Monday, 6 October 2008

Choosing the wrong denominator

Matthew Yglesias demonstrates innumeracy in action:

We got an interesting experiment this weekend as Bill Maher’s anti-religious screed Religulous and David Zucker’s right-wing satire An American Carol both opened. The two films were about tied in terms of total revenue but Carol was on three times as many screens, so basically Religulous was far more successful.

I think this mostly reflects something I wrote about a couple of years ago — the moviegoing audience is very demographically similar to the Democratic Party voting audience. It’s disproportionately young, disproportionately childless, and tilted toward residents of big cities and away from residents of rural communities. Conversely, the audience for television news is demographically very conservative (older, white, and a bit more prosperous than average) which is one major reason TV news coverage tilts right. The big screen audience for what looks like a witless screed against God is just a lot bigger than the big screen audience for what looks like a witless screed against Michael Moore.

Actually, since total revenue for both movies was about the same, it would appear that the “big screen audience” for crappy polemical Bill Maher movies is about the same as the “big screen audience” for crappy polemical David Zucker movies. Further, since I’d guess Carol probably played in theaters with lower ticket prices on average than Religulous, the former probably did a little better in terms of the total audience.

Yglesias also makes the rather faulty assumption that the per-screen average revenue would remain flat as screens increased. This result only obtains if moviegoers don’t select theaters based on what movies are playing at them or if screens are very distant from each other geographically; while surely there are some people who just go to the movies to see something without deciding beforehand which movie to see, I doubt there are enough of these people to ensure Maher’s movie would gain a substantially larger audience, except in the relatively uncommon cases where the film just isn’t on at any theater in a metropolitan area and there is a substantial number of people who want to see it.

Besides, all the discerning moviegoers were at Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist this weekend anyway.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.
[Permalink] 1. Rick Almeida wrote @ Mon, 6 Oct 2008, 6:31 pm CDT:

“Besides, all the discerning moviegoers were at Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist this weekend anyway.”

Ugh, we saw this on Saturday, and while it had moments, for the most part it struck me as a mashup of Juno and Adventures in Babysitting.


I never saw Adventures in Babysitting, but I’ll assume that’s not a compliment.

Then again (a) I really liked Juno and (b) I’m a huge Michael Cera fan going back to Arrested Development. And I tend to like high school/college movies since I get to live that period of my life vicariously through them (alas, I had no life until I was in at least my mid-20s).

[Permalink] 3. Alfie Sumrall wrote @ Wed, 8 Oct 2008, 6:54 am CDT:

I can’t believe the Kirk Cameron religious movie “Fireproof” made the top 10. I guess enough mega churches bought tickets to distribute to their flocks.

And, Chris, I still love high school-college movies to the ever-increasing chagrin of my suddenly mature (yeah right) 26 year old wife.

[Permalink] 4. Rick Almeida wrote @ Wed, 8 Oct 2008, 7:47 am CDT:

Oh, you should rent Adventures in Babysitting. It’s 80s classic, and the protagonists gets saved by Thor!

It wasn’t meant as an insult, rather, just that N&NIP didn’t really do anything that moved me. I don’t regret the $15, but there wasn’t much there.

Rent Adventures in Babysitting.

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