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Is This the End of the Subscription Era?

Is This the End of The Subscription Era?

Are theatre subscriptions dying out? This is a question constantly asked by theatre professionals in the US. Subscriptions are a huge support for theatres there, giving them invaluable upfront revenue as well as helping them build relationships with their most loyal customers, but there is a question as to whether or not they are as popular as they once were.

What are subscriptions?

Found mostly in North America, the subscription model in a theatre is where customers can buy a regular pass to a season of shows or concerts at a venue, going as far as picking the same seat for each show if they want to. They are frequently used outside of big cities in smaller towns, where perhaps arts venues are limited and local customers know they will want to see all the performances that year. Often these subscriptions roll over automatically onto the next year, which means many customers hold subscriptions with their local theatre for many years at a time.

Subscriptions can be a huge source of support for theaters, but the message behind them is quite different to the closest thing we have in the UK, membership schemes. Memberships are often used for charitable or philanthropic reasons to let customers support theatres they care about, in addition to the benefits they receive, such as priority booking for shows. Most importantly, both of these schemes help theatres build relationships with their most loyal customers. The subscription structure is rarely used in theatres in the UK, however it is common to be used in concert halls for classical music (for example Town Hall, Symphony Hall in Birmingham, or Opera North in Leeds). For us, it’s interesting to look at the difference between the way it works on both sides of the pond.

Why we’ve developed a subscription feature

Over the last few years, a lot of US theatre professionals have debated whether the idea of people buying a ticket for all shows in a season, sometimes with the exact same seat, is outdated. This has been fuelled by the fact that many theatres are reporting revenues are going down from subscriptions. Opinions are split though as many theatres have noticed that whilst the number of people subscribing has gone down, the subscribers they do have are still very highly engaged. These people believe that offering great shows at a great price, with the best seats and great, personalised customer service is enough to keep people subscribing and are still seeing positive results from the subscription model.

When we decided to take our software across the pond and open our New York office a year and a half ago, we knew we had to take a different approach with our US clients to what we had been doing in the UK.

Even though fixed seat subscriptions aren’t as widely used in UK theatres, multibuy offers (where a customer can choose their own tickets in a season and receive a discount when buying for multiple shows) are much more common, so originally we developed our offers engine to support them in order to help theatres drive loyalty. However, we understood when we moved the business to the US how important subscriptions are to theatres. We’ve now built a comprehensive fixed subscription feature that US theaters are using to drive loyalty. Our mission has always been to help theaters be as successful as possible and subscriptions are often used as a core marketing and fundraising tool in the States.

How our feature works

When we were building the subscriptions feature, we wanted to make it as flexible as possible in terms of configuration. It was important to us that we made it possible to fit any theatre’s subscription needs. Every theatre handles subscriptions in a different way. Some opt to do everything online through their box office system, while others manage their subscriber relationships directly with their customers in person or over the phone.

While individual contact with customers makes it more personal and direct, therefore creating the potential for a longer-term relationship, could this be too much of a strain on resources for a theatre with thousands of people wanting to buy a subscription? In certain scenarios, and depending on the value of the subscription, it might be. In every part of the system, we've always approached design with the goal of making lives easier and making processes more efficient. That's why we wanted to encourage self-service by making it as easy for customers to buy a subscription online as it is to buy a ticket.

So what’s the future of subscriptions? 

Despite some US theatres’ best efforts and some positive results, the subscription model is still under strain. The question is, if modern theatregoers are busy with the demands of modern life, will they be reluctant to allocate their theatre schedules in advance? Lots of theatres are aware of this and are adapting their subscription package to accommodate it. Many are offering flex passes, where customers can pick which shows they want to see, rather than commit to everything in the season. Some are reducing the number of performances per subscription or giving more flexible options for subscription prices.

TRG Arts' VP of Client Services, Keri Mesropov, tells us that subscriptions are still alive and well in the US.

“Organizations that recognize the value of subscribers and the meaning of subscription to the overall sustainability of their company are seeing growth in these irreplaceable loyalty programs.”

Keri believes that some organisations are actually helping lead subscribers out of their subscription program. Without the much needed investment, attention, consistency and simplicity of choice, many potential subscriptions customers will be lost. For those theatres who are spending time on these things to make them successful, subscriptions are a great way to ensure a loyal following for your venue.

What’s the future for our subscription feature?

The more our business grows, the more we are learning about the complexity of subscription requirements. We’ve also found that despite the variety of ways organisations use subscriptions, the goal is always the same; create great tools and mechanisms that make it easy to drive loyalty. There are some great use cases already like using our multi-buy feature to implement more flexible subscriptions, such as buying different seats for each show in a season and buying a seat for a yet-to-be-announced season, is a good alternative.

We are looking at building more subscription models into the system, keeping our product development philosophy in mind. Continuing to understand the requirements of our clients and of the wider industry, we want to understand not just the functionality of how it needs to work, but also what this model is trying to achieve. Balancing innovation with usability is key for the team here at Spektrix. It’s also important for us to build on the strong foundation we have in the system and add to the work we’ve already done. Our roadmap is never set in stone as we wouldn’t want to promise something in a timeframe that doesn’t give us the freedom to move things around depending on the changing priorities of our clients. With that in mind, the team hopes to continue our understanding of subscription models and bring our expertise in to make sure we develop the best subscription feature possible.