Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Taxing Broadway: Mayor proposes more expensive tickets?

Another idea proposed back in February: Governor Patterson wanted to levy a tax on all ticket sales from Broadway box offices.

What are the chances that this would have a positive effect on ticket sales? How about zero? I can’t imagine what the governor was thinking when he proposed this tax. “Oh look, Broadway’s ticket sales are way down because of the recession. Let’s tax the few customers they have left and see how much I can hurt Broadway!” Fortunately Patterson finally found some sense and eventually eliminated the proposition from his 2008-2009 plan. But he sure caused quite a scare.

When Patterson first proposed his new plan to tax ticket sales, he was immediately faced with hundreds of protests from the people involved in every aspect of show business, from the actors all the way up to the producers and directors. Members of their unions even formally testified against the proposition, saying that the tax would drive down ticket sales to the point that Broadway would be forced to close some shows to cover the loss.

Broadway tickets are expensive enough already—why make them cost any more? Yes, we all know that New York’s government is suffering from the recession too, but what they don’t seem to realize is that creating a new tax such as this one will only hurt their revenues more. Their proposed tax was on ticket sales—if they make tickets cost too much more, people would stop buying the tickets, and in the end the government wouldn’t actually be making any extra money. They’d actually be losing a lot of money.

It is propositions like this that can really drive Broadway under, and thanks to the protestors, Broadway was saved from an even bigger recession than it’s already facing. We just have to make sure nothing else like this ever happens.

The Broadway Traffic-Stopper

Here’s an interesting article I found online: “Mayor Plans to Close Parts of Broadway to Traffic.” It seems that back in February, mayor Bloomberg proposed the closing of sections of major traffic zones to be made into planned pedestrian-only areas. Bloomberg is especially focusing on the section of Broadway Street that intersects with Seventh Avenue.

This area, which is featured in the picture above, is often congested to the point of a standstill, and the steady stream of pedestrians (many of whom are theatergoers) trying to cross the street slows down traffic immensely. The mayor proposes that completely closing off these areas of the street will not worsen the traffic, as you might think, but will actually make it faster.

Broadway diagonally intersects Seventh Avenue, and it is these intersections that cause the majority of the traffic. If the intersecting section of Broadway were to be closed off, says Bloomberg, we would see a huge lightening of the traffic on Seventh Avenue. Not only that, but pedestrians in the area will no longer have to worry about crossing a dangerous street to get to the Broadway theaters.

Closing the street definitely would have a huge effect on pedestrian traffic in the Broadway area. Not only that, but the closed off sections of the street could then be used as potential areas for malls and stores for theatergoers on their way to see a show in one of Broadway’s theaters. Hopefully this change will carry over into ticket sales, with more people wanting to see shows now that the area is much more pedestrian-friendly.

And here's an example of what the street could look like if Bloomberg's proposition comes into effect (definitely an improvement, if you ask me--though in this picture it looks like public transportation is still allowed access):

Broadway's Ripple Effect

Broadway’s theaters are not the only ones feeling the effects of Broadway’s struggle right now. It may not seem so obvious, but all of the restaurants, stores, and businesses around Broadway rely on the crowds brought in by Broadway’s success. Many theatergoers stop off at a restaurant to catch a quick meal before or after a show, or buy memorabilia from the many shops in the area.

These businesses rely on Broadway’s success, and in times like this when Broadway isn’t bringing in its usual crowds, the nearby industries begin to feel the pressure. Customers are no longer coming in their usual numbers, and sales rates are dropping.

07, for example, there was a mass strike by Broadway’s stagehands (click here for some background info on the strike). Aside from all the show cancellations that resulted, the effects were felt all across the Broadway area in a huge ripple effect. Restaurant reservations were cancelled; stores didn’t make sales; taxis didn’t get their usual numbers of customers; all because Broadway couldn’t make a deal with its stagehands.

2008 saw a similar ordeal for Broadway, this time in the form of a musician and actor’s strike. This strike caused twenty different shows to cancel performances, bringing Broadway to a standstill. This strike, however, did not have quite as big an effect on the surrounding businesses, because many of the theatergoers were already in the area when the cancellations were announced. Instead, masses of angry theater lovers were left outside the theaters with their now-useless tickets.

Now, even without a strike, customers are becoming scarce in New York’s theater district. Broadway just isn’t attracting people like it used to. Many people travel to New York specifically to see a Broadway show, and with the economy in its current state, this just isn’t happening anymore. People are afraid to spend the money on tickets, and aren’t willing to make the trip to New York.

If this pattern keeps up for much longer, we’re almost definitely going to see some businesses in the Broadway area go under. And we just have to hope there isn’t a strike any time soon, because that would put Broadway and its neighbors over the edge. I’m not sure if there would be any coming back from that kind of a disaster.

Don't always listen to the Critics!

            When you think about going to see a show, what types of things do you look for?  Name recognition?  Famous actors and actresses?  Good music?  Maybe even a good director?  These are all important things to think about, but there’s one more factor that can make or break a Broadway show’s run: the critics.

            When it comes to ticket sales, critics have the power to decide the fate of a show.  Their reviews come out in the newspapers, and everyone is excited to see what they have to say.  If a bad review comes out for a show, many people who were maybe planning on seeing it suddenly lose their interest.  While, on the other hand, when a good review comes out, suddenly ticket sales boom and it becomes the next big Broadway hit.

            This is rue for new, no-name shows that no one knows about, but revivals don’t always follow the same pattern.  Often when Broadway opens a show that everyone has heard of already, just the name recognition of the show brings in the masses.  Even if the critics give it an awful review, people still want to see it anyway.

            Critic reviews can be very useful when deciding on a show to see.  After all, Broadway is expensive, and you want to make sure you spend your money on a show that you’ll actually enjoy.  But there’s a downside to listening to the critics.  There are many times when the reviews just seem plain wrong.  I’ll read a review of a show that got awful ratings, go see it, and absolutely love. 

            And here’s the weakness of listening to critics:  they’re each only one person.  Everyone has his own opinions, and many times these opinions are conflicting.  Just because one critic may have hated a show doesn’t mean everyone will hate it.  It just means that this one critic happened not to have liked the show.  Someone else might go see the show and walk out thinking it was the best show they’ve ever seen.

            It’s really a shame how much power the critics have over Broadway.  Theatergoers should be able to make their own decisions about shows.  Of course, no one said anyone has to listen to the critics, but its bound to happen anyway.  If I had never heard of a show before, and then I read a terrible review for it, the review will be my only experience with the show and naturally I wouldn’t want to see it. 

            And psychologically, hearing a bad review for a show will affect your opinion of the show even if you see it.  In social psychology, this is called “assimilation.”  Assimilation is when you unconsciously decide your opinion on new information based on attitude already stored in memory.  In this case, when you see the new show, you will automatically make it fit with the information you already had about it, i.e. the bad review.

            While it is definitely important to consider critic’s opinions when looking for a new show to go see, just remember they’re not always right.  If a critic says a show is great, then go ahead, see it.  But if a critic says a show is terrible, make sure you do some extra research, get more than one opinion.  Because you never know, if you listen to the critic you may be missing out on what could become your favorite show.

Rising From the Ashes?

            It looks like there may be some hope for Broadway in the near future after all.  Just last week, an article came out called “Broadway Box Office Gaining Steam.”  According to the “Variety,” Broadway box offices have recently been seeing slight rises in ticket sales.  Could this be the moment we’ve all been waiting for?  The moment where this financial disaster finally turns itself around and heads in a more positive direction?

            It may be that Broadway’s marketing techniques are paying off.  The half-off tickets, children’s nights, and special discounts are definitely helping to fill the audiences, but is the only factor involved in the sudden reversal in the downward spiral of ticket sales?  Guys and Dolls just hit a 96% attendance record; there seems to be a little more going on here than good marketing on Broadway’s part.

            Of course there are still many shows that are at a deficit.  The good luck Guys and Dolls has been having has not spread across all of Broadway yet.  But maybe with time America will rediscover the magic of theater, and Broadway will rise out of its financial trap.  Until that time, we can only watch and wait, and hope.

Broadway Fansites: The Marketing of the Future

            To follow the theme from my last post, I’m going to continue talking about the money side of Broadway.  I already touched on the many problems producers are having with finding investors.  Now I’m going to focus on the marketing difficulties that Broadway is facing. 

            Since the advent of the Internet, Broadway, as well as virtually all of the entertainment industry, began taking advantage of the online marketing opportunities opened up by the mass use of the web.  Whenever a new show was announced, an “official” website was created for the show, featuring biographies of the cast members, information for ticket sales, and sometimes critics’ reviews of the show.  More recently, however, Broadway’s attention was caught by the ever-expanding communities of Facebook, Myspace, and other networking websites.  Broadway couldn’t help but want to leave its mark in this revolutionary cyber-world.

            Fan sites for Broadway shows began springing up all over the Internet, and Broadway encouraged this trend by creating its own fan pages in Facebook and Myspace.  These sites allow fans to comment on the shows, write messages directly to the individual cast members, read critic reviews, and even buy tickets for upcoming performances.

            And it’s not just that the fansites are like Facebook and Myspace—they almost try to be their own Facebook or Myspace.  One such site, (and here’s my friend Brynn again), even tried to make their name sound like Myspace. 

            Here’s a good example of a fan site:  It seems like it would be just another website made by a fan—in this case, of the show 13—but after a closer look you’ll see that it actually was created by the show’s producers.  And even when shows like 13 close, their fansites are kept up and are still being used by their loyal fans.  If you take a look at the site’s forums, the entire first page of post topics were created just this month alone.  The curtain may have closed on 13’s stage, but its fans are still not willing to give it up.

            I think these fansites are a brilliant idea, and hopefully will help get Broadway up and running again.  But it’s hard at this point to see exactly what effect this new type of marketing is having on the public.  It will take some time before we can tell how many more ticket sales the sites are promoting.  But one thing is clear: the fansites are definitely being used. 

            Even in November of last year, Broadway was already on the way down—“A Tale of Two Cities,” which had a November 16th closing after a run of only two months, lost its entire $16 million capital—and Broadway hopes that its “new and improved” marketing techniques will help bring it out of the hole the economy has dug for it.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

And the Money Keeps Rolling In

Most people don’t realize how much capital it takes to start a show on Broadway.  It’s so easy to go see a show, and completely take for granted the work that was put into the performance.  The actors are obvious, it’s pretty hard to forget about them.  But someone had to design and make all the costumes, put together the sets, help with makeup, do the staging…The list goes on and on, all the down to the ushers at the door. 

But the most important part of a Broadway show, and unfortunately the most easily overlooked, is the investors.  Broadway shows don’t make even close to enough money from ticket sales to cover the costs of production, and rely on the investors to bridge the gap. Without the money from these investors, the shows’ producers would not have enough money and would never even make it past the planning stages.

Now, with the economy as bad as it is, even big-name shows such as “Hair” are having a hard time finding sponsors.  A month before rehearsals started in January, Hair’s producer Elizabeth McCann only had been able to bring in $3 million of the $6.5 million that the show required.  Even her regular investors were afraid to risk their money.

It’s really a shame that investors aren’t willing to help pay for Broadway shows.  The only way for Broadway to survive the economic recession relatively unscathed is to continue playing shows.  It is impossible to avoid losses in the short-term, because of the decreased attendance, but continuing to play shows will ensure an eventually successful recovery.