red states around Delaware as well, if none quite so deeply crimson. That whole area seems under-served in cinema, which is a bit strange; stranger still is that New York, one of those highly-populated states which are usually right at the national average, is one of the worse offenders.
There’s another spot of low-screenage down south, and like the Northeast spot, one of the states there is particularly low. Mississippi weighs in at a paltry 9.47, making it the sole other state to come in under 10 screens. I’m not sure what to make of these spots, as I would expect that cinema chains do regular marketing studies and base their deployment of theatres on the apparent demand. Are these areas really that much more disinterested in movies than the rest of the nation? And what does this mean about the deep blue areas? Some of it’s due to low-population areas with the same number of screens as high-population areas, but that’s not always the case. Utah has the same population as Mississippi (about 2.8 million, give or take a hundred thou) but has over twice as many screens, with 21.24 screens per 100,000 residents. But even it’s not the peak; Wyoming (pop. 563,626) has a whopping 23.6 score. Now, it’s possible some of this might be driven by the tourist trade, but even so, that seems impressively high. (And now I’m picturing New Yorkers trying to wrap their heads around the idea that people in Wyoming have more than twice the potential viewing options they do.)
But what about the ticket prices? Prices are a factor of supply and demand; lower supply + high demand = high prices; low demand = lower prices, as a rule. Does looking at a map of that tell us anything interesting?
The prices used here are the state average for adult movie tickets, as provided by Box Office Mojo (I presume standard non-3D, non-IMAX tickets). The nation-wide average is $7.67 (this average was calculated without Puerto Rico; at $3.50 P.R. was an obvious outlier). Some things do become pretty clear looking at this map; high-populated states tend to have the higher prices (though Texas is an exception). There aren’t a lot of states that are above the average, but those which are tend to be greatly above average. And our Atlantic Coast trouble-spot is a trouble-spot here as well. The same states up there which lacked screens have some truly exorbitant prices, so it seems like it’s just tough all around for movie-goers in that area (the southern trouble-spot is more inconsistent). The biggest offender price-wise is Washington, D.C., at $10.46; with Virginia averaging only a slightly-high $7.91 it would almost be worth it for people to drive over the border (though I suspect it’s the towns near D.C. that are raising Virginia’s average). Other areas in that region are bearing a deep shade of scarlet as well; most of them are at least a dollar over the national average (Delaware being “only” 50 cents higher) and a few — New Jersey and Rhode Island — are around $9.50. The rest of the nation has the occasional high-price state, but California’s the only one outside that area to break the nine dollar mark. I’m guessing the combination of Hollywood and having some of the most populated cities in the nation are largely responsible for that, but I don’t know.
On the positive side of things, there are a lot of “green” states where the prices are below the average (mathematically, you can see that the Northeast is seriously skewing the average higher — there simply aren’t enough above-average states to bring it as high as it is if it weren’t for the ones that are leagues beyond everybody else.) A couple, Idaho and Iowa, even come in a little under $6. Low population areas tend to have lower prices, in accordance with the laws of supply and demand (though one would think Wyoming’s would be through the floor, all things considered….)
What does all of this mean? I don’t know, exactly; I’m no economist, and I’m not really a statistician. But by comparing the two maps we can at least draw some rough guesses as to where it’s good to be a movie fan. I live in Oregon, and the map agrees with my personal observations that there are plenty of options and reasonable prices. Across the rest of the nation, it looks like Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah are pretty good places for film-goers (which I wouldn’t have predicted before this), with some of the lowest ticket prices around and a plethora of screens. But really, just about any place is good unless you’re in California, the south-east, or especially the north-east. Delaware may or may not hate movies, but it seems that the cinema owners hate Delaware, and most of New England.
For those wanting to look at the data itself: MovieScreensPerCapita.doc