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Does ticket price influence success?

November 12, 2014

I kept quiet when “I Can’t Sing,” “Stephen Ward” and “From Here To Eternity” closed earlier this year. All that could be said then was said by others, I felt, but now I’ve had a thought. Was it dynamic pricing that was to blame?  None of the three shows used it, beyond cutting prices to draw the crowds, but I wonder if its prevalence at other shows is harming the industry in a more general way?

Discounting already does, according to some sources. Big shows need “advance box office” revenue guaranteed. Knowing that there could be savings means regular theatregoers don’t book that far ahead. Indeed, when “I Can’t Sing” dropped from £65 to £32.50 in the final weeks, I sold more tickets in 5 days than in the previous 6 months. All to regular theatregoing readers, if my inbox was accurate.

What I’m talking about is when it goes in the other direction. “Skylight” opened to rave reviews. So good, premium seats went up from £97.50 to £125, top seats around them added a fiver, second price £2.50.  And the online community were hacked off. Really annoyed.  I remember the same thing happening with “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” some years ago, with the same reaction.

So what I wonder is this: At one time, theatre used to be all about “enjoyment.” It was a pleasure for the audience to buy a ticket and see a show.

Now, I’m wondering if too much of the glitter has rubbed off for too many people, and they can see the hard business underneath. Worse, with dynamic pricing – the changing of box office prices (what used to be called “moving the rope”) that was done secretly, is now very open and clear for all to see and discuss.

Are we serving up too much reality with our entertainment now, and could retaining a little mystique actually help shows to a longer run? Interestingly, “Memphis,” the hit of the season, has just announced an extended booking period. The seats are an easy sell, but the producers have been not only clever, but extraordinarily courteous to their audiences. The prices from late March 2015 have been revised, with a larger (but not overwhelming) block of “premium” seats… but also many seats in the rear stalls and dress circle down in price as low as £30.

It means they’ll have sold those seats in advance, and not face losing anything if a circle has to close on a quiet date. They’ll take the interest money on the advance booking, have happy customers in better seats than they may otherwise afford, and everybody wins. Now that IS dynamic thinking…

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