On Broadway, Disney takes inspiration from airlines to sell more tickets

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At first glance, there’s very little in common between Broadway shows and airlines — unless you count the amount of drama that comes with taking flight these days.

But in reality, both companies are based on a common economic premise: to get as many butts as possible.



Enter a new partnership between Disney Theatrical Productions and Volantio, an Atlanta-based startup that helps airlines manage oversold flights and other logistical challenges by proactively reaching out to customers and rewarding them for their flexibility. . Everyone wins, in theory. Airlines can move passengers seamlessly to optimize operations, and consumers can get flight upgrades, free miles or other perks without the schlepping and disappointment of being re-booked at the ticket counter. the airport.

Now they’re doing the same for Disney productions on Broadway, starting with Aladdin, through a pilot program that quietly launched in early April. Opt for notifications when buying your ticket, and you can, for example, receive a free offer from Volantio to exchange your seats on the mezzanine on a Saturday evening for a center orchestra on a Sunday morning.

“Capacity has always been fixed in the history of theater,” says Azim Barodawala, CEO and co-founder of Volantio. “You can’t install a new balcony for the show just because the demand is there to sell the seats. But we allow Disney to do just that on a targeted basis, as needed.

Even though shows like Aladdin and The Lion King, for which the Volantio partnership is not yet in effect, have an average attendance of around 97%, some days of the week may have slightly lower attendance. “Being able to siphon people off from high-demand shows to, say, a 95% busy show is a real material benefit for us,” says Nicholas Falzon, vice president of sales and analytics at Disney Theatrical. Previously, the only way to spread demand was to raise prices when rooms started to sell out. “Now we don’t have to rely on that so much.”

“For us, a show like The Lion King, pre-pandemic, gross over $100 million a year. Getting 1% more is a financial benefit, but it’s also literally more people. Without doing something like that, we can only grow our business through price,” Falzon continues. The idea can evolve: including the touring companies, Disney Theatrical currently has 10 active productions of The Lion King.

In a survey of 260 active moviegoers conducted by Volantio and Disney before forming their partnership, 63% said they would “definitely” or “probably” choose opportunities to receive upgrades in exchange for flexible show dates, and 48 % said they would accept an offer with a minimum of one day’s notice. Just as it does for airline customers, Barodawala will apply machine learning to maximize the chances of consumers biting.

People who buy tickets with billing addresses beyond the tri-state area, for example, are likely to receive offers to change performances a few days after their original date – the idea being that this falls always during their holiday period – while locals may have the option of switching from one Saturday evening performance to another. Currently, there is no way to indicate in advance which set of terms you would agree to; all offers will consist of free upgrades and will be entirely optional.

Falzon points out a major difference between Broadway and air travel: “There is no overselling in a theater, and at the end of the day, we want people to understand that it’s nothing more than a net benefit. – a free opportunity. No one is impacted if they say no.

From a revenue perspective, it’s just about upgrading ticket holders whose seats are in short supply. “It’s easier to move people to alternative performances with shows that don’t sell as much because there’s more room to seat people, but you have to have performances that you expect to sell out so that it has an advantage,” he explains.

The change is just one in a series of steps the Broadway community has taken to provide and reward flexibility since the pandemic hit.

“The norm on Broadway for years was ‘No exchanges, no refunds, no questions,'” says Falzon.

“Institutionally, Broadway had to come back from the pandemic with a full exchange policy to help customers feel comfortable booking. Now people expect to be able to get refunds or exchanges as their plans change. It’s not even a “nice to have” anymore; these are table stakes. Might as well find a way to enjoy it also at the back of the house.

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