Airlines have change fees. Should we?

Somehow, I got to the Madrid airport a lot earlier than I expected to. “Just in time to take the earlier flight back to Newark,” said Ms. “You’re Lucky I Speak English” Continental Airlines employee.

Just in time, that is, if I was willing to pay the $50 change fee.

It wasn’t a tough choice.  Sit in the airport for 3 extra hours or pay $50 to get to my office 3 hours faster.  Since I consider my in-office hourly rate to be higher than $16.67/hour, I forked it over.

And Ms. Continental smiled so sweetly as she violently ran my credit card and racked up another $50 in sales for the day.  And for what?  For printing out a new ticket?  For the 2 minutes it took for her to switch my reservation?  The earlier flight wasn’t sold out, so moving me around wasn’t costing them anything.  In fact, since I was moving to an earlier flight, that gave them another seat to sell on a later flight, and gave them more time to sell it!  They got more cash and more profit potential!

Airlines have very strict no refund/no exchange policies, just like we do, but they’ve figured out how to use it to their advantage. (BTW, here’s a tip for you or your box office managers:  when customers do complain about not being able to get tickets refunded because their plans change, etc., my sales team reminds them that buying theater tickets is a lot like buying airline tickets, or cruise ship tickets, or any vacation ticket.  They tend to calm down a bit when they realize we’re not the only industry that doesn’t give cash back.)

So if airlines do it . . . should we?

If your cat had to be rushed to the VET because she ate your Annie action figure, and you’d rather see Shrek next week instead of ‘tomorrow’, would you pay $5/ticket to switch ’em?  I bet you would.

In fact . . . would you be more inclined to purchase tickets in advance to a show if you knew you could make a switch later on for a small fee?

I know I often buy airline tickets weeks in advance to lock in a deal, knowing that if my plans change, I’ll pay the fee and move the tickets as I need.
Would theater patrons do the same?

Of course the problem here is seat locations, and sold-out shows.  This isn’t a service everyone could offer, but it seems it could be designed in a way that could do two things:

  • Make the patron happy
  • Make the production more money

And shouldn’t those be the goals of every one of our initiatives?

The Age of the Audience.

I had a flashback while I was standing in line at the Madrid McDonalds this weekend (I know, I know, I should have been eating Tapas instead of McNuggets de Pollo, but see, I have this thing where I like to compare the different tastes of McDonalds in countries around el mundo).

I flashbacked to when I was 10, before McNuggets de Anything even existed and I used to order the hamburger.  Ok, that’s not true.  I used to order a plain hamburger.  No pickles, or onion or anything.  See, I have this thing where I don’t like lots of “mayo, salt, ketchup or goop” and I want my food simple and clean, like most slightly OCDers.

Ordering a plain hamburger back then was tough.  I remember the scary look the 16 year old pimply-faced AC/DC fan at the cash register used to give me.  And then he had to scream “special order” to the 16 year old pimply-faced Cheap Trick fan cooking up those burgers.  It was like I was Oliver and had asked for s’ more.

The cash register dude had to give me a special receipt.  And then I had to wait.  And my parents had to wait.  Or if I was with friends and their parents, then we all had to wait.  And I felt like a McNugget de A-hole.

When I finally did get my burger?  5 times out of 10, they got it wrong (it was always the pickles).

McDonalds wasn’t the only company force feeding you whatever they were cookin’ up.  Adding a slice of cheese to a sandwich at a Wendy’s or asking your chef at your local Italian restaurant to switch up the pasta in a dish, or getting your seat locations from Telecharge was impossible (It wasn’t until the early 90s when Telecharge started giving your locations over the phone when you bought your tickets.  Can you imagine shelling out all that cash and not knowing where you were sitting until your tickets arrived in the mail.  Can you imagine tickets actually arriving in the mail?).

Things are different now.  And not only at your local fast food restaurant.  Go anywhere and people will be customizing what they want to their specific needs.  Whether that’s a bed with a sleep number, coffee with soy milk, laundry in special soap, your personalized iGoogle web page, etc.

Burger King even resurrected their most successful ad campaign of all time in 2004.   Which one? Why, “Have It Your Way,” of course.

The increase in competition over the last 20 years has forced companies to pay more attention to the customer.  No one makes me feel like a ten year old when I want something my way anymore.  And I don’t have to wait.  And they (rarely) get it wrong:  whether that’s a burger, a hotel room, or a computer with just the right amount of memory and the right graphics card.

We live in the age of the consumer.  They have more power than they did.  So, to succeed, we have to give them more choice than they even realize they want (no one does this better than Nordstrom’s).

We live in the Age of the Audience.

How are you making sure your audience doesn’t feel like I did?

Because see, we all have these things . . . don’t you?

In defense of the screen to stage adaptation.

While watching Honeymoon In Vegas the other night, I took a twitter poll asking for a quick thumbs up or thumbs down on the idea of making Honeymoon into a musical (a project that is currently in development).

Thanks to my recent linking of my twitter and facebook status, I got a flock of a lot of responses before you could say “Wasn’t Sarah Jessica Parker in that movie?”. Here are a few:

Enough with the “from the screen to the stage” and “remake” crap, please.

There are so many amazing new works we can enjoy… 🙂

I totally agree with this [the above post] in the nicest way possible. 🙂

Aren’t there any original ideas?

I think they need to start bringing originality back to Broadway.

No more musicals that were movies – unless it’s Beetlejuice!

Yikes.  Insert sound of clawing kitty here.

Original sounds awesome.  And it’s what I’d prefer any day of the week.  But it’s not as easy, prevalent or desired as you think.

I’ve written about the rise of screen to stage musicals before, but this time, let’s look at stats on originals:

This season, there will be only three completely original new musicals on Broadway that were not based on any pre-existing source material, movie or otherwise:  13, Title of Show and The Story of My Life.

What do they have in common?  I’ll give you a hint.  They all closed.

Last season, there were only three original musicals on Broadway as well:  In The Heights, Passing Strange and Glory Day (plural cruelly omitted purposefully).  Kudos to Heights, but disappointment for the other two.

Two seasons ago?  No originals.

Three years back?  Two:  In My Life and Drowsy Chaperone.  Chaperone worked in a small window, and then went away.

Four years?  Two:  Brooklyn and Spelling Bee (The Bee was actually based on an improv play, but since the play hadn’t achieved any sort of notoriety, we’ll include it here).  The Bee succeeded but the Brooklyn investors would have been better off buying a bridge.

What’s interesting about these stats is not the winners.  I just named 10 shows and 2 recouped and that’s consistent with the commonly quoted stat that 1 in 5 shows make money.  We’re on par.

What’s alarming is that the other 8 shows were very quick flame outs, resulting in a loss of the entire capitalization or close to it (or in some cases, maybe even more?).

Now, all you tweeters  . . . knowing these much higher risk statistics, are you really surprised that Producers and Writers look to source material before their own brains for ideas?

Flip the analysis around and look at some of the most successful musicals during that same five year period:  Wicked, Jersey Boys, Lion King, Mamma Mia, and so on with un-originals and so on.

In fact, look at the longest running musicals of all time:  Only 2 originals in the top 10 (I don’t count Oh! Calcutta!)

I love an original musical.  Falsettos is one of my favs.  But the fact is that their artistic degree of difficulty is exceptionally high (and those critics that scream about lack of original ideas on Broadway should score them like Olympic gymnasts and give them extra points for the attempt).  The financial risk is the highest, and they have a recent history of lower returns.

The truth is, some of those originals I mentioned above were simply not very good.  And despite the statistical history, a great show can always make this post null and void.  So anyone dissatisfied with the lack of originality on the GWW (Great White Way), should get out there and write a great show and I’ll be the first to line up to produce it.

But we do have to remember that Broadway is a very specific place.  It’s a very thin slice of real estate in the center of the world.  Producing and creating theater is different from producing and creating Broadway theater.  And original just doesn’t always work here, whether we like it or not.

Think about it this way.  Broadway is like a museum.  You know, like MoMA.  Unfortunately, not every painter gets his art hung in MoMA, no matter how good they are.  It’s a museum of modern art.  The people that go there, go to see a specific type.  That’s what they want.  And the curators have to pick shows that are not only going to satisfy their patrons, but are going to thrill them.

That doesn’t mean that painters of other styles should stop painting.  It just means that MoMA might not be the place where their art has the best shot at success (interestingly enough – a heck of a lot of painters adapt their images from subjects or landscapes, don’t they?)

So don’t blame the Curators or the Producers or the Writers.  You might just want to pick a different museum.

Still sticking to your guns and think that what audiences really want is originality?  We wondered that same thing on 13 . . . and then we tested a tag line that called the show the most “original new musical on Broadway” (Title of Show used a similar hook).  The results were as follows:

6% of those surveyed were definitely interested in the show based on that tagline.
15% were intrigued by the tagline.
79% of those surveyed said that this tagline “made them NOT interested in seeing 13.”

These results are another example of what those of us on the inside would prefer is not necessarily what the majority of our audience prefers.

So maybe that Beetlejuice idea isn’t so bad after all . . .

2 Things To Do If You Want To Be A Broadway Producer

Recently, as the final question to an interview, I was asked to give one tip to any people watching that wanted to be a Broadway producer.

I gave two.

  1.  Produce as much as you can of whatever you can.Produce readings (even in your living room), festivals, showcases, benefits, beauty pageants, dog shows, whatever.  Get in the habit of learning how to put things together.  You’ll learn so much from every different production you put together, regardless of their success or their size, because shows are like snowflakes.  No two are alike and they need a lot of care or they’ll just eventually just fall to the ground and get walked on and turn into a pile of wet disgusting slush that will ruin any decent pair of shoes.

  2. Meet as many people as possible.Since I used the snowflake cliche, I’ll use another one.  So much of producing is about who you know.  I’m not saying you have to know Andrew Lloyd Webber or Phil Smith or even me, but producing is a collaborative art.  You’re going to need to know playwrights, directors, actors, and yep, investors.  Lots of them.  And you never know who is going to be the next Pulitzer prize winning playwright or Google-like CEO that always wanted to get involved with Broadway.  Start meeting people today.  However you can.Here’s a great story about a guy who understands how important this tip can be for any business and travels needlessly to prove it.

Speaking of tips, CTI has got a few of them and they are willing to share.  Check their website for info on these two upcoming programs:

– Producing
Reading, Workshops, and Showcases: A Practical Approach (March 6th)

– The 28th Annual
3-Day Weekend Producing Conference (May 15th – 17th)

– – – – –

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Exactly who goes to Broadway shows anyway? Survey says . . .

One of the perks of belonging to The Broadway League is the access you get to their annual study of the Broadway audience.  It’s an amazing analysis of the demographics of our ticket buyers as well as their purchasing habits.

 

One of the perks of reading The Producers Perspective is that I summarize the results for you here!

 

The actual study is a 56 page comprehensive document, so if you can get your hands on one, do.  Until then, here are the highlights as prepared by The League:

 

DEMOGRAPHICS
  • In the 2007-2008 season, approximately 65% of all Broadway tickets were purchased by tourists. 
  • International visitors accounted for 1.88 million tickets, down slightly from 1.91 million in the previous season.
  • 66% of the audiences were female.
  • Although the average age (41.5) was similar to the past few years, the 2007-2008 season saw the largest percentage (12.4%) of children and teenagers in the audience in the past 30 years.  This translated into a record-breaking 1.5 million admissions by young people.
  • 75% of all tickets were purchased by Caucasian theatregoers.  This proportion has actually decreased in the past ten years, as audiences have gotten more diverse.
  • Broadway theatregoers are a very well-educated group.  Of theatregoers over 25 years old, 75% hold a college degree and 36% hold a graduate degree.
  • Broadway theatregoers were also quite affluent compared to the general population, reporting an annual household income of $148,000.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • The average Broadway theatregoer reported attending 4.4 shows in the previous 12 months. The group of devoted fans who attended 15 or more performances comprised only 5% of the audience, but accounted for 39% of all tickets sold (3.65 million admissions).
  • Playgoers tended to be more frequent theatregoers than musical attendees.  The typical straight play attendee saw 8 shows in the past year; the musical attendee, four.
  • The Internet was by far the most popular way to buy Broadway tickets.  In fact, the reported use of the Internet to purchase tickets has grown by 471% since the 1999-2000 season (from 7% to 40%).
  • The growing use of the Internet has made it an effective vehicle for advertising.  10% of theatregoers said they had seen a web ad, compared to only 2% four years ago.
  • In the 2007-2008 seasons, theatregoers were more likely to purchase their tickets in advance than in the previous few years.  Same day purchases dropped from 27% in 2006 and 2007 to 20% in 2008.
  • Not only did women comprises 66% of the audiences, they were also the ones who decided to attend the show.
  • Word-of-mouth was the single strongest factor in deciding to purchase tickets to a show.
  • 27% of respondents reported that some type of critic’s review influenced their decision to see the show.
  • Newspaper reviews were more influential for playgoers than for musical attendees.  Theatregoers at musicals were more likely to cite television reviews than were those of straight plays.
  • 38% of respondents reported that some kind of advertisement encouraged them to buy their theatre tickets.  Television commercials and billboards were noted most frequently by musical attendees, whereas newspaper ads were the most effective prompt for playgoers.
  • 2/3 of respondents said that different performance times would not encourage them to attend more Broadway shows.
  • 37% of respondents said that they walked to the theatre.
  • Theatregoers reported paying an average of 27% more than the face value of a Broadway ticket, reflecting added service charges and/or broker fees.

 

Interesting stuff, isn’t it?  Just remember that data is only valuable if you do something with it.  I know I have a bunch of takeaway items from this list?  Do you?

 

Special thanks to the League for doing the heavy lifting on this survey and providing us all with this invaluable resource.

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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