How can you tell a demographic is changing?

Times Square is one of the most coveted retail opportunities in the world.  Hundreds of thousands of people cross through the intersection of Broadway and 7th every single day, to sightsee, to buy tickets at TKTS, and, now, to shop.

But what kind of stores are popping out, now that we’ve lost Virgin Megastore and the Howard Johnson’s diner (remember that place?).

I’ve been watching the new vendors moving in very closely, because it’s going to give us an idea of the demo that is gonna be roaming through the block over the next several years.

If you stand in the middle of Times Square and spin around like a kid trying to get dizzy, this is what you’ll see:

Planet Hollywood
The Disney Store
Forever 21
Hard Rock Cafe
Bubba Gump
MTV Studios
American Eagle

And so on . . .

In other words?  Times Square is now a big, flashy mall.

And that means the mall demographic, including a heck of a lot of teens (and families), will be passing through our hallowed halls in numbers greater than ever before.

Which means that shows that appeal to that demo are going to have a much easier time finding their audience.

Have you seen where the decisions are made?

There is a reason why Generals and Presidents visit the front lines, and it’s for more than just morale.  They visit so they can understand the conditions that face the troops.  The smart Generals, and the smart Presidents, learn a lot in those secret-until-the-last-minute-and-then-highly-publicized visits.  And they take that info home and develop new strategies to make their efforts more efficient.

Have you visited your front lines lately?

In NYC, Broadway tickets are distributed in a lot more areas than you think, and it’s important for Producers to take a tour of all the locations where their “birds” (street for ‘tickets”) are hawked.

What will you learn?

You’ll hear conversations from potential ticket buyers, as well as how the people peddling the tickets are pitching your shows.  You’ll see what advertising options are available, and what is influencing the buyer’s decision at that moment.  And I’m sure you’ll take that info home and figure out how to increase your presence in those areas to insure that you increase your sales.

Here are five spots that you should check out on your next rounds:

1.  Your Box Office

Duh.

2.  The TKTS Booth

I don’t care if you’re “at the booth” or not, you should spend a lot of time here.  The TKTS booth has the gravitational pull of the sun to theater lovers.  Rich, poor, it doesn’t matter. They flock to the booth.  I’ve learned more about what makes a consumer tick by standing in that line than I have in ten years behind a desk.

3.  Hotel Concierges

Full-price sales are the key to financial success on Broadway (which is why there’s a lot of lobbying going on to get the TKTS booth to sell FP tickets as well – and why shouldn’t they?).  Hotel concierges, most of whom work with a respected ticket agency like Americana, sell full price tickets (plus a markup).  So, doesn’t it make sense that you should see what’s happening at these desks that dot hotel lobbies around the city?  Just a poster up in their shop is a serious impression.

4.  The Times Square Information Center

Nestled in right next to the Palace Theatre, sits the Times Square Alliance’s Information Center, which has some cool museum-like artifacts of the old Times Square (check out the real live Peep Booths), a souvenir shop, and is also home to the Broadway League’s “Broadway Concierge & Ticket Center”.  In addition to tickets, the Ticket Center reps will talk restaurants and recommendations . . . and will do so in six languages.  And they even wear a uniform of all black that make us look like the 1st class industry we are (can someone explain to me why the TKTS ticket sellers aren’t required to where a TKTS shirt, a shirt and tie, or a See A Broadway Show t-shirt?  (Shoot, I know shows that would pay for those sellers to wear logo tees.  Ok, that’s pushing it, because TDF is a non-profit that can’t show individual show allegiance, but you get the point.)

Even though the Info Center is hard to find, there is a lot buying going on in there, so check it out.

They’ve even got a mini-stage, which made me wonder why we’re not doing live performances there a few times a week, and pulling people off the street to hear, oh, I don’t know, the lead from Mamma Mia! doing “Winner Takes It All”, etc.  Done at key times during the weekend, I bet it would get people into the center, and sell tickets.

5.  Sandwich Board Central

Out in front of the Marquis Theater, in the new pedestrian walkway, is a section of the city I call Sandwich Board Central.  Every Producer I know hates sandwich boards, until they see that they actually sell tickets.  I know what you’re saying, you’d never buy tickets from a guy passing out a flyer, but a lot of people do.  They only way to figure out why is to hang out in SBC for a while and listen.  It’s a specific type of buyer . . . and maybe you can learn how to get more of them . . . or better . . . maybe you can learn how to turn them into a buyer who gets their tickets before they see a sandwich board.

6.  Scalper Way

Up closer to the TKTS booth, you’ll find a bunch of folks, half of them looking homeless, screaming their lungs out, with a fan of tickets in their hand, trying to get rid of every show you can imagine, at every price you can imagine.  What they lack in teeth, they make up for in the old fashioned hard-sell.  And you know what’s amazing?  People actually buy tickets from them!!!  And that’s what I find interesting.  You can learn more from your enemies than you can from your friends.  So I do.

Purchasing a $135 ticket, or even a $50 ticket, doesn’t happen as easily as you might think.  There’s a lot of back and forth, and a lot more people wriggle off your hook than you think.

Paying a visit to the places where decisions are made can help you learn about the factors that go into these big decisions, and will allow you to make better decisions in how you bait your hook in the future.

 

 

3 More Things I Learned While in London.

If you follow me on twitter, you know that I spent the weekend in the UK, taking in some new shows and some bland food (seriously, I love London. I don’t have to feel guilty for eating fast food, because I know I’m not missing much).

As is usually the case whenever I visit Broadway’s Step Brother, aka The West End, I walked away with a few observations about our similarities and our differences.

Here’s what I discovered this trip:

1.  The ushers in the UK are all young.

The average age of the ushers, ticket takers, and bar staff at every theatre I went to had to be about 23.  And each one of them was bubbling over with excitement and passion for the show that I was about to see.  They weren’t showing me to my seat.  They were priming me for an experience.  I’ve always thought that these positions were ideal for students of the theater . . . and even more ideal for the audience.  NYU should start a work study program with Local 306 (the ushers union).

2.  What time is the show again?

It was a light theater going trip for me this time ’round. I only saw four shows in the three days I was there.  And not one of those shows was at 8 PM.  I saw shows at 7:15, 3, 9:30 and 7:30. And I almost went to a Friday at 5.  While I was constantly checking and re-checking the curtain times all weekend because I had no idea which show started when, the alternative start times allowed me to see more theater in a shorter time.  I still wonder if a Friday at 5, during key tourist times here in the States, would work.  I’m dying to try it.  And someday I will.  Or maybe you’ll beat me to it.

3.  Times Square looks more and more like Leicester Square every year.

Everyone knows that Bloomberg has had a man-crush on the Mayor of London for years.  So many of the changes we’ve seen here seem to be inspired by successful policies there.  The AirTrain and the Heathrow Express Train, Congestion Pricing to reduce traffic (which never passed here), and now, the pedestrian walkways where streets used to be.  Heck, they even have people selling tickets to comedy shows in Leicester Square!  I’m all for it.  Leicester Square is a pretty exciting and safe place to be, drawing more crowds than ever.  If we can continue to create a more conducive environment for visitors to spend time in Times Square, just steps away from our theaters and the TKTS booth, our metaphorical boats will all have to rise.  It’s what I call The Times Square Tide.

And here’s a bonus!

4.  They drive on the ‘wrong’ bloody side of the road.

At every major crosswalk, an instruction is written on the pavement:  LOOK RIGHT or LOOK LEFT.  Why?  I can only assume its because people like me, who naturally look in one direction before crossing the street, need to be retrained to look the exact opposite direction if they want to avoid getting run over by a truck.

What does that have to do with theater?

If you’ve got a show that is working in the US, you might naturally think that the next stop is the UK.  Well, just because the folks there speak the same language (sort-of), doesn’t mean that their taste in the theater is the same.  In fact, it may be the exact opposite.  They literally may come at things from a totally different direction.

So before you cross the pond, make sure you stop, and look RIGHT instead of left . . . so you’re not hit by any oncoming traffic just waiting for you to step out into the street.

Because health insurance may be free in London, but producer insurance is not.

To read some of my past observations about London theatergoing, click here and here.

5 Things I learned from King Tut.

I fell prey to the ton of marketing being done for King Tut in Times Square last week, and headed on down to 43rd Street to check out what treasures the exhibitors had in store for me.

Although it may not seem like it, exhibits like King Tut are forms of live entertainment, shrouded in education.  These are multi-million dollar productions with big capitalizations, operating costs, and marketing challenges.  In other words, they have to be produced.

So, as I explored the life of King Tut, I also tried to find some gold coins of wisdom that I could apply to what we do.

Here are 5 things I learned from King Tut:

1.  It’s not the size of your pyramid.  It’s how you use it.

The priceless treasures of the Tut exhibit are currently sitting in . . . a basement.  The producers of the exhibit found a non-traditional venue, and with some smart designers, turned it into a theater fit for a king.  If you can’t find the perfect space for your show, make it.

2.  You can’t touch the mummy.  But you can wear his t-shirt.

Man, are these guys good at merch.  They get your photo taken on the way in and show it to you on the way out (I almost bought mine . . . they photoshopped pyramids behind me, for Pharaoh’s sake!).  Just like the theme parks!  And you can’t get out of the building without walking through their super-sized shop of Tut toys and trinkets.  Merch is a science, not a hobby.  It can help pay for your play. (Remind me to tell you about the time a Company Manager friend of mine paid his load-out crew on a flop with cash from the merch till.  When the cash ran out, the crew ran out.  Oh, wait, I guess I just told you about it.  You don’t have to remind me anymore.)

3.  Got your ticket?  Good, now, it’s just a couple more bucks for this.

During the check-out process, I got pitched a $5 add-on movie called Mummies.  And it was in 3D!  Just like Avatar!  What’s another $5, I thought, since I already dropped $40, and for something that sounded so cool!  In reality, it wasn’t that cool, but what did I know until I got there.  And, at only $5, there wasn’t much remorse.  Once you’ve got a customer on the hook, getting them to pay for just a little bit more isn’t too difficult, if you ask.  Tacking on an extra isn’t tacky, especially when it makes the entire experience better.

4.  Egyptians can wear funny hats too.

This is a monumental exhibit.  It’s educational.  It’s important.  And it also knows not to take itself too seriously, evident by the King Tut street team that’s been flyering Times Square wearing King Tut headdresses.  You can’t help but smile when you see one, and that’s not a bad thought to have when considering an entertainment option.  On top of that, the Tut mask is so well branded that the flyer guy can make the impression on the passerby even without handing them a flyer.  This street team strategy reminded me of the Princess Leia/Carrie Fisher team that brilliantly wore those bun-wigs while they were on the street promoting Wishful Drinking.  The best street teams think every day is Halloween.

5.  King Tut was a teen, and no one cared.

I get a lot of young folks emailing me saying that they are too young to produce, that they could never get a show up at their age.  Well, King Tut was 9 when he was crowned and 19 when he died.  In that time, he changed the entire Egyptian God structure (which had been set by his father), restored diplomatic relations with neighboring peoples, and married his half-sister.  Ok, ok, so he was born into some money.  I’m not saying you have to produce a pyramid, but age hasn’t nothing to do with what you do, unless you let it.

Can you tell what these people are looking at?

A car accident?  A celebrity?  The naked cowboy?

None of the above.

They are all looking at . . . themselves.

Forever 21 recently installed a brilliant video billboard in the heart of Times Square that takes a live video image of the street below, and then broadcasts it for everyone to see.

So what happens?

People walk by, and stop . . . and look for themselves on the big screen.  They wave, jump and down, and generally make fools of themselves, just to see themselves broadcast over Broadway.

I shot this pic on a Sunday evening, and what struck me as this gaggle of folks stared at the billboard (and as I stared at them) was the diversity of the people drawn to this phenomenon.  All different types were trying to find themselves on the screen, from kids to seniors, from Europeans to Oklahomians, from lower economic classes, to a bunch of brand-wearing snobs that looked like they just got off a yacht.

You’ve felt like these people, too . . . don’t tell me you haven’t.  Maybe you were at a Yankee game when the camera swung your way, or you walked by the NBC studios during a taping of The Today Show.

Audiences, no matter where they come from, or what they do for a living, have certain things in common.  They want to be noticed.  They want to be recognized.

And they want to be a part of the experience.

I’m not saying every show has to pull a person on the stage for the rest of the crowd to see . . . but the audience wants to see themselves up there somehow, whether in a character, in a story, or yes, getting pulled on the stage for the rest of the crowd to see.

They want a little attention . . . it’s just not apropos to wave your hands and jump up and down in a theater.

– – – – –

Side note:

One year ago I blogged about the very first video billboard in Times Square.

And now there are seven.

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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