An idea I don’t know how to execute. Maybe you do?

Ok, problem . . . theater tickets are too expensive.

Solution?  Who the @#$% knows?!?

(Actually, the truth is, there are plenty of inexpensive seats to lots of theater, from Off-off Broadway shows to Off-Broadway to yes, even to Broadway shows.  When people say theater tickets are too expensive, they’re generally talking about the most in-demand shows and the most in-demand seats on the most in-demand days.  Which is the equivalent of saying, “Mercedes-Benz is too expensive!  And Telsa, well, don’t even get me started!”  Know what I mean?  There are other cars to buy and plenty of incentives (i.e. discounts) that make that purchase more accessible.)

Don’t get me wrong, of course, I’d love to see even more affordable ways for people to see theater, wherever that is.  I’m often walking up and down the streets wondering how to get more butts in seats, while at the same time paying the high costs of our labor-intensive industry.  And the other day, while riding the subway, and watching someone play Mario Kart on their Samsung, I got an idea. . . that I have no effin’ idea what to do with.

So I thought I’d throw it out to all of you.

Another form of entertainment that’s super expensive?  Video games.  The Mercedes of this industry can be around $60 or higher per game.  Now, that may not seem like a lot compared to one orchestra ticket for Hamiltonbut when you consider the demographics of the video game purchaser, it might as well be the same.

And this is a special problem for mobile game manufacturers.  It has always been challenging to sell a game for a smartphone, because the functionality is less than a desktop, and frankly, there are so many free games available.

So what did the video game companies do?

They added in-game purchases.

You want special features for your character in your favorite middle-ages era role-playing game?  Buy ’em for $1.99.

You want to get a tip on your mobile trivia challenge?  $.99.

The gaming companies are getting you to in their doors for cheap (or nothing!) and then they find a way to charge you when you’re in the door.

Software companies even have “free versions” to get you hooked and when you want a special feature that makes the software actually function, BAM, you gotta pay.

I couldn’t but wonder if there was an application for this theory in the theater.  One could argue that food and beverage or merch income is a version of this idea in action (although on Broadway, we don’t control f&b – all that cash goes to the theater owner).  And certainly, we’re not going to stop a show to ask for $5.99 from every audience member to listen to the heroine sing a higher note than what is in the “free” version. (Although I’d love to see this at a charity gala . . . can you imagine waiting for someone to bid $10,000 for Idina Menzel to sing an optional higher note in “Let It Go“?)

What do you think?  Is there a way to get butts in seats for less, and then have additional and OPTIONAL income provided by those who want whatever ‘extra’ we have to offer?

I haven’t cracked this yet.  And maybe it shouldn’t be cracked.

But sometimes it’s the craziest of all ideas that morph into something that makes sense . . . and cents.

You have an idea?

 

An out-of-town tryout . . . in town.

Here are the hard facts about looking for a regional theater for your out-of-town tryout in the teen 2000s:

  1. They are hard to get. Just like a lot of shows are waiting to land a Broadway house, even more shows are waiting for their close-up out-of-town.  That means it’s getting even harder to secure one of the hotter tryout spots across the country thanks to the sheer volume of competition.
  2. You may have to wait for years. Regional theaters plan seasons well in advance, and from what I hear, they’re starting to do this further and further out, especially with their enhancement slots.  That means even if you are lucky enough to snag a coveted spot, you might be waiting two or three years for it to happen.  That means your option agreements may expire, your team may drift away, your cast may age out (!), etc.
  3. They are more expensive than ever. On my podcast, Des McAnuff, who helped build the whole idea of tryouts at regional theaters, called the current financial enhancement model around the country “dangerous.”  That’s because so many theaters are relying on these supplemented shows to help balance their budget.  And, like any smart business owner, as regional theaters have gotten more in-demand, their prices have gone up.  Can’t blame them, but it doesn’t stop your budget from ballooning.

So that’s just the way it is, right?

Wrong.

We’re never satisfied here at TPP and you shouldn’t be either.  The enhancement path was and still is, at times, a great one . . . but it may be time for a little innovation and a whole lotta disruption.

So, what do we do?

Here’s one idea.

Off Broadway is super challenging and unfortunately, much riskier than Broadway.  But, since the price of a first-class Off Broadway musical can be as much as a regional theater enhancement . . . why not produce it Off Broadway?  

You get the trial audience.  You get the reviews.  You get elements of the physical production you can take to the next step.

And it’s even easier for the Broadway theater owners to check you out if they’re interested.

And if it doesn’t work?  Well, your show is much more likely to be licensed or even go on tour if it’s played New York, rather than just played an out-of-town tryout.

Here’s the bonus . . . you won’t owe a regional theater 1-1.5%.

So, for the same budget, you actually own more of the show.  That makes it actually cheaper!

Downside?  You expose it to the critics early . . . but you’d be doing the same thing if you were trying out at The Public or any of the city-based Non-Profits.  And you’d take one of those if they came up, right?

With rising costs and a logjam of titles, producing your show in-town might be the only way to get your show up with a shot at Broadway, which makes it worth the risk in my book.

And it just might save Off Broadway in the process.

Broadway Grosses w/e 4/22/2018: It’s coming down to the wire.

The following are the Broadway grosses for the week ending April 22, 2018.
The Broadway grosses are courtesy of The Broadway League
Read more here:

Why movie attendance has dropped, while Broadway’s has risen.

Movie attendance dropped by almost 6% last year, returning it to a number that hasn’t been seen since 1992. (No wonder why so many Hollywood stars are looking to Broadway to make a buck.)

Butts in seats at your local cineplex has been on a decline for years . . . while Broadway’s jumped a few year’s back and has been holding steady for the past few.

What’s the problem with movies that super-expensive Broadway seems to avoid?

Two things:

First, movie theaters got pummeled by other distribution methods for their content.  Here comes YouTube, Netflix, iTunes, OnDemand, and more delivering an endless supply of movies for your enjoyment in your own home, or on your laptop, or on that 2×2 inch screen in your pocket.  Sure, sure, you may not get the absolute latest release, but with the “long tail” of content available, consumers had plenty to keep their nights busy.

Second, the technology of home theaters and those laptops and yeah, those even ‘smarter’ phones in your pocket has advanced at such a rapid pace, the viewing experience at home can rival that in the theater.  So “seeing it on a big screen” isn’t as much of an argument to get your a$$ to the multiplex.

What’s the takeaway for the theater?

Spoiler alert, it’s a good one.

See, as more and more distribution methods for Hollywood’s content pop up, and as technology for the consumption of that content advances, our content, live content, becomes even rarer.  And when something is rarer, it becomes more valuable.

There is no alternative distribution method for live.

There is no technology to replace the live actor, on stage, crying her eyes out while belting out a tune.

Nothing beats it.  And nothing ever will.

It’s why the theater is still hopping after thousands and thousands of years, and the invention of the radio, the TV, and yeah, the internet.

So theater ain’t no “fabulous invalid” anymore.

We just might be saying that about Hollywood soon enough.

 

P.S. Want to learn how to write a musical? Click here for all the tips, tools and training you need.

GUEST BLOG by Mike Rafael: Broadway by the numbers: the company you keep.

10 Years ago, Ticketing Analyst wasn’t even a job on Broadway.  Now, every show has one.

One of those analysts is Mike Rafael, who I interviewed here, and who is the number-crunching author of this week’s guest blog.

Enjoy the stats, and be prepared to hear a lot more from people like Mike in the next 10 years.  And kids, if you want a stable career?  Look into ticketing analyst school.

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Broadway by the numbers: the company you keep.

For the week ending March 4th, 2018 there were 30 shows running on Broadway.

  • 10 of these grossed at least $1,000,000.
  • 10 grossed between $600,000 and $1,000,000.
  • The last 10 grossed between $250,000 and $600,000.

If 1/3rd of your business is in the “millionaires club,” the 1st week in March, you’re in good shape.

By comparison, for the same week in 2016 (w/e 3/6/16) there were 32 shows running.
  • Only 5 were “millionaires.”
  • 7 shows grossed between $60,000 and $850,000.
  • The remaining 18 shows grossed less than $600,000.

With baseball season around the corner, let’s use a sports analogy – Broadway is no longer a couple of star players on a generally weak roster. Our lineup is strong top to bottom, with a good bench to boot.

And, contrary to popular belief, Broadway isn’t just increasing grosses by increasing prices.

In 1996, the year before THE LION KING opened, Broadway sold 10.2 million tickets and grossed just under $500m.

In 2010, the year before THE BOOK OF MORMON opened, Broadway sold 12.1 million tickets and grossed over $1 billion for the first time ($1.03b).

Last year, having added HAMILTON, DEAR EVAN HANSEN, HELLO, DOLLY! & SPRINGSTEEN, Broadway sold 13.7 million tickets and grossed $1.63 billion.

In fact, speaking of sports teams, for the last three years Broadway has outsold the top 10 New York professional sports teams combined. In 2017, Broadway attendance surpassed the combined NY Sports teams by 2.6 million tickets.

[bonus question: name the top 10 NY sports teams – answer below]

Here’s another comparison: the movies.

In 1996,  1.309 billion people bought a ticket to a movie in the US.

In 2010, 1.328 billion people went to the movies in the US.

But in 2017, 1.225 billion people bought tickets, the lowest figure since 1995.  [source: the-numbers.com]

One might also note that the 3rd highest grossing movie of 2018 so far is a musical, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, with a distinctly Broadway pedigree (Hugh Jackman, Pasek & Paul, Keala Settle).

So while moviegoers continue to decline, the audience for Broadway continues to grow. Last year’s record year for both attendance and grosses on Broadway and this year, thanks to HARRY POTTER, FROZEN, MEAN GIRLS et al, those records will be broken again.

Let the good times roll.

[The answer to the bonus question?  The Top 10 NY sports teams by attendance: NY Yankees, NY Mets, NY Jets, NY Giants, NY Rangers, NY Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, NJ Devils, NY Islanders, NY Red Bulls]

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Mike Rafael has worked on ticketing for over three dozen Broadway shows and has set the house record in 5 different Broadway theaters. Last year he helped WICKED set the all-time single-year attendance record for Broadway.

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