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How Kevin Costner's hit show 'Yellowstone' is proving a CURSE for Montana residents

Paramount’s hit streaming show has given wealthy individuals an idea of what it would be like to become a real-life baron of Montana
The production of the show Yellowstone has impacted the economy of Montana significantly with an influx of the wealthy individuals in the state (Courtesy: Paramount Pictures)
The production of the show Yellowstone has impacted the economy of Montana significantly with an influx of the wealthy individuals in the state (Courtesy: Paramount Pictures)

“Yellowstone” has become one of the hit shows streaming. Filmed on location in the West, much of it in Montana, the scripted drama tells the story of a modern-day ranch owner John Dutton, played by Kevin Costner, and his family dynasty. The storyline is highly captivating, with back-stabbing and family intrigue, high-stakes power plays, and dramatic plot twists. And, the cinematography is the major element of the appeal. Snow-capped mountains and charming small towns are captured throughout the episodes.

However, the show has received huge criticism from the local residents of Montana. Ginger Rice, a lifelong resident of the state, told CNBC that she initially vowed not to watch the series after seeing just one episode. “It’s unreal,” she said. “It doesn’t portray Bozeman or Montana life as far as I’m concerned." “Do you see what our state looks like? The mountains and prairies, and who can’t love this?” he added.


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The production of the show has impacted the economy of the state significantly. According to a study by the University of Montana, when season four was shot on location last year, the production spent $72 million dollars in the state, with businesses in the state getting another $85 million economic boost. The study was funded, in part by Paramount, which owns the show.


"The production of season 4 of the Yellowstone television series employed a total of 116 Montana residents in the Montana-based activities associated with the filming. These workers worked an average of approximately 11 40-hour weeks and earned compensation of about $3.1 million", the report stated. That study did not quantify the impact of all the free advertising Montana gets from “Yellowstone." But it's clear that the hit show has given wealthy individuals an idea of what it would be like to become a real-life baron of Montana.

As demand for land and homes has increased, the prices have also surged, which is squeezing the native Montanans and others with lower income from the higher rents and property prices. Around Bozeman, the median cost of a single-family home spiked from less than $500,000 before the pandemic to nearly $750,000 according to the Gallatin Association of Realtors. The areas around Missoula and Kalispell saw even more dramatic price increases. Rents are so high that even working professionals are having a tough time finding housing they can afford. And some landlords, seeking higher rents, aren’t renewing leases with tenants.

Rice, a lifetime Montana resident, said her daughter and son-in-law were recently served notice that their landlord would not renew their lease in a three-bedroom home they’d rented for more than a decade. It was a mad scramble even to find a two-bedroom apartment at three times the rent they were paying, she said.
“My daughter says we’ll never be able to afford a house,” she said. “We tried to save but everything’s going up and up and up.”

A shot from the show 'Yellowstone' (Courtesy: Paramount pictures)

Montana, the eighth smallest state by population, now has a population of more than 1.1 million people. From 2010 to 2020, the state grew by 9.6% according to the US. Census Bureau. Then came Covid and remote work. In 2021, Montana became one of the fastest-growing locations in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“A lot of our clients during the pandemic, came out and found shelter at the ranches, a safe place to be and no people around,” says Tim Murphy, a longtime ranch broker from Bozeman and partner at Hall & Hall.

Last year, Chris Kimbrell, who had been living in Georgia, joined the mass migration to Montana, for a job as a veterinarian in Bozeman. From his very first visit as a 9-year-old, he said he was hooked on the state and kept making return trips for fly fishing through college.
Some families, even those with full-time employment, are moving into recreational vehicles or tents. The local roads are now scattered with people in campers who can no longer afford to pay rent or own a house. Habitat for Humanity calls it a housing crisis. “Montana has quickly become inaccessible to those who live and work here,” said the nonprofit, which is pushing lawmakers to prioritize housing affordability.

Longtime residents also criticize the cultural divide between newcomers and native Montanans. They frown on newcomers buying property but refusing to join in and commit to their communities. Rice, the local resident quietly complains that Bozeman is crammed with “highfalutin people” wearing posh attire who make her feel uncomfortable around them. And she says downtown has become nearly unrecognizable.

Many of the newcomers arrive in Montana with huge investments and entrepreneurial aspirations that fuel Montana’s growing economy. Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office said in May the state economy grew by 6.7% in 2021, the fastest pace in more than 40 years, making it the seventh-fastest growing state economy in the nation.