Tuesday, July 22, 2014

TDF Tedium

****Correction: The tweet referenced below as being deleted, does appear in the @tkts feed as of today 7/26/14.****

The other day, I noticed a tweet from the Twitter feed of @TKTS that was promoting a specific Broadway show, and I blogged about it (this blog, "TDF Playing Favorites?" 7/19), and what it might mean. I questioned if this was a policy change by TDF, the non-profit purveyor of discount theater tickets via the well known TKTS outlets in Times Square, and elsewhere. I noted how producers of shows that were not promoted via the @TKTS twitter feed might be displeased at not getting the same treatment.

The TKTS outlets have always maintained a neutral position on the shows that let them sell their tickets. TKTS ticket sellers do not advocate for or against any shows, and I commented on how this was the correct position to take. I wrote that the @TKTS twitter feed, by highlighting a specific show, was out of step with that longstanding policy.

I further stated that TDF/TKTS ought to be transparent about what they were doing. If these were perhaps unlabeled "sponsored tweets", or, if a new and different policy or experiment were being tried, TDF/TKTS had an obligation to maintain fairness with respect to the shows that let TKTS sell their tickets.

Apparently, this was a very bad thing that I did.

I received a furtive late night Facebook message from a TDF operative. Here is how the exchange went:

I didn't know this fellow, never met him before, but I guess he knew me. I suppose he felt he knew me well enough to order me around, as though I were now his underling.

After looking him up on Facebook, and Twitter, I learned that he is a P.R. guy at TDF. I figured that might explain his defensiveness. I had the temerity to question a TDF policy, and TDF P.R. coughed up a hairball. But, it was nearly midnight on Saturday night, I thought I was the only one with no life! Why the attitude, why the paranoia?

And, what with the mention of the Shubert Organization? This is my personal blog. I only speak here for myself. I would think that would be clear, because in spite of Leshay's second message to me (or a later tweet), I make no reference at all on this blog to the Shubert Organizaton, or any specific employers of mine . Right under the title of my blog, it says "Liberal musings on politics, culture, and life", not "Journal of TDF Criticisms". Is this a ham-handed attempt at intimidation? Or, is he an angry right-winger at odds with my politics?

In any case, my call for transparency is not likely to be heeded. After that charming exchange the following tweet appeared in the @TKTS feed, but was then deleted. It remained in my feed:

So, while important enough to tweet at 12:26 A.M., but not important enough to retain in the feed, it would seem that the opaque, thuggish, Soviet style P.R. will be the order of the day. 


So now, if we are to understand that the @TKTS show specific tweets are NOT sponsored, what then to make of them? Are they innocuous promotional tweets that are designed to help keep the TKTS "fans engaged", or something else entirely? It's not that easy to tell. Take a look: 

The first picture shows what may be meant by keeping fans "engaged". Alerting them to the new Thursday matinees, and the three shows offered, seems benign. 

The second picture, however, is problematic. Specifically advertising a 50% discount may seem like just a TKTS thing but with the TKTS booth across the street from the theater where Holler If Ya Hear Me was playing, puts TDF/ TKTS in direct competition for sales to the show with the show's producers. It doesn't take a marketing genius to know that the producers of the show would much prefer that potential customers purchase full price tickets, or other discounts outlined in the show's own marketing plan, than have TKTS put a price lid on sales at 50% off.

Yes, the shows do set their TKTS price point, but that is beside the point. No show advertises that price. You've never seen an ad where a show will advertise it's TKTS price. It hurts any show when TKTS advertises the specific discount being offered, because it thoroughly undermines the individual marketing plan of each show, which, by the way, costs each show a pretty penny. 

More examples: 

The first two of these are the damaging sort of tweets I'm talking about. The last one fits more along with the benign sort of tweets. There are many examples of both kinds but I think you get my point.


But now I'm led to another question. Why in the world does TKTS need this kind of marketing? The TKTS booth is an iconic NYC institution (it says so in one of their tweets). They are a non-profit service organization created to help sell unsold theater tickets. They collect a commission on each ticket sold to fund its operations and support other education programs. They sell millions of tickets each year, and that adds up to a lot of commission income. Over the years, they have become quite the 800 pound gorilla of Broadway.

Now it seems, as I've outlined in the past, the mission of TDF/TKTS doesn't fully align with the mission of the shows that they are selling tickets to. They are now competing with shows for the same customers. How else to explain the promotion of price in the TKTS tweets?

The financial health of individual shows is less important to TKTS than selling the ticket to that show. A ticket sold at the box office, or online, is a ticket not sold at TKTS and a missed opportunity for collecting that commission. The healthier the show, and the fewer tickets made available to TKTS means decreased revenue for TDF. A few long running hits are the lifeblood of TKTS, but shows like Book of Mormon, Wicked, or The Lion King, the strongest shows on Broadway, contribute nothing to the TDF bottom line.

This nascent line of TKTS marketing is an ill wind for Broadway. If it were to continue and become more prominent than just the @TKTS twitter feed, no show less than a full out hit will be safe from the 800 pound gorilla of Broadway. Competition is good, but not when you are competing with yourself.

Watch out for falling hairballs.

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