Do we need disloyalty cards for theatre?

We all know that theatregoing is a habit – the more you see, the more you want to see. But how do you encourage audiences to try new venues?
Research by Purple Seven, the company founded by Tesco Clubcard inventor Clive Humby, showed that new theatregoers were far more likely to visit a West End theatre than a subsidised one. Photograph: Jeff Blackler / Rex Features

Recent British Theatre Consortium research found that 2013 marked the first time that more new work was staged in UK theatres than revivals and classics. One of the lesser reported aspects of the research was the finding that 36 long-running shows, representing 2% of all performances, accounted for 45% of the total number of seats sold.
Creativity and culture not open to all, review finds

It’s clear that for many people a trip to the theatre means a trip to the West End. Last year, research by Purple Seven – the company founded by Clive Humby who invented the Tesco Clubcard – showed that new theatregoers, or those attending a production for the first time in three years, were far more likely to visit a West End theatre than a subsidised one.

Purple Seven’s report showed that nearly 42% of the total spend in the commercial sector in 2012 and 2013 came from new theatregoers, while at Arts Council-funded theatres 60% of spending came from just 9.5% of households. That’s even more concerning if you read those figures in conjunction with the Warwick Commission report, which found that the wealthiest, best educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of the population are its most culturally active segment. It’s not an argument against subsidy or for wall-to-wall Wickeds across the country, simply that if you are going to give away free tickets or make offers they need to be better targeted and based on better data.

If a customer stops visiting your venue, it doesn’t mean that they have stopped visiting the arts. If they are new to your venue it doesn’t mean that they are actually a “first-time” arts attender. But that’s often how theatres will categorise them for data purposes. Purple Seven discovered that less than three-quarters of people described by venues as “new” arts attenders actually were new.

So what can venues do? They are already collaborating with each other far more often and with a greater than ever spirit of generosity, but although there are some difficulties in terms of data protection it’s clear that theatres and arts centres are going to have to work together far more to share their findings if they are going to understand the audience and its behaviour better. And that means all the audience not their own audiences.

Humby, of course is famed for the supermarket loyalty card, and that could be one route that theatres might go down in order to try and understand their audiences better. But what would perhaps be far more useful for venues and different art-forms would be a disloyalty card in which those who regularly bought tickets for one venue or for one particular art form would receive benefits if they tried a show at another venue entirely – or instead of always booking for a musical opted for new writing or performance art.

It’s not my idea, but that of a King’s College student, Lauren Holden, who as part of last year’s excellent King’s Cultural Challenge came up with a disloyalty app. It squashes the long outmoded idea that theatres and venues are in competition with each other for the same audience. In fact, it could be a way to grow audiences, possibly across the commercial and subsidised sector, the big subsidised houses and smaller venues, for the benefit of all.
The Guardian June 20 2015

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Humby, of course is famed for the supermarket loyalty card, and that could be one route that theatres might go down in order to try and understand their audiences better. But what would perhaps be far more useful for venues and different art-forms would be a disloyalty card in which those who regularly bought tickets for one venue or for one particular art form would receive benefits if they tried a show at another venue entirely – or instead of always booking for a musical opted for new writing or performance art.

It’s not my idea, but that of a King’s College student, Lauren Holden, who as part of last year’s excellent King’s Cultural Challenge came up with a disloyalty app. It squashes the long outmoded idea that theatres and venues are in competition with each other for the same audience. In fact, it could be a way to grow audiences, possibly across the commercial and subsidised sector, the big subsidised houses and smaller venues, for the benefit of all.

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