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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How many of you save your Broadway ticket stubs?

I saved them all.

When I was younger, I’d get my Playbill, and that ticket stub (which is no longer a stub, thanks to ticketing scanners) would go right in the middle.

Full embarrassing disclosure: when I was in high school, I used to take the cover of my Playbills, the ticket stubs, and a few choice photos from inside the Playbill, and I’d create a poor-man’s decoupage that I framed and put on my nightstand.  I guess my hope was that they would help all of my Broadway dreams come true.  (My Secret Garden Playbill/photo combo even had an autograph from Daisy Eagan!)

Ok, so I was a lonely kid . . . but it was pretty obvious what I was going to do when I grew up.

This post isn’t about my awkward youth (there isn’t enough space on the entire internet for me to go into that), but rather that ticket . . . which for me, and for so many of you, I bet . . . was a souvenir.

And a souvenir is merch . . . and merch is marketing.

The ticket as a souvenir is slowly but surely disappearing as we transition to e-ticketing, and eventually mobile ticketing technology (having the ticketing scanners scan an image on your phone itself, which requires no paper product at all).

And as much as I’m a huge fan of this technology (and of all technology), it’s going to take us a long time to adopt it.

Why?

  • We’re always slow to adopt technology.
  • Our customers like hard tickets.

While hanging out at the booth last week, I watched a woman turn to another and say, “Did you get ’em?”  Her friend smiled, then fanned out five Billy Elliot tickets like a winning poker hand.  They both literally screamed with joy.  Now imagine what it would have been like if she showed her friend a UPC image on her phone.

Wah-wah.

Broadway tickets still have a Willy Wonka “Golden Ticket” effect that we don’t want to disappear too soon.

They are a tangible passport to entertainment that can create a positive emotional response about our product . . . whether or not you choose to frame it.

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UPDATE:  Two days after I wrote this blog, it was announced that New York State became the first state in the nation to pass a law requiring paper tickets. To read more about it, click here.

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