Friday, January 13, 2012

Data in Review: The Price of Movie Tickets

Why do all movie tickets cost the same?  Movie tickets don't fluctuate in price according to supply and demand. Blockbuster sellouts and movie flops all sell for the same price. To explain this occurence, an article from The Atlantic briefly explains the history of movie prices, demonstrating that during the first half of the twentieth century, movie tickets used to cost different amounts depending on their actors and popularity. Since this time, the system gradually shifted so that ticket prices from the 1970s onwards have been generally uniform across movies.

The line graph depicts how theater attendance fluctuates through the year. Christmas is shown as the high point of the year in terms of ticket sales, while the time periods directly following Easter and Labor Day see relatively low ticket sales.

The chart does have a few shortcomings, however. The article fails to tell us the data's source. We do not know whether the graph is plotting the data from a single theater, or from an aggregate of theaters of over the course of a year. We also don't know when the data were collected. The article doesn't communicate what year or years the data come from, and there is no caption or title to further explain these details. It is also unclear what the unit of measurement is. Does 12% average weekly attendance convey the proportion of seats that are filled in a theater? Does 4% attendance during a given week represent how much that this specific week accounts for in the year's attendance?


Though displaying several trends on one set of axes, the second graph is significantly clearer. The graph shows tickets per capita and the average price of a ticket from 1929 through 2001. Unlike the first graph, the axes are well labeled and they clarify the unit of measure. Although the bar chart and trend graph are superimposed on each other, they utilize the better part of the chart area. Unfortunately, the chart does not include the source of the data or a title, both of which would further clarify the the meaning of the information being represented. It would also be useful to articulate whether admissions prices are adjusted for inflation, a factor that is necessary to take into account when looking at such a large time span.

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