Superpowers, Part Three
Editor’s Note: For this series, Jim writes about our superpowers — the ones that we in the live entertainment business have — and their corresponding forms of kryptonite-like weaknesses.
Sadly, as Superman knows, sometimes those superpowers come with superweaknesses. Today, we’ll cover the third and final (for now) pair of superpowers/superweaknesses. I saved this one for last!
The third form of krytptonite for live entertainment, its third superweakness, is cost. Live entertainment is expensive.
Even though it might seem obvious what I mean by that, I want to explain. Live entertainment isn’t expensive because a courtside seat at STAPLES costs a fortune or because you can pay hundreds of dollars to see a Broadway show.
Live entertainment is expensive because the alternatives, the substitutes, are so cheap.
Netflix, with all the movies and TV shows you could ever want to see, costs $10 … for an entire month! You can play Halo or Arkham Knight for 50 or 100 hours of pretty good entertainment, all for the low price of $75 or so. And if you want to go really, really cheap, you can sit at home and flick through your Facebook feed for hours on end, absolutely free.
So it’s not the $300 Book of Mormon ticket that makes me say live entertainment is expensive. It’s the infinite array of other things people can do to entertain themselves that costs very little or nothing at all. I’m the poster child, after all, for having lots and lots of live entertainment choices at reasonable prices. I go to shows all the time and have an amazing experience that costs very little. People spend $20 on a trip to Starbucks, so a $40 ticket to a show isn’t a major life purchase in the scheme of things. Still, though, compared to the alternatives that people have for entertainment, it’s a fortune.
And then, of course, there are the courtside seats and that BOM ticket …
So, what’s the corresponding superpower?
I call it show lust. When somebody’s got a show lust, they’ll pay whatever they need to pay to see a show. I almost called this superpower “quality,” but thinking about that some more, I changed my mind. Quality is too vague. Everyone thinks they do a “quality” show, and most do. But quality isn’t what I’m talking about entirely. Yes, it’s true that live entertainment is a luxury item. Nobody needs a show, and yes, it’s true that live entertainment is at the top of the Entertainment Pyramid, in the premium spot.
But show lust is what it’s really all about. Once a person locks on to wanting to see a show, they’ll begin to justify paying what it costs to go. You and I have seen this (and probably done this) a hundred times. Theaters all over the country think an “under 30” price discount of a few dollars is what will get a younger crowd into their building, while those same “under 30s” are spending $699 to get into Electric Daisy Carnival in Vegas this month.
Yes, there is a reality to budgets. You can’t defy wallet gravity, but this is show business. You’ve got to generate some heat for potential buyers or your show is DOA.
Nobody cares about the price of a show they don’t want to see. You could tell me the Kazoo Revue (I just made that up and it sounds hideous) is a very, very affordable $1 ticket, but I don’t want to be anywhere near that venue. Kazoos give me a headache.
But once a buyer has show lust, the sense of value changes. Sure, they’ve got a personal economic reality, but it’s amazing how what a person can afford changes when they decide they really want it.
I’d go so far as to say that most of the time, when someone blames cost for not going to a live event, the real reason is that they don’t really want to go all that much. No show lust.
How do you use that superpower? Obviously, the actual content is important, but we don’t always have control over how great something may be. What we do have to do is inspire show lust by giving people reasons to care about a show or event. This takes creativity. When I read copy that says, “This is the U.S. premiere of this play … ,” or “The Rochester Rockets finished third last year, and they’re looking to improve … ,” or “This performer won the Jacques Derrida Prize for best modern dance costumes … ,” I hear content that is not designed to give me reasons to go. They’re perfectly fair descriptions of the shows and events in question, but they’re not reasons for me to go because they don’t make me inherently care.
They don’t inspire show lust. And without that, the cost kryptonite is too strong.