Sunday, December 16, 2012

I have a hit! Should I extend?

As I have written about previously, often times marketers get themselves into trouble because they focus too much of their attention on under-performing productions causing them to ignore opportunities to better capitalize on productions which are over-performing.

So, now you have a hit on your hands, and you know you have to strike while the iron is hot. Sometimes hit productions can be few and far between, so what you do next could make or break your season. When a hit does occur, many entrepreneurially minded non-profit producers start to consider an extension to their previously announced runs. Before announcing an extension, here are a couple of things you should consider: 

Feasibility. Is it even possible to extend your run? Oftentimes non-profit subscription houses have another show coming in right on the heels of the previous one, and there is no room to extend. Are your actors available for an extension? Many times actors have other projects already lined up, and they are unavailable for an extension. And if some actors are unavailable, can you continue a run with replacement actors?  

Extension Costs.  How much will it cost per week to run an extension? Make sure that you include all relevant costs, such as:

·         Casting and put-in costs for replacement actors
·         Any increases in fees due to extension clauses
·         Marketing and press fees to promote an extension
·         Applicable overhead costs such as house management, box office, etc.
·         Cost of sales fees such as credit card service charges
·         Increases in royalty payments

The higher the weekly operating costs, the more risky an extension will be. The decision to extend a popular play with a modest cast size will be much easier than the decision to extend a large musical, which can have weekly operating expenses 4 to 5 times higher than a play. 

Current Sales and Inventory. How many tickets did you sell in the previous couple of weeks and how much in single ticket revenue did you realize? Even if you are currently achieving more revenue in single ticket sales than what you are projecting as your weekly operating costs for an extension, it may not be a good decision to extend. For example: production X has sold 2,000 single tickets for $100,000 in single ticket revenue per week for the past three weeks. You have projected that your weekly operating costs for an extension will be $80,000 per week, leaving a $20,000 positive differential between current weekly revenues and projected weekly operating costs leading you to believe an extension is advisable. But, when you take a look at your available inventory for the remaining 6 weeks of your run, you notice that you have 18,000 tickets left to sell in your 1,000 seat theater. Selling at a pace of 2,000 tickets per week with 6 weeks left, you will sell 12,000 additional tickets which represents only 67% of your remaining inventory. In this situation, it may not make sense to extend, as you could avoid additional extension costs and maximize net revenue by selling out your remaining inventory.  [note to reader: I chose to use relatively large round numbers as the arithmetic is easier, and they illustrate arguments in a more succinct manner. These concepts are easily scalable for smaller or larger houses.]

Burn and Sell Ratio. Are you realizing more in single ticket revenue for future performances than you are burning off each week? For example, in your 1,000 seat theater with an average ticket price of $50 and a 60% paid capacity for a performance schedule with 8 shows per week, you will burn off $240,000 in ticket revenue each week of performance. If you are selling more than $240,000 each week for future performances, and your weekly operating expenses for an extension are below $240,000, it is a good indication that an extension is viable. 

Time to Sell.  If you decide to extend a run in your 1,000 seat theater for an additional week, with an 8 show per week schedule, you will bring an additional 8,000 seats online to sell. Do you have adequate lead time to sell the extension? If you have relatively low weekly operating costs, the financial risk may be low, but you don’t want to announce an extension only to play to 30-40% paid capacity because you didn’t have enough time to adequately promote it.  

Other random thoughts…

·        Extending a popular production can ensure an influx of new patrons, which can lead to an abundance of excellent leads to develop new multi-show ticket buyers. That said, scarcity can also be a very valuable marketing tool. Nothing encourages early ticket buying behavior better than sold out houses.
·        Extensions are not always extensions. Some theaters have developed business models which involve “extending” almost every show they produce. At other theaters, extensions are very rare. Why is this? For those that always seem to have extensions, most “added performances” are likely built-in and planned as part of their original run lengths, but tickets are held off sale until a predetermined date, thereby creating the perception that when tickets are placed on sale, the production has indeed extended. It’s quite a clever marketing strategy until you go to the well too many times, and the public starts to understand what’s going on. At which point, I would guess that marketing a production as “just extended” starts to lose some of its value.