Do audiences care if a Broadway show is in previews? Survey says . . .

Oh Spidey . . . you just can’t keep your name out of the papers.

And, based on the 1.8 million bucks you did over Christmas week, I bet you’re starting not to care.

The latest bit of publicity about the uber-musical hit the wires late last week when Bill de Blasio, a NYC public advocate, sent a letter to the Department of Consumer Affairs stating that Spidey was in violation of the law, due to its extended preview period, and their alleged failure to disclose this information to ticket buyers.

While part of me believes Mr. de Blasio is looking to catch a ride on the Spider-Man publicity train in order to further his own political ambitions, this is not the first time this argument has been made (anyone remember Nick and Nora?).

This bit of news started an internal debate between the two sides of my mind.  Do we have to do more to distinguish between opening and previews?  Should we charge less?  And then came the big question . . . do consumers really care?

I formulated my own opinion (surprise, surprise) and then realized that if I really wanted to find out if consumers cared, I needed to talk to consumers!

So, I sent my trusty weekend intern Jason out into the cold to chat with folks in the TKTS line and find out!

We asked 100 US residents if knowing that a show was in previews made them more inclined to see it, less inclined to see it, or if it made no difference at all.

Ready to see the results?

Not so fast.  Before I reveal to you what they thought . . . what do you THINK they thought?  Come on, imagine this is The Price is Right and you have to guess before you see how much that box of Wheaties actually costs.

What percentage was more inclined?  Less inclined?  And what percentage didn’t give a flying superhero.

Here are the results:

12% were MORE inclined to see a show in previews.
18% were LESS inclined to see a show in previews.
70% didn’t care either way.

Surprising? Not to me.

Now, as with any survey, you have to take into account the group sampled (and the size of that group).  A TKTS audience may be only in town for a short period of time, and have a totally different criteria for making that choice.  A NYC resident theatergoer may want to wait until a show is fully cooked before taking a bite.  Admittedly this was a down-and-dirty survey.

But it still says something.

The audience just wants in.

However, the bigger challenge for the Producer is that if your show is a bit “rare” during previews, you should be more concerned about what the audience is saying on the way out of the theater.  Because if they don’t care that the show is in previews, then they’re not going to cut you any slack for it either.  For them, it’s just there . . . so you better be prepared to give them the goods.

We love talking to the folks on line at the TKTS booth.  Wanna see what we’ve asked them in the past?

– Read the results of our survey of WHO is actually standing in that line here.

– Read the results of our “When I say Broadway, you say . . . ” survey here.

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  • Esther says:

    Hey Ken,
    Obviously the response to any poll depends on who you ask and how you frame the question. I have to respectfully disagree with your sample and your methodology.
    If you believe the Broadway League’s statistics, 63 percent of Broadway tickets are purchased by tourists. I wonder how many out-of-town visitors there were in the TKTS line the second week in January versus, say, the middle of July? I don’t believe you’ve asked an accurate sample of the “Broadway audience.”
    Secondly, I wonder if you would have gotten a different response if you’d asked the question this way: Would you want to see a show in which some of the actors may not know their lines, the sets may get stuck, forcing the show to stop, and songs or dialogue may get added or cut as performances progress toward opening night? That’s what a “preview” really means in some cases.

  • dan mason says:

    Because I usually travel to the city during the first week of April, I’m used to seeing previews for the newest shows. 90 percent of the time, it’s not an issue. I’ve found that most shows at that point are only making minor tweaks, and the actors are ready to put the material up in front of an audience. I’ve seldom left feeling like I didn’t get my money’s worth. However, last October, we attended the first preview for “Women on The Verge”, and realized that for our $140 tickets, we were being treated to the first time the cast had run the show. Bartlet Sher came out and asked the audience for a lot of love, and initially, we were interested in watching the process. That feeling lasted about 10 minutes. The set didn’t work, the stage crew was onstage as much as the actors. And despite the extraordinary star power, the cast looked kind of lost and borderline disinterested. Tech problems were somewhat forgiveable, but when the actors are not ready to go, it’s a problem for me. Should I have paid full price for that? I don’t believe so.
    Ken’s point is well taken about bad word of mouth. WOTV was panned by everyone who saw it in the first two weeks of previews, and the show ended up closing earlier than it’s already limited engagement.

  • Tom says:

    I can understand why most people chose not to care if it was in previews since they were already standing at the discount TKTS site. I doubt the precentages would be the same if they were paying full price for a preview.
    I remember Nick and Nora well, and I paid preview prices to see the show. Charging full ticket prices was an incentive for them to Officially open, unfortunately to close only 9 days later.

  • MWS says:

    I am also not sure that this should be a “rule by majority” type of thing. I think the almost 20% of the people who are less inclined to see a show in previews have the right to know the show is in previews. (Like people who allergic to peanuts . . . should have things labeled they have peanuts . . .)
    I recently noted that all the way through the Spiderman web site, all the way up to the point you type in your credit card number, you are never educated to the fact you are buying full priced tickets to a preview performance.
    Now, if the results are true for the survey . . . 70% won’t care if the performance is labeled as preview, and 12% might be even more excited to see it (including me – I was very excited to see the first preview of Dance of the Vampires . . . including the 35 minute intermission) . . . then is there a great financial loss in announcing the show is in previews?

  • Jed Harris says:

    Is it really a coincidence that the same percentage of people who don’t care if they’re previews or not, is almost the same percentage that make up the Broadway audience today….TOURISTS?

  • Jason Epperson says:

    I agree with most of the comments and would be really interested in the response if you asked them if they want to be AWARE that it’s a preview before purchasing a ticket and if the price should be lower for a preview? And would they be more inclined to go to a preview if the price point was more accessible. I think what MWS has to say is very interesting…are producers even benifiting from hiding the fact that they are in previews. I know certainly in most “regional” theaters there is a good price difference and previews are certainly advertised as such. Many people go to these shows because they couldn’t afford to otherwise (new and untapped audiences!) Others go because they want to give their opinion on it before the reviewers do, and some just want to be among the first to see a show. So, can you actually use previews as a selling point on some shows?

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