Are Theater Subscriptions a Thing of the Past? Maybe. Maybe Not.

December 12, 2011

Theater Communications Group(TCG), the national trade association for the non-profit live theater industry, released sobering statistics last week including this show stopper:  subscription income at non-profit theaters nationwide declined by more than 15 percent between 2006 and 2010.

This presents a fundamental conundrum for theater marketers. Do we attribute the downturn to the tough economy, and continue allocating funds to marketing multi-play subscriptions, which lock in working capital and a guaranteed audience upfront?  Or do we muster the courage to back off selling subscriptions, and refocus our marketing budget to target the more elusive single ticket buyer?

This is not a new conversation.  And I’m not sure anyone has the answer, including me.  However, what I do know is that three LCWA clients are successfully bucking this downturn and attracting repeat audiences.

TimeLine Theatre:  Consistency and mission-connectivity keep ‘em coming back.  Contrary to TCG’s new stats, TimeLine Theatre has grown its subscription base beyond the 3,000 mark for the first time this season, a 30% jump over last year, and a 125% increase over the past three seasons.  Why is TimeLine’s subscription base growing? Consistency. High production values are the norm, and TimeLine’s shows always connect to the company’s history-based mission. What’s more, simplicity, convenience and flexibility are the hallmarks of TimeLine’s FlexPass subscription program, which keeps people coming back and recommending the company to others. 

Paramount Theatre:  Surpassing expectations for subscription success. Last January, the Paramount Theatre, a 1,888-seat Art Deco palace in west suburban Aurora, announced it was flipping its 80-year programming model on its head.  Instead of importing touring road shows, the Paramount would self-produce its own Broadway Subscription Series.  The introductory offer? Four popular musicals featuring Chicago’s A-list actors, directors and designers, and the same production values audiences are accustomed to downtown, all for as low as $70.  Fast forward to December, and in less than a year, Paramount has successfully racked up a jaw-dropping 12,500 subscribers for its inaugural Broadway series.  Why? Audiences were enticed by the promise of enjoying four top-quality musicals, right in their back yard, for the price of just one show downtown. As the Chicago Tribune noted in last month’s review of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, “the Paramount has knocked its second self-produced musical out of the park and halfway to Egypt.”

Theater Wit:  An all-you-can-eat theater buffet.  Unlike Paramount, Chicago’s Theater Wit is encouraging repeat visits by offering the city’s first Netflix-like, live theater membership program, recently hailed by Time Out Chicago as a “bold new venture.” With a Theater Wit membership, you can see as many plays as you want in any of the venue’s three theaters, year round, for the low monthly fee of $36 ($30 for students). Armed with your unique Theater Wit member ID, you can even bring a friend along for free, twice a year.

    More than just a bold alternative to traditional subscriptions, Theater Wit memberships also make great holiday gifts.  ‘Tis the season!  Click here to learn more.