When you can’t even give away tickets…

"Free Tickets"
“Free Tickets” by Jon Silpayamanant

Michael Rushton discusses the problem with giving away tickets:

But the fact is that arts (and sports) organizations can’t always fill the house even by giving away tickets. Attendance at a concert or museum is costly to the customer even with free admission, because there are costs of time and travel to consider. If someone gives me a ticket to a play, I still have to consider the cost to me of using my evening at the theatre rather than elsewhere, and the time of getting to the theatre and back. And sometimes it just isn’t worth it. Ask yourself: how many cultural and recreation activities are available in your town, with no admission fee, that you simply do not attend? If, like me, you are only allotted 24 hours in a day, there will be many. Even physical goods come with a storage cost, such that when offered “free” goods we often turn them down – they are not worth the space they would occupy.

and that question, “Ask yourself: how many cultural and recreation activities are available in your town, with no admission fee, that you simply do not attend?” goes back to the issue I raised in my post, Free culture, undercutting, and the environments they create.  Also I touched on some of this issue of giving in my post about Declining Audiences in Sports–one of the pieces I linked to specifically addresses the phenomenon in the NBA: Why can’t NBA teams fill arenas, even after giving away free tickets?

Nobody has a monopoly on selling out events these days, and it’s probably only going to get more difficult.


22 thoughts on “When you can’t even give away tickets…

  1. Indeed. I would have to take time off during the week just to ensure that I got there at 8pm if it’s in LA. Then comes the weekend, and I’m just freakin TIRED from work and either have to get stuff done around the apartment or just want to vegetate, knit, and play my own damn piano. The last thing I was to do is go sit in my car AGAIN.

    The last TWO tickets I bought for concerts I literally just stayed home and didn’t go because I was tired and wanted to just relax and not fight traffic and take time getting ready, and lose time at home. They weren’t slouch concerts, either. It was the LA Phil with the Capucon brothers in HD, and the other was Cameron Carpenter at Disney Hall.

    I just did not want the fuss and bother of going. It would kill half the day, on a weekend when I was jealous of my rather sparse free time. I’d rather do stuff myself than go watch other people do stuff, even if they do it very well. I haven’t bought a ticket since. It’s too much money to sink like that when I’m not interesting in sinking the time.

    That industry really does have to wean itself off the “live uber alles” model. Even web streaming would be fine. Okay I wouldn’t hear all of that golden eared crap through my dumpy laptop speakers, but I’m happy listening to opera DVDs on my laptop, and if everyone can still swoon over those lousy scratchy old 78s of Jascha Heifetz, is it really that deadly to my musical life to listen to Dudamel do Brahms over a set of crappy speakers?


    1. I actually saw the HD cast of the Capucon brothers and though I was disappointed with the sound quality, I can see folks becoming much more interested in seeing something like that online if not in the cinema. Hell, the cinema takes time as much as any live event.


    2. I think the only things I still get HD tickets for are the Met’s opera broadcasts, maybe once a season. Those, I like to see live in a theater — and the Met does them up very well, with special interviews during intermissions and great backstage tours given by Debbie Voigt. But musical performances where it’s just music? I’d really prefer that streamed live to my home.

      I don’t know how opera feels different or why — maybe because it’s a play, maybe because I love good singing so very much. I do know that sound quality has much less to do with my decision; I simply somehow prefer to see a story unfold in a theater.

      And even then, I will only buy tickets if it is a bucket-list opera for me. Last season that was “Rodelinda” with Fleming and Scholl and “The Enchanted Island,” their Baroque mashup.


    3. Yeah, Aaron made similar comments regarding livecasting Opera. Having a narrative gives audiences something else to experience other than just the music.

      I just read a recent piece about how sports viewership is fragmenting in the home–more and more people seem to be watching sports on mobile devices or laptops–and in many ways more passively since those types of objects are portable and can be brought into a non-home-gathering occasion like a superbowl party–ironic since some of the reasoning that the Sports Industry is saying they’re losing the live audience is because of the superior HD home theatre experience is a perfectly good substitute for the live experience.


    4. It occurs to me that there’s another simpler reason why I like the Met’s Live in HD broadcasts, and it’s a silly one.

      Coming from New York, they start at 9am for me. 🙂 9am on a Saturday is much better time-wise. I get up, get a cup of coffee, go see the opera, and I’ve still got the rest of the weekend ahead of me after it’s done, starting with lunch. I should say that they aren’t exactly a packed house, though. That 9am/Sat start time is perfect for me, but maybe not for someone else.

      That’s another great thing about seeing stuff on my laptop, either live or somehow TiVo-ing them. I can view it at my own time and place, a big advantage of watching on mobile devices. Sure, the sound/video quality stinks on them, but it turns a movie into a book that you open when you want, read as much as you want, wherever you want … and pause at your discretion.


    5. I don’tt think that’s a silly reason at all–it’s not just the actual cost of the event in monetary terms but the cost of the event in terms of time spent and I recall having posted about one of the biggest hinderances for potential audiences is parking availability. Of course your idea of a studio audience would eliminate much of the latter!


  2. You know what the natural endpoint of this is … to build a “stage” for a performing arts group that looks more like a soundstage made for live broadcasts, with room for a small live audience. Sort of how they taped “The Tonight Show” for years and still do. The whole thing assumed that the broadcast was the important part, and the live audience was just there for a lucky few. As you’ve said before, this was only possible because of the broadcast infrastructure itself … but given that super-perfect sound systems might not be as important as the cognoscenti assume they are and mobile devices might be considered just fine for most people to see live music … it seems that expanding the webcam model for performance is where this is inevitably going to end up, if the whole idea of distance is being wiped away.

    What we call a “concert hall” (and a “sports arena”) may not be able to avoid converging on the model of a small, soundproofed room with seats for maybe 200 people, almost a mid-sized college lecture hall, with at least a Gigabit of fiber running into it. I admit I’ve been less than fond of “Le Poisson Rouge” in the past due to a reflexive dislike of chi-chi-frou-frou hyper-stylish clubs pretending to be “of the people,” but if that place ever got fiber, they could put on their OWN damned “Live at LPR” series. So could any club in any town with fiber-to-the-curb. Chattanooga could do it.


  3. It also lowers the investment cost for a venue, especially if you are in a city with FTTC. A nice venue, a good sound system with good cameras, no serious need for a huge parking structure if you are only going to seat 200 people; you might be able to position yourself near an existing city parking structure or lot. And if you don’t need much investment, then your profit margins get real pretty much more quickly. This is not a bad business model.


    1. That’s interesting (and I have to apologize for responding so late)–I think the biggest problem we’d encounter with this is how many people may feel an investment in traditional broadcast media is a dead end, but it’s something that could work for (some) orchestras.

      This would be a complete turnaround of the history of how music ensembles have traditionally been a part of all broadcast media–television and radio both used to have live orchestras before recorded soundtracks effectively replaced them, but orchestras, switching to a broadcast model from a purely live one by investing in venues specifically for that purpose rather than building bigger and bigger concert halls…something to think about, at least. I wonder if anyone has actually tried that?

      Another difficulty I can see is that media conglomerates control so much of the frequencies (due to that nasty telecommunications act in ’96) that it may be difficult for local and regional organizations to actually get a broadcast option. I know that while I was living in the Indianapolis area one of the things that local filmakers, video artists, and just, well, people, were pushing for public access since Indy used to be closed to that option. I’m not sure how much that has changed or how what the situation is in other cities. Hmm…


    2. I think the most important part about it is that it not really a traditional broadcast model. You don’t have to use the airwaves or get anyone’s permission. As long as you’re got a broadband Internet circuit, a camera, and a decent but not ungodly sound system, you can do it. Conference webcast their proceedings all the time. You would need better audio than that, but it wouldn’t have to be too golden-eared, either.


    3. Very true–I’m going to ask around to see if anyone is actually doing something like this. I hadn’t thought of how easily accessible broadband is to anyone and now that I think about it, I know even back in the pre-broadband days universities were experimenting with doing collaborative performances via the net (example, dancers collaborating on one piece in real-time in two different venues with video projections). It almost seems silly not to try it!


      1. FWIW, this dude has done what he calls “telematic dance performances” over a fiber network. Cool stuff: http://danm.ucsc.edu/faculty/ted-warburton

        They have an advantage in CA in that they HAVE a huge research and education fiber network in the state that connects the whole K-20 education system. It’s pretty massive. But more and more cities are covering themselves in broadband nets … It would leave out folks on the wrong side of the digital divide, but current classical music delivery mechanisms already do that.

        California’s got quite a few examples of that sort of thing actually, given that they have that network in place. USC does stuff like this, too.


      2. I’m a doof — head to Ustream and search “live music.” I don’t see a single large orchestra. I see some archived performances of big names with orchestras, but I don’t see one big orchestra with its own dedicated Ustream channel. I wonder whether there isn’t some sort of bureaucratic obstacle to doing this? I’m definitely not one of those people who blames flu season and stale bread on unions, but I do wonder if some sort of contractual issue wouldn’t prevent that from taking place.

        Orchestras REALLY have no excuse not to Ustream concerts. None. I can see them making all the golden-eared arguments that the world would implode if people can’t hear the bow hair scraping against the string in a performance of Beethoven, but I think those are excuses.


    4. Oh excellent–!

      Yeah, I imagine it’s probably a contractual thing–similar to what has stalled the small recording industry around orchestras–just imagine what little cost it would be to simply create downloadable versions of the tunes played on a concert and then simply sell them. I wouldn’t be surprised it that’s part of the red-tape keeping more orchestras from doing this.


      1. Wondering how this intersects with the fact that most downloaded recordings of performances by artists of other genres aren’t even made by the venue. They’re made by members of the audience, now that we’re all walking around with video cameras better than anything our predecessors ever imagined having in our pockets, every minute of every day … That has to impact this argument in interesting ways.


    5. That’s very true. In some ways, having some kind of streaming/broadcast model might make the concert environment more restrictive in some ways. I’m imagining buff doormen confiscating cell phones before entering the exclusive live Studio Orchestra of Hoople to prevent unauthorized bootlegs now! 😛


      1. Dunno if I’d see that now, just because of bandwidth restrictions preventing the “live from Joe Blow’s ipad” version from being all that good, but throw enough bandwidth at that problem, and it will cease to exist. And of course, you get Joe Blow’s drunken wavering as well, as opposed to the hopefully better quality stuff of the venue … I don’t know, though. It’s an interesting question.

        Of course, the venue could simply turn off their wireless … but that just passes the problem onto the bandwidth of the cell network, which WILL eventually catch up as well …


    6. Oh good god, yeah–I keep forgetting multiple bandwidth streams. And with the “smart glasses” coming out (if that does become a big thing) how are you even going to know if someone is illicitly videotaping/broadcasting something? I think we’re just in a world where tech is moving far too quickly for most older institutions to adapt to them!


    1. He’s a neat guy, does all kinds of cool stuff. I remember having a conversation with him one time about how fiber networks might blend a performance of “Rosenkranz and Guildenstern Are Dead” with one of “Hamlet.” I still think it’d be neat and … somehow … doable.


    2. Haha!

      Yeah, I’d first heard about non-local performances when I was more heavily in the performance art world. Saw some presentations of some of those performances just as web 2.0 was becoming “a big thing.” Interactive performances like Stelarc’s “Ping Body”

      And video projection pieces like the one used for the Cunningham Troupe “BIPED” piece

      were the cutting edge of incorporating technology in live performance. That next step of doing interactive performances over a distance seemed logical at the time–but also felt a bit like a passing fad as many of these works seem to be. Glad to see someone is actually still doing this and developing it!!


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