Friday, November 25, 2011

Airline Tix for Opera? (Thanks, Hugh Jackman!)

The New York Times just reported about rather 'interesting' pricing strategies, helping to keep the lights shining brightly down on the Great White Way.

Turns out, theater owners and producers can look at past sales figures and predict exactly how much people will pay for certain seats. Some seats get discounted at first, but when reviews come in or some sections sell out, prices skyrocket. In effect, it's pricing performance seats similarly to airline fares.

Imagine how that pricing has influenced the way we buy airline tickets (or at least, the way I do!): I try to buy early, compare the possibilities, scanning my computer screen hungrily, until the moment I find the perfect date, price, and location and BAM! I review the itinerary with lusty caution...hit the PURCHASE button with apprehension-soaked courage, and the blessed confirmation screen finally arrives as I shudder with relief and gratitude. Ahhh...that's better.

If only buying opera tickets carried so much DRAMA!

Because of course, just as airlines are now catering to the profitable customer, so should performing arts organizations. There will always be the discount shoppers like me, but considering the number of deep-pocketed Puccini fans, opera companies could stand to make some serious dough if they get with the program.

How much will you pay for the best seat in the house?
The other pricing strategy that goes along with this: the affluent customer wants things that are expensive.  In fact, I think our current economy is unique in this trend: cheap things are getting cheaper and more disposable, and expensive things are getting more costly and more lasting -- there is little in between. Does opera want to be the former or the latter? It's a tricky question, and the answer is that it just has to pick one and not stay in the middle. (Brilliant example: seeing the Met Live is expensive and extravagant and time-consuming; Met HD is cheap and disposable, and people buy both because they are getting the extreme on the pendulum, and those extremes are what sell.)

But let's follow-through with the fact that the affluent customer wants things that are expensive...in another life I worked in the copyediting department of a major entertainment company that shall remain nameless.  Needless to say they ran both the most famous circus in the world, and also the most famous ice skating show in the world. On their ads for the circus, they sold the show as a fun but casual event for the family.  They had tiered pricing. They listed the cheapest prices first and then went up from there.  On the contrary, for the ice show, they were marketing it more like a ballet or a Broadway show -- an epic, fancy, family event, so they listed the most expensive seats first. And guess what? The most expensive ones were the first to sell -- always. And remember...the two different productions were sold by the same company, so they reaped the profits from both extremes, just like the Met!

I still feel that opera is stunted by the albatross of non-profit-bleeding-hearts. Yes -- we can still be accessible, and also exclusive; 'cheap' to some and 'extravagant' to others...we have to provide both products.

Airline travel used to be something reserved for the wealthy, but now the product has changed to offer something for both the well-heeled elite, and also the great unwashed. Or people who can pass for both, like me.