Everything Is Marketing, Including Start Times

Check out this article about the change in start times on different kinds of shows. Here’s a key quote:

“Empires rose and empires fell, but if there was one thing the world could depend on, it was the 8 p.m. curtain time for theater, opera, and classical music performances. That, however, was back in the 20th century.

In the 21st century, if you don’t check daily listings, you may be late for Act One. Though the Philadelphia Orchestra holds steady with music at 8, a weeknight performance at the Wilma Theater, the Arden Theatre, Philadelphia Theatre Company, or 1812 Productions may start as early as 6:30. For Sunday-night touring Broadway shows at the Academy of Music, all traditional bets are off.”

I think this is a massively positive development because it recognizes the audience, and it puts their needs first. Why is curtain at 8:00pm? Because it’s always been at 8. Pish posh! That’s nonsense, and more and more places are recognizing it.

Like anyone, I can offer theories galore. I like a couple of the ones that came out in this piece, like James Haskins, Managing Director of Philly’s Wilma Theatre, who said, “Since we do plays that encourage dialogue, people enjoy going out afterward and discussing it among themselves.”

Interesting point. Could be.

Matt Glandorf of Choral Arts Philadelphia says, “Maybe we’re becoming more health-conscious and realizing that sleep is important.” Maybe so. Good theory.

I’d encourage you to read the whole article, written by David Patrick Stearns, because it’s a good overview of the issue, but here’s what I’d add. This is all about suiting audiences’ needs. Stearns points out that the new Tuesday start time has made a formerly slow night into a winner for some organizations and that Friday, which used to be a reliable high-sales night, has diminished somewhat. I would concur that on a national level, we see Friday losing some of its luster to Thursday, with Saturday remaining pretty peak-y. Weekend matinees have also gotten stronger across genres, including sports (where they’re not really called matinees).

The point is that picking a start time for a performance is about suiting the needs of an audience, and just doing that right can change the ability of a venue to sell it out. It can’t really be about “following tradition.” Honestly, a starting time tradition is a pretty dull tradition. Save your traditions for ones that count. It can’t be about convenience for your organization because like any organization, it’s your job to organize yourselves around the customer, not the other way around.

This is probably one of the easiest, cheapest ways to increase sales for live entertainment venues. You should tinker, test and then not be afraid to make change. Be warned: Somebody will dislike your changes, no matter what they are. Some of those somebodies will be existing, loyal customers. But if you’re improving the accessibility of your stuff by making that change, it’s going to be worth it. Loyal customers will probably follow you after they get over the initial friction.

This is an easy one. Figure out how to make new start times make you more sales, and then make those changes!

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