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More On Premium Seats

January 26, 2011

Funny how the press pick up on a story at a particular time. For years, premium seats were just creeping stealthily into theatres and pop venues with little comment. Suddenly, because of the changes made to “The Children’s Hour” (which, coincidentally? I think not, as it stars a famous performer) it becomes a news story.

Following the excellent Mark Shenton article in “The Stage” on 20th January, The Independent On Sunday weighed in with another excellent item on the 23rd: for those who have not read it.

A blog, (and see the comments section in the previous posting on this page), also took a look at the problem from a customer perspective and realised just how many seats were falling victim to inflation – and that isn’t a crack at chip-eating Britain either…

It’s true. Looking at my site, and bearing in mind I now have 10 years of offers to draw on, even discount prices are now rising rapidly. Typically, a discount used to be 50% or more. Now it is nearer 30% and closing. Ticket prices have also risen rapidly in the decade since began. So, what is my conclusion?

Just as ‘budget’ airlines have adjusted their fares and ‘add ons’ to more profitable levels now the market has matured, theatres have done the same. Sure, some producers set ticket prices and show budgets now in the expectation they’ll have to discount, but I do feel that the era of the ‘Wild West End’ is dying, to be replaced by something that makes more economic sense to those who earn a living from it – even if it is at the expense of some sections of the audience.

To be fair, everybody has to earn a living, and we should also remember that right up until the early 2000s, the only ways to get a discount were either to go as a group, use a student / senior standby concession, negotiate with the box office a few minutes before the show, visit TKTS, or know somebody with access to comps. Ordinary theatregoers paid up, every time. True, tickets were a bit cheaper, proportionally, then – but not that much.

How will the “Wild West End” era mature? I’m not sure. The web and web discounting is here to stay as a marketing tool, of that there is little doubt – but my guess is that it will become a less used one. ‘Premium,’ meanwhile, will come to mean ‘normal’ prices, and theatre producers will try permitting far fewer seats to be marked down to clear… to see whether the public react with their wallets. The next few years could be very interesting indeed, maybe even ending in a standoff, and who will blink first? Watch this space, I guess.

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