We've all seen it in theatre brochures up and down the country "tickets from £13" but for who?
Nationally, the industry has seen a range of ticketing shake ups in recent years. Everything from changes to concessions, Pay What You Decide performances, the publication of booking fees, restoration levies and controversially, the recent wave of venues employing Dynamic Pricing.
Dynamic Pricing is when theatres charge different prices for the same ticket based on demand. Increasingly we're seeing theatres increase prices when demand is strong, but we think this unfairly penalises vulnerable customers.
Consumers should not have jump through hoops to avoid feeling ripped off. Even for those who would like to get the best price, often the choice of where to sit, when to book and additional fees can be baffling.
For vulnerable customers, in areas of low engagement like Doncaster, there are multiple barriers in place preventing local people from accessing the theatre. For elderly customers, or those with disabilities, mental ill health, children, complex lives or with English as a second language, a trip to the theatre needs a lot of courage, determination and planning. Navigating the online booking process or plucking up the courage to pick up the phone can be a big thing for people.
Paradoxically, one of the issues with organising a trip to the theatre is that there’s so much to organise, especially if you have additional needs. Customers simply have no choice but to go away and come back again to book. With dynamic pricing structures, by the time the customer returns, the price may have changed — and it’s too confusing. While a customer is sorting the transport, contacting their carer, arranging a baby sitter or checking their bank balance the ticket price could be slowly ticking up and up.
Dynamic Pricing penalises customers who need additional support to attend, while savvy shoppers and experienced theatre goers get the best prices. As a charitable sector, can we say that we’re removing barriers for audiences, and dynamically pricing in the same breath?
And apart from anything else, it's just dishonest. Having a number of limited tickets available at the cheapest price and then advertising that as the only price in your brochure is just a lie.
When Cast opened in 2013, part of our values included a simple structure in every space with one price band only, and we still adopt that policy. This strategy doesn’t come without risk, obviously. As a charity, we subsidise customer’s tickets on average by around 40% and one price house approaches don’t allow for those in a position to pay more to do so.
We’ve made a number of changes to the pricing in the last few years. In 2016 we changed the way we communicate our booking fee, absorbing it into the overall price to make it clearer for customers. And in 2018 we implemented our Under 26 price, which replaced traditional concessions including over 60s. This was well-timed with the relaunch of our Carer Ticket programme, which offers a free ticket to anyone in need of a carer, no questions asked. Concessions don't indicate an ability to pay, and by presenting an Under 26 price, we’ve been able to better communicate with customers our charitable reasoning behind discounts.
Our responsibility to distribute cheaper tickets for those most at need is a point of pride for our theatre. For most events we have a series of tickets available at rock bottom rates (around £3 to £5) for the hardest to reach in our community. This way we can make sure our cheapest go where they are needed most, distributed through closed network of targeted groups. If you'd like more information about this scheme please contact Nicola Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More action is needed as a sector to drive simplification, and much more transparency is needed in pricing for all but especially the hardest to reach - and I'm sorry, but Dynamic Pricing is just wrong.
When theatres advertise tickets from £15 and customers end up paying £36 - something's up.
Sian Booth Head of Marketing and Communications, Cast