Dinner and a show go together like dinner and a show.

A week or two ago, I FourSquared that I was at the famed NY Dessertery, Serendipity.  (Has anyone come up with the verb for updating your FourSquare yet?  Squared?  Four-ed?) When I left the shop, with a few thousand caramel calories in my tummy, there were still several families waiting outside for a table . . . and they were all clutching Playbills.

The next day, I walked into my favorite Sushi restaurant around 6 PM (I figured the fresh fish would balance out the sundae from the night before . . . that’s how it works, right?).  The restaurant was packed.

Of course it was.  It was pre-theater.

I don’t have the exact stats, but I’d bet that more than 50% of theater attendees go out to dinner before seeing a show.  The two events go hand in hand.  They are linked like Santa Claus and Christmas, weddings and honeymoons . . . the US and oil.

So if theaters and restaurants are so codependent, and since we are both perishable inventory industries. . . why don’t we do more together?  Sure, a few shows here and there do check-stuffer promotions, or 10% off a meal with a ticket stub.  But there has got to be more that we can do.

When our matinees are hurting, should we have a promotional month called the “4 Course Lunch” promotion, where the 4th course is a show?  Should every show have a restaurant buddy that it can cross promote with, and even share a few media buys, or e-mail blasts?  Could you set up a commission program with the wait staff of a nearby dining establishment to encourage them to send people to your show?

Great food, like great theater, leaves the diner totally fulfilled.

Perhaps our two industries could join together to help fill more of each other’s empty stomachs and empty seats.

5 Things I learned about South American theater.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know that I took a trip way south of the border last weekend to South America.  I stopped in Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina to see productions of My First Time.

One of the coolest things about getting to travel to see these productions (besides seeing how each culture tackles this sensitive subject – and yes, there was full-on nudity in the Buenos Aires version of My First Time), is that I’m able to learn a little bit about how each corner of the world tackles theater production.

There are a few things that every country has in common:

  • Producing theater is expensive.
  • It’s hard to get the young audiences to come to the theater.
  • Actors are exactly the same, no matter where you are.  🙂  (And I mean that in the best way possible, I really do).

Here are five things I learned that are more specific to South American theater.

1.  Shows start late.

They eat dinner later then we do in South America, and they sure as churros start their shows later, too.  Most shows start at 9 or 9:30 PM.  And on 2 show days?  Expect that second one to start between 11:30 PM and midnight!  Afternoon matinees are rare.

2.  I saw advertising before I saw my show.

My host and I sneaked into a theater that was showing a Vegas-style Argentinean revue (with more full-on nudity), and right before the show started, about 5 ads played on a giant screen on the stage . . . just like at a movie!  While I was assured this was not the norm at all the theaters, I did notice a lot of in-theater advertising (liquor promotions…etc.).  You don’t see any of that in our theaters . . . mostly due to the contracts the theater owners have with Playbill, which prevents advertising anything other than what is in Playbill’s pages.

3.  Don’t want to pay rent?  Pay a percentage.

Flat rents for the performance spaces in Chile are unheard of.  Instead of paying a base rent and a small percentage, Producers get the space for free and then pay the owners 40% of the box office and keep 60% for themselves.  In Argentina, you have a choice between a flat rent and a percentage (which most producers opt for) which was closer to 70/30.  These percentage deals are why so many “Off-Broadway” shows are able to be produced in Buenos Aires and in Santiago.

Perhaps our theaters here could provide this option rather than sit empty?

4.  Sponsors are everywhere.

This isn’t new. Sponsors are a key part of commercial theater production in every other city around the world, except New York City.  But you know what was new?  American companies were sponsoring these shows in South America!  I saw 7-Up sponsoring an Off-Broadway venue.  Citibank paid for the naming rights to one theater and was a sponsor of several other shows.  Hey guys in ties . . . uh . . . have you tried looking in your own backyard if you want to sponsor theater?

5.  Why do 8 shows?

The standard number of performances for a big show down yonder averages about 6. They don’t have the audiences for 8, so they don’t do 8.  Some do 5.  Some do 6.  They shake it up depending upon demand.  Funny, isn’t it?  A country that has had one of the most fragile economies in the world, knows more about supply and demand than we do.
In addition to learning a lot about the theater in South America, I managed to squeeze in some sightseeing as well.  Can anyone name the building in the pic in this blog that has musical historical significance?

Another study on Broadway performance schedules. Results revealed.

As a follow-up to their recent report on the Broadway audience’s preference for certain performance times, Telecharge dug a bit deeper and did another study to determine “whether there was a consumer preference for matinees on Wednesday, for 7 PM curtains on weekdays, and 2 PM curtains on Saturdays.”

I was going to summarize the results for you, but frankly, the report is so fascinating that I’m printing it verbatim, with a huge hat tip to Telecharge for sharing their results with the community.

It’s info like this that will help us break through the ceiling that we’ve been hitting our heads on over the last few years.

Here is what Telecharge found out:

SUMMARY

  • Wednesday is not necessarily the preferred day for a weekday matinee. Nearly 80% said they would see a matinee on another weekday other than Wednesday.  Friday was the day selected by most of those expressing a preference.
  • The majority of respondents would prefer more weekday curtains to be at 7PM and would be more inclined to go on another night if the show was at 7PM.
  • While most customers prefer the 2PM curtain time on Saturdays, when offered a range of times, nearly one third preferred a later time.

DETAILED RESULTS

7PM Curtain Time

  • When asked whether curtain time was a factor in the choice of the day of the week on which you saw a Broadway show, 52% said yes, 48% no.
  • 72% would be more inclined to see a show on another day of the week at 7PM.
  • 69% would prefer if there were more days of the week when shows performed at 7PM.
  • 36% would prefer 7PM shows on Thursday
    • 21% prefer Monday
    • 16% prefer Wednesday
    • 13% prefer Friday
    • 14.5% prefer Saturday
    • 10% skipped the question (No other question saw as many customers skip answering.)
  • 53% care when the show ends, 47% care when it starts
  • 67% want to eat before the show, 20% after
  • 56% choose performance based on seat location, 39% on price, 5% on performance time.
  • 42% of respondents were not from NY or NJ.
  • 26.5% of respondents work in NYC, twice as many as the other groups.

Wednesday Matinee

  • 69% said Wednesday would NOT be their first choice for a daytime matinee performance.
  • 79% would see a matinee on another weekday other than Wednesday.
  • 50.5% said the day of the week did not matter
    • 37% prefer Friday
    • 7% prefer Thursday
    • 3.5% prefer Tuesday
  • 59% said 2PM is their preferred time
    • 19% prefer 1 PM
    • 4.5% prefer 12 noon
    • 17% prefer 3PM
  • 59% care when the show starts, 41% care when it ends
  • 39% want to eat before the show, 55% after
  • 36% of the respondents were not from NY or NJ.
  • 14% work in NYC

Saturday Matinee

  • 72.5% said 2PM was their preferred time for a matinee.  16% had no preference, 12% said they wanted a different time.
  • 49% said a different time would not work better, 34% had no preference, 17% wanted a different time.
  • 56% preferred a 2PM matinee
    • 31% prefer a later time (2:30PM, 3PM or 3:30PM)
    • 13% prefer an earlier time (1PM or 12 noon)
  • 55% care when the show starts, 45% care when it ends
  • 56% prefer to eat dinner after the show, 39% eat lunch before
  • 44% of the respondents were not from NY or NJ.
  • 13% work in NYC

Observations

A majority of customers who saw 7PM shows are more concerned about when a show ends, while a significant majority of Wednesday matinee customers (and a smaller majority of Saturday matinee customers) care what time the show starts. Most matinee customers want to eat after the show, while a majority of the 7PM customers want to eat before. This means that some shorter shows could start their Saturday matinees later depending on the audience they attract but probably not a weekday matinee.

The strong preference for the 7PM curtain, the predilection for eating before, coupled with the focus on what time the show ends could tell us that 8PM curtains may work for short shows but not long ones. Maybe customers want to see three-hour shows at 7PM, but would still be interested in seeing 90-minute shows at 8PM.

7PM Curtain Time

Half of respondents said that curtain time was a factor in their past purchase decision, but we also wanted to know if they would be more inclined to go on another night — if it was at 7PM — in the future.

We assume that people who attend on a Tuesday night know that 7PM curtains are not the norm for Broadway, or that they have chosen that day specifically for the 7PM curtain time. But do ticket buyers know that Tuesday curtains are at 7PM? Outside the Broadway community and regular Manhattan theatre goers (remember that Manhattanites preferred a Thursday curtain), this might not be the case at all. If half of respondents said curtain time was not a factor in their decision, was it because they did not know that the show was at 7PM and not at 8PM when making their purchase?

We see lots of evidence customers do not have the level of information we think or hope they have. How many people in the industry knew Finian’s Rainbow had preview pricing, lower prices on Wednesday evenings, and 7PM curtains Tuesday-Thursday? The answer is not everyone. If we didn’t know, why would we think that customers did? Once a customer has attended a show at 7PM, maybe they would prefer it (as many Tony voters do) and would like to see more 7PM curtain times.

Wednesday Matinee

Among customers who expressed a preference (50%), the strongest preference was for Friday matinees (37%).

Most customers said that Wednesday is not their first choice for a matinee. A substantial number reported they would see a matinee performance on another day of the week, but when we asked which day, the answers varied (and 50% had no preference). There does not appear to be any special significance to matinees on a Wednesday, and customers would be willing to go on another day of the week. If some shows want to experiment with matinees on another day, they will probably not lose sales if they allow enough time to sell the performance in advance, and they might pick up additional business if they choose a day when there are more tourists in the city.

While respondents expressed the strongest preference for Friday among weekday matinees, there are issues to consider. Aside from the challenge of back-to-back days with two performances, school groups and bus tour operators may not find this day of the week appealing. When asked, some bus companies said they would not want their buses attempting to leave the city at 5PM on a Friday, nor will all schools want their kids in the city that late on a Friday. Many shows that perform on Sunday night sell a significant percentage of their tickets between Friday and Sunday; therefore, swapping Sunday evening for Friday matinee has risk. Changing the weekday matinee from Wednesday to Friday — if you do not rely on school groups or bus companies — may be a strategy to consider for shows looking to improve sales on their weekday matinee.

Saturday Matinee

73% of respondents initially said 2PM was their preferred time for a Saturday matinee, but when asked if another time would work better, only 49% said a different time would not work better. When given a choice of times, 56% stayed with 2PM, and others split between earlier and later curtain times. The answers are similar to those for time for Wednesday matinees. This suggests a small degree of ambiguity on the optimal time for a matinee, whereas the answers on day of the week for a weekday matinee were more definitive.

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