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Posts Tagged ‘Spring Road Conference’

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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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Well, another fabulous Spring Road Conference is in the books! If you are not familiar with this annual industry conference, check out my posts from previous conferences, such as this one, which will give you a basic overview.

It was a hectic week, filled with a variety of panels, creative conversations, lunches, cocktail parties, networking and shows. What was clear was how far the conference and the commercial theatre industry as whole has come as far as going more digital. The entire program for the conference was available through the Guidebook app and could also be viewed on a pdf. Conference binders were still being distributed, but I have a feeling that by the 2016 conference, the binder option will be gone completely. Also, a number of sessions were dedicated to digital and there was a “Digital War Room” where conference attendees had the opportunity to take advantage of one-on-one sessions with digital pros from various media outlets and social channels, as well as expert media buyers and strategists in the Broadway industry.

There were a multitude of panels on a whole variety of topics. Below is just a sampling of a few sessions…

“’IT’S A GREAT TITLE FOR THE ROAD,’ AND OTHER MYTHS”

This was a jam-packed session that had a lot of vibrant back and forth. Are certain titles right for the Road, but not New York City? Does a tour need a celebrity and what qualifies as a celebrity really as far as someone having enough of a “name” to sell more tickets? Is the summer really not a viable time for tours, or is that one of the many “myths?” There were no hard and fast answers, but it was definitely an airing out of viewpoints and I would say that chances are good that some of discussions will remain in the back of people’s minds when it’s time to think about a possible summer booking, deciding on whether a certain name should be involved, and if a title really will be strong enough to tour.

“WHAT IS THE GP?”

This was another packed and lively session. With the implementation of dynamic pricing, the GP (“Gross Potential”) is no longer the hard and fast largest possible gross for an engagement. People generally felt that the GP was still necessary when making pricing and budgeting decisions, but in this session it became clear that producers and presenters were beginning to become more thoughtful about what this number really represented and considering it a little differently than in the past. No universal approach surfaced during this discussion, but I suspect that in a few years time there will be a more cohesive industry-wide approach on what the GP really means. Perhaps there will be a new definition, as the GP these days seems more like a threshold number that the producer and presenter agree they would like to meet, and exceed.

“THE MILLENNIAL MARKETING MYSTERY”

In this session, guest speak Cathleen Johnson, President of Cathleen Johnson Tourism Consultants, LLC presented data on the “millennial” generation, a generation she insisted we all needed to really pay attention to and understand for the theatre industry to continue to thrive down the road. Johnson pushed the importance of tailoring marketing to attract this newer generation, considered to be an “alpha influencer” in the decision-making process among their peers as well as their parents’ generation. In additional to Johnson, three millennials were also on the panel and they commented on her data. Much of what Johnson said made sense to me, as well as to the millennials on the panel, though, I also felt some of her findings also applied to me and I am definitely NOT a millennial! That said, I think the overarching point was that it was important for marketers of theatre to be aware of the purchasing and social habits of the members of this group when implementing marketing and ticket pricing and discount message strategies.

“MEETING OF THE BROADWAY LEAGUE’S LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL”

This was an exciting and informative session where the panel and several presenters in the audience described recent accomplishments in the political realm, including opposing legislation intended to prevent venues from thwarting deceptive broker practices and advancing tax credits that encourage investment in theatre. These major strides notwithstanding, the big takeaway from this session was how important is is to begin having relationships and dialogue with local, state and federal electeds BEFORE a major issue presents itself, so you don’t have to start from scratch getting these politicians to pay attention to you when a challenge comes up related to your theater or theatre enterprise, and you need them most!

I only touched on a few aspects of the conference here. To really get a feel for this conference and its exciting vibe you must experience it first-hand! If you are a new producer, presenter, marketer, or booking agent looking to learn more about the Broadway and commercial touring industry and to meet the professionals who work in it, I highly recommend that you gain the credentials to join The Broadway League and attend this annual conference. League membership and the conference may seem pricey to some, but if you plan on being in this industry for the long haul, then it’s definitely a worthwhile investment!

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Today was the first full day of the 2013 Spring Road Conference. I am a big fan of this annual conference, as it provides the chance to meet up face to face with Broadway Across America colleagues and BAA partners from all over North America who I usually only get to interface with on a virtual basis, as well as reconnect with others in the industry, and meet new people as well. This conference is also a time for all of us to check in regarding where the industry stands, how far things have come, and how far we still need to go.

Artist: Ken Fallin

Artist: Ken Fallin

Today’s first panel, for instance, covered the continued lack of diversity of theatre audiences. Panelists from different touring markets and different areas of the commercial theatre industry introduced some exciting programs they are currently instituting to try and address this issue.

Sue Frost, Producer at Junkyard Dog Productions and member of The Broadway League’s Education and Community Engagement Committee presented a moving video about The Broadway League’s exciting, new internship program for high school students that introduces the participants to the many different jobs in the theatre industry, and Megan Riegel, President and CEO of The Peace Center for the Performing Arts showed footage of a program called Peace Voices, an outreach initiative that encourages both youths and adults from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds to write poems on particular themes and perform them publicly for their family, friends, teachers, and peers. While not directly Broadway-related, Peace Voices is an empowering experience that encourages both youths and adults to believe in themselves, connect with who they are, and express themselves freely in a performance setting.

These presentations were moving and inspiring, and hopefully these and other initiatives will connect with people who are unfamiliar with theatre and Broadway to make them feel welcome and turn them into regular theater-goers, as well as expose them to a whole new world of career options.

Looking forward to bringing you another update in the next day or so!

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DYNAMIC PRICING:  REVENUE MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES

On Thursday 5/17, the final day of the conference, two sessions were devoted to Dynamic Pricing. (For my previous post about Dynamic Pricing, please click here.)

A lot of information was disseminated by the various panelists on how they have navigated within the Dynamic Pricing model. Below is a list of bullet points that give an overview of the information that was imparted at these sessions:

  • Build different price levels horizontally rather than vertically to fill the orchestra and fronts of other sections to create an electric feeling. People behind these locations will see the energy in front of them, rather than seeing empty seats.
  • Look at pricing by performance, not just overall sales.
  • When you have distressed inventory, align with organizations that can sell these seats at full price to a “valued buyer.” There are companies with a target constituency that may have an easier time getting their consumers to buy the same tickets that you may have trouble moving.
  • Hold back seats to create demand if you know you will sell quickly.
  • Be conscious of the price/value equation. Create a sense of scarcity to spark interest and urgency.
  • Continually monitor and manage rezoning, revenue management and forecasting.
  • When implementing Dynamic Pricing, consider your messaging since prices will fluctuate, i.e. “Prices starting from…” or “Today’s price is…” or “Act now! Prices go up on Friday!” or “Prices are not guaranteed,” etc., so people know the price will change.
  • QUESTION: How can an organization keep up with the messaging, though, if you have limited resources within your advertising spend, and you also don’t want to upset potential customers by over communicating?
  1. ANSWER: Create a seat map that allows people to scroll over seats to see the different prices. “Pick your seats online.” (See Ahmanson Theatre)
  • Price aisle seats higher. People will be willing to buy adjacent seats at the same price when they buy the aisle seat.
  • Set a deadline for subscriber renewal. “Act by x date, otherwise the package goes up to y.”
  • Consider using the word “Adjusting” rather than “Discounting” when messaging that prices are being lowered.
  • Be careful lowering prices for people who already want to attend a performance. People who already don’t want to come probably still won’t want to…even at a lower price. “If people don’t want to come…you can’t stop them!”
  • For one-week markets, do surveys in advance to get a sense of the heat signature.
  • QUESTION: What are some successful strategies when middle-priced inventory isn’t moving?
  1. ANSWER: Raise deeply discounted mid-section seats back to full price, then reduce them and give the inventory to a company like Goldstar. The Goldstar consumer will feel like they’re getting a deal. i.e., they will be getting the full price $75 ticket for $49.
  2. ANSWER: Raise the PL3 price to the PL2 price to give the perception that it’s a hot ticket.
  3. ANSWER: If you have three price levels, for example, $45/$35/$25 and your $35 tickets are not moving, consider raising your $35 ticket to $45 at both peak and non-peak performances with the messaging, “a new block of $45 tickets on sale!”
  • Know your timeline so you are ready in advance to have higher pricing in place before your campaign hits.

Annnnd…this post concludes my coverage of some of the panels and a bit of the fun from the 2012 Spring Road Conference. I hope you found these posts useful, and that you continue to check back here at The Road 101 for more observations, updates, and articles related to the commercial theatre touring industry.

See you down The Road!

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The inimitable James Corden, star of the hilarious London import, ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS, currently running on Broadway and nominated for seven Tony Awards, talks frankly about why touring is so frustrating for him!

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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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Jordan Roth and Pam MacKinnon discuss an effective audience engagement initiative implemented during tech of “Clybourne Park.”

The 2012 Spring Road Conference wrapped up with a bang at the post-theatre party hosted by NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT last Thursday night after an incredibly fun and informative few days at The Hudson Theatre, The Millenium Broadway Hotel, and restaurants and clubs throughout Times Square!

In my next few posts, I will highlight some of the panels and events that took place to give you a sense of where the industry mindset is currently at, and what people were talking about.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: OPENING OUR DOORS 

HOW TO GET AUDIENCE AND HOW TO KEEP THEM?

This first early morning session on Tuesday 5/15 was led by renowned New York theatre producer and Jujamcyn Theaters President, Joardan Roth where he, along with his CLYBOURNE PARK director, Pam MacKinnon discussed actual examples where they were able to engage potential audiences in unique ways.

The session started with the basic question: “Why are we inviting people in to our show in the first place?” The answer was simple and seemingly unremarkable enough: to educate and entertain. A producer wants his show to inform people in some way, while also leaving them with a feeling about that information, with the hope that audiences will then act in a positive way on that information that will potentially get the word out even more about the show. To engage people successfully, though, you need to find a way to make people feel as though they have a sense of ownership in relation to the show. In other words, you want people to feel compelled to root for the show, and you want them to feel motivated to act as advocates, or ambassadors for the show.

To that end, Mr. Roth spoke of an initiative that he and his creative team tried out on CLYBOURNE PARK. During their tech, CLYBOURNE PARK invited students studying theater tech at Fordham Univesity to observe the entire tech process, and blog about it on Broadwayworld.com. These students not only learned a lot themselves about how a professional show works from an insider’s view, but they also essentially became guides to others who were outside of the process in that the students took their personal, behind the scenes experience, processed it, and enthusiastically told others about it. These students became advocates and ambassadors for the show. One of the Fordham students attended the morning session and said that she could not wait to see CLYBOURNE PARK after her experience, that she felt a part of it all in some way even though she was not technically a part of the show, and that she was rooting for CLYBOURNE PARK to win the Tony.

Apparently, when the blog launched it received around thirteen thousand hits within the first day. By the end of the first week of posts, the blog had received over one-hundred thousand hits. Mr. Roth’s feeling was, once people read a number of the blog posts about behind the scenes at CLYBOURNE PARK, what was the next thing they were then going to potentially want to do? See CLYBOURNE PARK!

Some conference attendees raised concerns about the risks of this idea, including how so much can potentially go wrong during tech, and how was that handled? Also, what about the possibility of a negative blog post? In response to these concerns, Mr. Roth and Ms. MacKinnon said that in their case the creative team had felt confident that nothing major would go wrong in tech because the show had already had a production in New York and LA, so everyone knew what they were doing. Also, there was an understanding at the beginning of the relationship between the show and the students that the blog posts would be vetted and edited by the show prior to being put up.

Another example that Mr. Roth gave as a way he engaged people personally in relation to CLYBOURNE PARK was via his Twitter account. He created a contest essentially looking for the best answer to the question: “#iwanttogobackstage at Clybourne Park with Jordan Roth and why?” This simple (and free!) initiative had a 1-2-3 marketing punch…

1) It encouraged people to share their thoughts publicly

2) It created more fans

3) And the backstage tour with Jordan Roth and the winner would be filmed

One final example Mr. Roth gave with regard to how CLYBOURNE PARK was planning to engage audiences in a unique way was through a relationship he fostered between CLYBOURNE PARK and the Discovery channel program “How Stuff Works.” CLYBOURNE PARK would be the first theatre production to appear on “How Stuff Works” showing how stuff works behind the scenes of a Broadway show. In addition to the TV show, “How Stuff Works” also has a website that receives millions of hits and downloads, and the program is also one of the Top 10 podcasts on iTunes.

As the session was winding down, attendees questioned how ideas like these could feasibly apply to the Road. The Road is far more limited in many ways compared to Broadway in that shows on tour move from place to place in most markets after just a week, and so it’s challenging to implement techniques like these when a show is only in town for such a short period. Going back to his opening remarks, Mr. Roth basically encouraged The Road to simply start thinking about reaching audiences in creative, proactive ways that make people feel “invited in.” One suggestion he made to the presenters was to send ambassadors to other markets that have the same shows arriving at their theaters earlier in the season. Those ambassadors could then start blogging about these shows way ahead of time, getting the local audiences back where they’re from excited and better informed about upcoming shows, and creating buzz well in advance of these shows coming into town.

Mr. Roth was a dynamic and generous speaker who proved through example that there are plenty of innovative ideas out there to bring in more audiences, and I have no doubt he will continue to discover new, smart ways to connect his projects with theater-goers.

I look forward to telling you more about other topics that were covered at the conference, so be sure check back here at The ROAD 101 soon!

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