Are Season Subscriptions Going Extinct?

rippleI’ve been rolling this idea around in my head for almost a year now. Are season subscriptions a viable business model? I understand the appeal for venues. You find some patrons who support your theatre and like what you do. Instead of marketing to them repeatedly for each of your major productions you just have to market to them once a year.

But is this a mutually beneficial relationships? 10 years ago I think it certainly was. Today I’m not so sure.

The ripple effect of technology

Our entertainment options have shifted rapidly over the least few years, and there’s no sign of the changes slowing down. Technology allows us to consume very specific types of content on whichever channel is most convenient to us. By no means do I think that means live theatre is going to disappear, but I do see advances in production and distribution of entertainment having a ripple effect that fundamentally change what people expect from all of their entertainment – including theatre.

I think many of the people who become season subscribers at their local theatre aren’t subscribing to live theatre per se.

When it was costly and difficult to bring a movie to market, it meant that any movie hoping to be profitable needed to appeal to a big demographic. Now a high school kid could save up enough money to buy a digital camera and the video editing software to put a pretty sophisticated up online. Instead of seeing watered down versions of familiar archetypes and plot lines in all of our entertainment, we’re seeing a wide variety of experimental and highly-stylized stories.

Remember when that was the exclusive purview of live theatre in most communities?

I think many of the people who become season subscribers at their local theatre aren’t subscribing to live theatre per se. I think they are subscribing to the opportunity to see some form of entertainment that isn’t bleached and sterilized to be consumed by the masses. I think they are subscribing to a channel that will challenge and surprise them.

As more and more opportunities to find that kind of engagement from the comfort of their living rooms appear, I expect many people will just let their subscriptions lapse.

Marketing each show

I think in the future theatres will need to spend more of their attention on unique promotions for each individual show. What demographic cares about this particular show, and how do you get your promotions in front of them specifically.

The encouraging news? The same technology that’s encroaching on theatre’s once comfortable turf as provider of unique entertainment is making marketing easier. People use the Internet to self-identify their interests and tell you exactly which shows in your season they would be interested in. They like brands on Facebook, follow boards on Pinterest, subscribe to podcasts, and sign up for email newsletters that tell you what they like.

Maybe I’m just Chicken Little. Do you think there’s a reason season subscriptions will remain an important revenue stream for years to come?

call me chicken little, but I think the season subscription sky might be falling

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  1. Hi, Clay – I agree with you that theatres will be most successful, moving forward, if they promote each of their shows individually and in a targeted way. However, as someone who bought seasons tickets for the first time this year (to the Indiana Repertory Theatre, Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre, and flex passes to the Phoenix Theatre), I can tell you that I did so for up to three reasons: to save money, to reserve specific seats, and/or to show my support for the theatres themselves because I’ve come to trust them. These three are not the only three Indianapolis-area theatres I love, of course, but I’ve gone to them enough over the past five years now that I trust them for the shows about which I know nothing. I also like that they are different from each other. Subscriptions to the three of them, together, will give me a rich theatre season, even if I don’t see any other shows. (But of course, I will see other shows.) Anyway, thanks for the thought-provoking post. ‘See you at the theatres…

    Hope Baugh on Tue, Nov 20th, 2012 at 12:12pm
    • Hope, you bring up an interesting perspective. I’m used to focusing on ticket packages as a way to produce revenue, but it’s worth considering how they can be used to show appreciation to patrons. Maybe you were likely to go to see many of the shows at all three of those venues anyway, but the season package can make things a little more convenient for you and help you feel that tiny bit more connected to each of them. There’s value beyond the box office take there.

      Thanks for pulling the conversation wider than just ticket sales.

      So the next marketing challenge is how do we make all of our patrons as rabidly passionate about theatre as Hope Baugh. Oh my. I’m going to have to think on that one. 😉

      Clay Mabbitt on Tue, Nov 20th, 2012 at 4:44pm

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