Shifts, Film Buying,
and Theatre Construction
in data produced by the 2000 U.S. Census lies a wealth of information
useful for exhibitors. In this column I will highlight just one
population trend that should be considered for the purposes of film
buying and theatre construction. Specifically, the recent Census
suggests an important role-reversal between cities and suburbs.
This trend was identified and described in a study by the Brookings
Institution released in February.
For the first time, young singles, elderly widows and other such
non-family households outnumber married-with-children
homes in U.S. suburbs. Meanwhile, on the flip side of the coin,
the percentage of married-with-children families is increasing in
many growing cities, particularly in the South and the West.
The Suburbs. According to the analysis of demographer William
H. Frey,a co-author of the Brookings report, there are now 12.8
million non-family households in the suburbs of the nations
102 largest metropolitan areas, and 11.7 million married-with-children
households. This ratio is almost perfectly reversed from that found
in the 1990 Census.
Non-family households accounted for most of the suburban growth
that occurred in 32 older northern cities, including Buffalo, N.Y.,
Detroit, Pittsburgh and Providence, R.I. In some locations, such
as Cleveland and St. Louis, the number of married-with-children
households in the suburbs actually dropped. Suburbs also broadened
in terms of diversity, where a growing job market fueled population
gains among minorities and immigrants. The suburbs increasingly
are becoming a microcosm of America, noted demographer Frey.
During the 1990s, central cities grew more than they had in three
decades on a national basis. Important differences can be noted,
however, when the data is broken down by region.
In the South and the West cities grew the fastest. Much of that
growth came from married couples with children. Northern and Midwestern
cities, however, generally experienced slow growth or even some
population declines. In those locations, fewer married couples with
children came in from the suburbs. Some cities, such as Denver,
grew mainly because they are attracting new families from other
parts of the country. Immigrant families, however, drove growth
in cities like Anaheim, Calif.
For the growth cities of the South and the Midwest, families moved
into town because those cities have more of a suburban feel than
their counterparts in the Northeast with newer housing and
lack of intense population density. As those cities fill up, it
is possible that the appeal to families will diminish over time.
Effects of the Population Shifts. Exhibitors can draw several
conclusions from these changes. In the cities, the growth of families
is driving the need for revived commercial districts. Obviously,
more entertainment options for children are necessary in these areas.
In the past, cities offered some special-occasion family destinations,
such as museums. Now, more frequently visited family sites, such
as movie theatres showing family-friendly films, may be necessary.
In the suburbs, the demand for entertainment options is also changing.
An increasing ratio of singles in many suburban areas has created
demand for suburban bars and clubs. Similarly, film buying preferences
in those areas may need to change as well. Indeed, the day when
art houses were located almost exclusively in the cities may be
gone forever. Similarly, luxury cinemas may play well
in suburban areas with significant singles growth.
Exhibitors tend to know their patrons and their geographical area
of operation well. A little time with the census data, however,
may enable theatre operators to hone their development and film-buying
strategies even more. As the data from the 2000 Census continues
to be subjected to analysis, other trends may be important for our
industry. NATO will continue to pass on the information as it becomes