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Posts Tagged ‘booking agents’

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Greetings after a bit of a hiatus, and welcome to the 2014-2015 touring season!

Actually, the season pretty much started back in September, so we’re in the thick of it now!

But how did we get to this point? Hundreds of touring engagements will make their way across North America this season, as they do every season. What are the basic mechanics of the business that make that happen year after year? What’s the timeline?

Well, aren’t you glad you found The Road 101, because it is here where you’ll find out how that wholllle process works! A process that is a long, complex, ongoing cycle. There are many places I could begin, but for this post, I am going to begin discussing this cycle with the Tony Awards Nominations as a starting point, which typically take place at the end of April.

There are many types of shows that are out on The Road in a season and it is often a foregone conclusion that many of these will be back out there — the blockbuster, the second and third year tour, the non-Equity tour, the special attraction, and the smaller Off Broadway type show that has built its brand over many years, are just some examples.

Then, there are the new shows coming from Broadway in the current season. So, in this case, we’re talking the 2014-2015 Broadway season. These shows are the touring question marks. Which ones will make it out on The Road in 2016-2017? That’s right. Wrap your head around that for a second so you can follow along. The shows running on Broadway in 2014-2015 are being considered for touring in 2016-2017.

The Broadway 2014-2015 season is still evolving as I write this post, and booking agents (some already representing some of these shows) and presenters are watching closely which Broadway shows will make it through the season and rise to the top. When the Tony nominations come out in April 2015, that is a moment when certain shows could get a key boost, especially those shows nominated for Best Musical. Though agents and presenters are seeing shows throughout the entire season, it is typically during Tony Awards season when many in the industry check out Broadway to see which are most likely to end up being viable touring properties. A lot of this theatre-going happens during the annual Spring Road Conference, which typically takes place between the Tony nominations and the Tony Awards. Now, winning a Tony Award this season does not necessarily guarantee that a show will go out on tour for the 2016-2017 season. There are many factors that a producer and a general manager need to take into consideration before deciding if their show is viable enough for a tour:

  1. Did the show make it through Tony season in good shape both from an awards standpoint and a box office standpoint?
  2. Did the show make a good impression on enough presenters?
  3. Can the show offer a deal that presenters can work with?

Okay, so, the 2015 Tony Awards have happened and we are now in summer 2015. The blockbusters, second year tours and non-Equity tours are largely routed and slotted in for the 2016-2017 touring season. The booking agents are also more clear at this point regarding which of the new 2014-2015 Broadway shows they represent will likely make it out on The Road in 2016-2017, and which will fall by the wayside. The final part of the 2016-2017 touring season programming process is now in full swing as booking agents and presenters work through final deals and tour routing. Again, these interactions happen throughout the year, but it is during the summer and into the early fall where all programming MUST be finalized.

Why must programming be finalized by fall 2015? Because it is at this point that presenters need to then begin figuring out how they want these shows to be priced. It is important to be thoughtful about all the details that go into pricing and to consider all data and history available to maximize profit. If an engagement is not priced and discounted correctly at the outset, there is the chance that the engagement could lose money, or, conversely, it may make money, but if it was underpriced and over-discounted at the outset there is a chance of “leaving money on the table,” meaning even more money could have been made. The opportunity to maximize profit is then further exploited via dynamic pricing.

So, once the presenter decides on the pricing for a show, which includes prices for singles, subscribers and groups, the presenter then sends this pricing to the show’s booking agent for consideration, which oftentimes ends up turning into a back and forth negotiation. Again, multiply this step by many, many engagements that need to go through this detailed process. For a large company like Broadway Across America with numerous markets, the ticket pricing process takes several months to complete. During the pricing process, things move fast and timing is everything, as prices need to be agreed to by the show and the presenter and locked in quickly so the marketing teams can then get to work on creating the brochures, which will include these prices and discounts, and which need to go into the mail to subscribers by certain established deadlines.

The time is now winter of 2015-2016. The 2016-2017 pricing process is beginning to wind down as we move into March. The booking agents and presenters are making any final little programming and deal tweaks to the 2016-2017 season while at the same time are also in the process of booking the 2017-2018 touring season. Meanwhile, as all this is happening, don’t forget, the 2015-2016 engagements are currently out on the road on tour requiring constant management through the end of their tours in May or June, each engagement culminating in its own final bravo – settlement.

And now, it’s Tony Awards season again. Which brings us back to where we started.

Pfew. Did you follow all that? Yeah, I’m still learning to wrap my head around it, too, and I WORK in the business!

In the end, this is just a broad overview of how the booking and pricing cycle works as I have come to understand it. It is likely that others in the industry would have other details to add, but this should give you a pretty good sense of the general timing of it all.

If you have questions, feel free to email me anytime at robin@theroad101.com. If I don’t get back to you immediately, please forgive me. I’m probably swamped in pricing for 2015-2016.

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Another Broadway Across America Theatrical Conference ended its short, but sweet run this past Thursday night in warm (thank goodness!) and wonderful Key West, FL. This year’s conference ran from February 10-13 on the theme of “catching waves and driving change,” the aquatically inspired metaphor being that not unlike that of a surfer, theatre industry professionals must continually “experience, create and innovate” by taking risks to keep up with changing times, while also maintaining a sense of balance and tradition.

For those of you not familiar, BAA’s biennial theatre conference is where all the top presenters, producers, general managers, booking agents, and ticketing and technology experts associated with the commercial theatre industry converge for several days for panels, creative presentations, business, networking and some fun. Well…er…a lot of fun.

To kick things off, popular humorist, Mo Rocca and acclaimed director, Jack O’Brien delivered charming and meaningful keynote addresses, with Rocca describing various theatre memories from his childhood, and O’Brien instructing those on the business side of the theatre to “play” more. He reminded attendees that gathering in Key West in this relaxed and fun way was important, because despite having become very much a business, theatre has been, and always will be, first and foremost about play.

With regard to the panels, the overarching takeaway for me was about how ticket sales are “riding the wave of technology” with trends showing that more and more people are purchasing tickets through their smart phones and tablets. In order to capture those sales more effectively, the industry is reaching out to experts in digital for support, and, in some cases, bringing digital experts on to their own staffs. A small sampling of the ticketing and digital leaders who spoke on this topic included David Andrews, SVP, Shubert Ticketing, Damian Bazadona, Founder, Situation Interactive, Stan Deak, VP New Business Development, Experience, which is based in an app that allows you to upgrade your seat, or add on an experience right from your mobile device, and Julia Vander Ploeg, GM & SVP, Ticketmaster Resale, who discussed the new TM+ website.

Cast members of GETTIN' THE BAND BACK TOGETHER perform at the BAA Theatrical Conference in Key West.

Cast members of GETTIN’ THE BAND BACK TOGETHER perform at the BAA Theatrical Conference in Key West.

But the conference went way beyond panels! There were also a number of special performances, as well as exciting creative presentations of both new and established works! These included Cyndi Lauper (KINKY BOOTS), Sheryl Crow (DINER), and the lovely Jessie Mueller performed songs from the hit Broadway show, BEAUTIFUL. I was particularly enamored by the presentation of AMELIE, and will be rooting for the show as it continues in its development and journey toward Broadway. Other shows represented at the conference were GETTIN’ THE BAND BACK TOGETHER, WE FOXES, THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD, MOTOWN THE MUSICAL and DIRTY DANCING.

The energy at the conference was inspiring, and by the close it was clear that The Road has never been stronger. It’s heartening to know how alive and well theatre remains despite all the various entertainment choices out there. And I truly believe that The Road, by bringing theatre beyond New York, Chicago and other major cities, directly and indirectly helps theatre at every level thrive all across the country. By maintaining and building new audiences, fans and supporters on The Road, theatre remains highly visible, as well as culturally and economically relevant. And no matter how technologically advanced this world gets, at the end of the day there will never be anything that could ever duplicate the kind of magical experience that only live theatre can offer.

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Closing night fireworks on the beach of the Casa Marina Hotel, Key West.

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I’m writing this post from my mobile phone. I’ve never done this before, so apologies in advance for any typos or weird formatting!

Day 2 of the Spring Road Conference has been a full day of diverse panels and creative conversations that began at 8am. Below is a small sampling of just a few of today’s discussions…

EVOLUTION OF THE ROAD

In this panel, a group of presenters, producers and booking agents discussed general observations, as well as some of the economic challenges involved in commercial theatre touring from their varying perspectives. Here is an overview…

– In the course of laying out a tour presenters and producers feel there is room to improve with regard to balancing the strength of sub load-ins from one market to another. In other words, perhaps adjusting the deal for a show from market to market in relation to the size of the sub load-in is worth considering, as a larger sub load-in involves less risk compared to a sub load-in that is not as robust.

– Bookings are happening further and further in advance, allowing for more lead time.

– The success of family titles was seen as varying from city to city from one presenter’s standpoint. Certain cities will have more family programming over another and the popularity of family programming is not necessarily uniform across markets.

– The question of whether there is too much product out there was brought up, and how that might be affecting the success of an engagement, as well as the number of weeks competing tours are able to get as a result.

– Revenue Management: Dynamic Pricing, also called Demand Pricing, is becoming an increasingly popular and effective tool for presenters and producers to maximize revenue and the panel concurred that demand pricing has even much more potential. Demand pricing, when implemented effectively, in addition to increasing gross revenue also helps to offset show and venue related expenses that continue to increase year after year.

– On a universally positive note, the panel agreed that Broadway is becoming more mainstream. Songs are getting out there due in large part to the recent theatre reality shows, as well as TV shows (such as “Glee”) that have helped to educate a larger population about musical theatre.

– The panelists agreed it was wise to think more about seeing how to effectively harness the digital activity that goes on during Broadway runs and apply this momentum to touring shows. The first time theatre ticket buyers hear about a tour coming to their town should not be when they are being sold a ticket.

“HAVE SAFE TIX!”

This panel discussed the ongoing problems presenters have with ticket scalping websites that make themselves appear as though they are associated with the presenters and their theaters. Many presenters are trying to get state and federal legislation passed to combat these companies, as many patrons are buying their tickets from these sites thinking they are buying tickets from the actual theatre organization. These sites overcharge and also don’t provide customer support when something goes wrong. The theater then ends up holding the bag and dealing with angry, confused patrons who thought they bought their tickets from the theater. It seems presenters are fighting an uphill battle against the savvy scalpers, but they are indeed fighting hard, and have been finding better ways to educate their audiences about these sites.

CREATIVE CONVERSATION

We were super fortunate to have the leads of KINKY BOOTS along with Harvey Fierstein, Jerry Mitchell and Cyndi Lauper as a creative conversation. These conversations are fun, informal panels about the creative process and other behind the scene tidbits. This group had a wonderful chemistry, which is also apparent when you see the show!

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The most significant takeaway for me from this year’s conference is how much more digital the commercial theatre industry has become since I first started attending this conference six or seven years ago. Producers, presenters, and their teams are clearly beginning to embrace digital media and strategies to strengthen their marketing and ticket sales. Even the conference schedule was accessible via an app!

It’s both exciting (and a relief!) to see that the commercial theatre industry is starting to implement technology more assertively, and in creative ways. Using digital marketing and social media enables audience members to interact with the brand in a more direct and constant way, and also extends a sense of the live experience. This, combined with effectively reaching ticket buyers through all the various electronic devices we have now, and will continue to have, will help sustain the industry and make theatre remain a prominent entertainment choice for years to come.

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If it’s January…it must be APAP!

APAP is probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest conference related to The Road, non-profit arts companies and individual artists. I discussed what the APAP conference is in some detail in a previous post. You can check that post out here.

This year, the conference begins tomorrow, and runs through January 15th.

If you’re a producer, presenter, artist, or manager and in the NYC area this weekend, you may want to register for part of the conference and check out some of the action at the Hilton, and one or more of the many varied showcases.

APAP NYC – 2013

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The Broadway League has launched a new and improved Touring Broadway site, which according to the latest League newsletter, “will provide consumers in-depth info on the shows, venues, and presenting organizations that bring Broadway to 240 North American cities each year.”

Check out the site here.

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PLAYS ON THE ROAD

Historically, The Road has tended to embrace musicals more than plays, (as one conference attendee quipped, “no one walks out of a play humming the scenery”) but the ratio of plays being booked compared to musicals has been going down even more in recent years. Yet, why is that? It would seem that there would be financial advantages to presenting a good play, and just looking at Broadway alone this season, there are certainly good plays a-plenty out there.

At the Tuesday 5/15 afternoon session, “PLAYS ON THE ROAD,” a panel of presenters, producers and bookers explained why touring plays has become less desirable and more risky economically compared to the past.

Commitment Issues

Much more so than a musical, a play tends to require a “star” to attract audiences when it goes out on tour, and a tour really needs a star to commit a good year and a half to two years out when presenters are beginning to put together their seasons. Presenters don’t want to put a “TBA” in their brochures, and they certainly don’t want to still have any roles “TBA” six months out, yet that is when many stars feel comfortable making a commitment to a touring project since they are more likely to know then if any film or TV commitments would conflict.

Regional Competition

Many touring venues are in markets that have regional theaters and resident theater companies, and these nfps have a tendency to do mostly plays. As a result, Road presenters don’t want to risk doing a title that one of these local organizations would produce on their seasons.

Less Weeks To Amortize

Plays have a tendency to not book as many weeks on The Road as musicals. As a result, plays have less weeks to amortize costs. This reality makes plays much riskier to present compared to musicals, which are more likely to have multi-week engagements and longer touring schedules.

Plays On The Road And Multiple-Week Runs?

By the time word of mouth gets going, a play is often already on its way out of town since plays tend to be booked for just one week (certainly in secondary markets) so on the one hand, plays need to be presented for more than one week in order to mitigate the risk. At the same time, however, some markets, especially those with modest sub load-ins, may not be able to fill their houses enough to make a profit, or hit break-even, for more than a one-week run of a play.

Play vs. Musical Appeal

Another thing that presenters take into consideration is that musicals tend to have the same appeal across markets, whereas a play that is received well in Louisville may not be The Ahmanson’s cup of tea. Therefore, presenters and bookers often feel that finding one play property to fit the bill in enough markets is a far greater challenge compared to musicals.

Changes In The Industry

Another factor that comes into play is price, which used to be a play’s big advantage over a musical. Now, however, the price to present a play is no longer as attractive as it once was in comparison to a musical. A few years ago, a new contract called the SETA contract (Short Engagement Touring Agreement) became available. This contract has a Guarantee cap. As a result, when musicals tour under SETA, the Guarantee is not necessarily much different, and, may even be less is some cases, than the weekly Guarantee for a play.

A New Model?

While the realities expressed were certainly disheartening, one bit of light was that the panelists, as well as other conference attendees, voiced their support of plays, and their desire to still present them, and believed plays could still be booked if The Road could come up with a model that would make touring plays less risky. Here were a few ideas that were brought up in this session:

  1. Perhaps for a 30-week tour ask 3 different celebrities to commit to just 10 weeks.
  2. Tour in rep several plays under the brand “Tony-Award Winning Plays” or “Tony-Nominated Plays” (though Producer/General Manager, Stuart Thompson pointed out that this could be a challenge to get these licenses since the plays could probably earn more on a single license at one theater)
  3. Include a sit-down in New York City as part of the 30-week tour. This might also make the tour more attractive to a star.
  4. Can presenters think creatively to reduce their costs, or negotiate with local unions?

The fact of the matter is, producers, bookers and presenters all really like plays, and have seen the positive impact that plays have had on audience members, but the commercial theater touring industry is a business. It’s a business where both labor costs and risks are high, so presenters have become cautious when considering plays for their seasons, despite how they feel about plays emotionally.

Hopefully, some of the new model ideas that people offered at this session, or other ideas, will build momentum, and plays on The Road will gain the larger presence they deserve.

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The Spring Road Conference is an annual New York City event coordinated by The Broadway League where presenters, booking agents, producers and other stakeholders in commercial theatre touring come together for panels, networking and to take in the current Broadway offerings that will possibly be touring in the 2012-2013 season. Check out my post on The 2009 Spring Road Conference if you are interested in seeing some of the topics that were covered that year.

With regard to this year’s conference, which is still underway as I write this post, there have already been several engaging panels and creative conversations. The theme of this year’s conference is “Road To Success” with a focus on how the industry is starting to re-think how to reach and retain ticket buyers in an age that is becoming increasingly digital and spontaneous.

The first panel on Tuesday was entitled “What Is The Industry’s Commitment to Subscriptions?” where the main takeaway was, yes, subscribers are necessary, and will remain necessary because they form the foundation that gives the presenter the ability to buy shows. The members of the panel, who included producer, Kevin McCollum, Amy Jacobs of Nina Lannan Associates, and Randy Weeks, President of The Denver Center for Performing Arts also all agreed that one of the main ways to keep and increase the subscription base was to include a blockbuster on season. When a season doesn’t contain a blockbuster, subscriptions will often go down. So, it is important to have an anchor every year if possible. An interesting fact that came up was that JERSEY BOYS is considered the last new blockbuster to come along, which apparently makes this the longest stretch since 1972 since there’s been a new mega-hit.

The panel also agreed that it is especially crucial now to find unique ways to make subscribers feel special, and reward them for their loyalty in order to retain them. It’s so easy to buy tickets these days with people being able to go on the internet, their iPad, their iPhone, et. al. at 3am to make a purchase if they want to, that presenters need to provide a strong sense of value to subscribers beyond just sub discounts. It is important to give a loyal subscriber of, say, 10…15 years a different and better experience than the single ticket buyer, who may just attend shows once every few years, and to come up with ways to show subscribers that they are cared about. That said, the presenter also still needs to spend time trying to turn a single ticket buyer into a subscriber. So, ultimately, it’s a bit of a balance that needs to be figured out.

Another point brought up was related to communication and that it is key that presenters reach out to subscribers regularly so subscribers feel engaged, and to also reach out to them through a variety of different media since people are getting their content in so many ways today, especially digitally.

Lastly, everyone agreed that it is essential to listen to subscribers and to what they care about most to best accommodate them. It was also agreed that, in general, subscribers care about these areas, and in this order:

  • Product (i.e., what shows they want to see on the theater’s season)
  • Schedule
  • Price

The Tuesday afternoon “Hot Button Topics” discussion touched on a number of issues, one of which was pricing. Many strategies were offered, including the idea of monthly pricing plans to entice new, or re-newing subscribers who may not be comfortable laying out a large sum of money for a subscription all at once. Another strategy that was offered, and which various presenters feel has been successful in their markets, is the “flex package.” Though, one presenter cautioned that what may work for one market may not work as well for another, so to be careful when considering an idea that worked well in another city or town. Another perspective came from the producing side. While the producer is sensitive to the presenter’s need to retain and build their sub base and keep prices attractive, the producer only has a certain number of weeks available within a touring schedule to be able to recoup, and so they don’t want to under-price their shows. Ticket pricing is often a long and complicated process between the producing and presenting sides, and so the final scaling can sometimes take a while to negotiate.

I look forward to sharing more with you about this year’s conference in “Part 2” of this two-part post in the coming days…

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