The Independent on Sunday (16.1.11) carried an article highlighting the latest method for ripping off theatre-goers – ‘premium pricing’. This is the practice of quoting one figure for the ‘top price ticket’, whilst topping this with an extra-expensive ‘premium’ priced ticket for the very best seats.
In the ‘Society of London Theatre’ latest Annual report, increasing revenues from theatre are cause for celebration, even if they are at the cost of the individual theatre-goer:
“The increase was not dependent on an increase in discounting. On the contrary, gross receipts grew by slightly more than the growth in attendances, topping £0.5 billion for the first time…….A survey conducted for the Society by Ipsos MORI in 2008 suggested that the average total spend per theatre visit was approximately £120, of which, on average, roughly £45 was for the ticket itself.”
For those who like a chart, click here for the link to SOLT’s website with a chart showing how revenue has rocketed up while audience figures climb steadily.
This explains a lot – over the past few years we’ve had the feeling that we were getting poorer value for money and we quite couldn’t work out why. Some of the trends we noticed were:
- The proportion of ‘top price’ seats in West End Theatres getting ever larger. We went to see a show at the New London Theatre a couple of years ago having bought the cheapest preview ticket, and were delighted to find that we had been ‘upgraded’ to a top price ticket. Imagine our disappointment when we discovered that we were viewing the entire show from the side (yes, from the side, not just at an angle.). Curious, we looked at the seating plan on the way out and were astonished to discover that almost the entire theatre was top price. We started noticing this all over the West End. Or are we imagining it?
- We started to notice that our visits to the Half Price Theatre Booth felt less and less like a bargain-hunt. Sadly in retrospect it seems inevitable that theatres would respond to the success of the half-price booth by effectively raising prices.
- TV casting shows were generating huge audiences, which made producers feel justified in charging ever-higher ticket prices.
Sectioning off parts of the auditorium for an extra expensive price ticket is the next logical step in squeezing audiences dry – and if you think about it, it’s necessary, because paying ‘top price’ is no longer a guarantee of a decent seat, and anyone booking sight unseen is likely to be very disappointed indeed.
Are we alone here? We would love to hear about your experiences of ‘rip-off’ theatre pricing and top tips for beating it.
Update 25.1.11: read our comments at Theatremonkey’s blog