TodayTix is a smartphone app that allows people to easily purchase tickets to Broadway shows. That alone is a triumph, given the ham handed and frustrating mobile and web experience offered by the two major Broadway ticketing concerns. The TodayTix app is slick and easy to maneuver through, and it provides a quick and easy to complete transaction.
They charge their customers a small service fee and provide what they call "concierge" service that requires their customers to seek out the TodayTix representative out on the street near the theaters to collect their tickets, thus avoiding "long will call lines".
Their mission, they say, is to sell the almost 20% of unsold ticket inventory that they say exists on Broadway on any given night. They also promise to do this by providing "insider access" to "insider prices".
They claim that their typical customer is ten years younger than the industry average ticket buyer's age, and that they are bringing "new audiences" to Broadway.
Well, that all sounds like a very nice story, a win-win for all concerned. Maybe for some it is, but for others, it is not.
I contend that in many cases, the existence and function of TodayTix actually serves to reduce revenue to shows that they service, and I will explain my theory forthwith, but first some background.
Regular readers of this blog (you know who you are!) will be familiar with my previous arguments against TKTS. I've lambasted TKTS and their corporate parent TDF for advertising their protected discounts as an attempt to increase their revenue at the expense of full price ticket sales or other show approved discounts that are typically in the 35-40% range. TKTS, created to aid in selling unsold theater tickets at a discount appears to now want to usurp the ability of shows that use the TKTS booths to sell their tickets for higher prices than are available at TKTS.
TDF/TKTS revenue comes from the tickets they sell (per ticket fees), so they are in a push to increase the number of tickets they sell, even if it may lead to fewer higher priced tickets being sold. This clearly serves to reduce the revenue shows may get, while not necessarily decreasing the number of tickets sold. They seek to, by use of advertising prices that shows themselves cannot offer, shift as large a segment of the "low budget" audience as possible to their ticket windows.
Now, along comes TodayTix to enter the fray. Let's look under the hood, kick the tires a bit, and see what we find.
TodayTix obtains their tickets by use of runners that show up in the lobbies of all the Broadway theaters and buys their tickets at the box office. A surprisingly low tech method considering the gloss that accompanies press and marketing around the TodayTix app and the company itself. They buy tickets with no "insider access" at prices that are available to anyone at all that might be buying tickets at the box office. That's more than a little misleading, but the public is not informed, and so far believe the false information the TodayTix is offering up.
TodayTix is, essentially, an order taker for Broadway tickets, with no need to provide any of the infrastructure required to maintain a ticket inventory. This allows them to charge a barebones fee for their service, because other than the minimum wage runners and "concierges" in red vests standing forlornly on theater district corners, there are no other costs that aren't covered by the venture capital that they must be burning through in the start up phase that the company is in right now. At what point does TodayTix become a viable, ongoing, self sustaining enterprise? The answer is a definite unknown.
This is not a business practice that could scale well, by my lights. How many tickets might they sell before their runners and concierges are overwhelmed with late arriving customers? Maybe we'll find out.
What about the numbers and statistics that are bandied about in their press releases or are parroted in the fawning media profiles of TodayTix? None of these statistics have been audited, to my knowledge, no disinterested third parties that could be cited as sources of these numbers. What exactly does it mean when TodayTix claims that their audience averages ten years younger than Broadway's average? They admit that as a "disruptive" player, that cannibalizing other sales channels is part and parcel of the game. That only means that their customers prefer an "easy" way to buy tickets with a mobile device. Who wouldn't? That's why we're talking about them now, isn't it?
Broadway League attendance numbers fluctuate year to year. Up a bit, then down. The audience remains relatively stagnant, so where are the "new audiences" TodayTix claims to be bringing to the table? We'll see that one as new figures are released, but my prediction? No significant statistical change in either direction.
But what about my belief that TodayTix reduces revenue to the shows they sell tickets to?
As previously stated, TodayTix runners buy tickets at the various box offices. They utilize existing discount offers, that are available to the public. They use BroadwayBox, Playbill.com, TheaterMania, or any other discount that may be available. These are the discounts that many shows offer that I described in my previous TKTS argument, typically 35-40% off of the full price. They offer their customers these prices and tack on their service charge.
The problem arises when you look at a certain segment of Broadway theaters. Many are very old buildings that are obsolete in many ways, but are frozen in time due to landmarking regulations. None of these old buildings have elevators, and several have balconies that present big problems to modern theatergoers.
As Broadway audiences have aged, loping up three to four stories by stairs has made these balconies an albatross to producers and theater owners. These balconies have significant numbers of seats that are, by and large, unwanted and unsellable to modern Broadway patrons. Often, these entire sections are priced at the very lowest end of the spectrum to entice students, student groups, rush or only the most frugal of theatergoers healthy enough and willing to hike up to heaven to see a Broadway show for a pittance.
It is in this situation that TodayTix is causing problems. In spite of their unverified claim that sixty percent of their tickets sold are regular or premium priced tickets, my experience has been, over the shows I have worked since the arrival of TodayTix, that they almost exclusively buy the balcony seats to satisfy their orderbook.
Why would they do this? Because TodayTix markets to their customers in the "From $25.00!" format in their advertising. The uninformed TodayTix customer, clueless to the lie that the TodayTix price is somehow an "insider" price, and already a low budget customer (ten years younger than industry average age), will certainly click "Order Now".
How is this bad for the shows if TodayTix is selling balcony seats that most anyone else would avoid? Because, just as with my TDF/TKTS complaint, TodayTix is taking a customer that would potentially buy a seat from TKTS, (or perhaps the Playbill.com, etc., discount offers) in the orchestra or mezzanine at a discount/price that would be higher than the balcony seat they are selling to their customers. The same number of tickets sold for the show, but with reduced revenue due to TodayTix moving the "budget purchaser" to the lowest possible price, rather than a higher priced, but still discounted ticket.
Broadway is not a growth business. The audience is essentially stagnant. What we are witnessing is the grotesque sight of a snake eating it's own tail. The fight is on for the wallets of Broadway customers, and while the producers are staking out an unsustainable high end, with dynamic pricing and insane premium tickets, they are not watching the low end, where the battle rages for ticket sales and commission fees with the result being an inexorable hollowing out of Broadway audiences and potential revenue.
When inflated regular ticket prices must invariably be discounted, as they are for all except the most high flying of hits, discount poachers like TKTS, and now TodayTix are pushing down the revenue for Broadway shows, while shows may not necessarily be selling fewer tickets.
TodayTix has created a stir with a buying experience that the major Broadway ticket selling platforms can't touch. It behooves the two major platforms to see TodayTix as a lesson and a warning. They must absolutely improve their ticketing interface, and the producers and their "marketing experts" must learn to price (and discount) their shows in a logical and easy to understand way so as to avoid these situations from popping up again. Literally everything is riding on it.