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Jan McNulty

ROH's Alex Beard - Interview in the Telegraph

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An article has been published today which seems to be behind a paywall.

 

However if you want to read it, you can register an account and you get access to a couple of premium articles a month.  There is also the option to buy a day's access for £1.

 

I've just registered.

 

Here is a link to the interview:

 

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opera/what-to-see/alex-beard-royal-opera-house-ceo-interview-bust-gut-fair-ticket/

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As it was behind a paywall I did add a link to a word version earlier this morning but this has been removed as it contravenes the Forum's rules . It is an interesting article though.

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Alternatively, the local UK library might be an option.  For those who still have such things, of course :( 

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The writer may be surprised to find that the ROH also houses some sort of ballet company :( 

 

(i.e. it's very much about the music and opera side of things.  Just warning before you waste a Premium article)

 

EDIT: It's actually Rupert Christiansen, so I assume the concentration on opera is deliberate

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There is an article by Alex Beard in the new edition of the RoH magazine discussing new prices etc and that the RoH needs to react in the light of declining Arts Council grant.

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Posted (edited)
7 minutes ago, alison said:

EDIT: It's actually Rupert Christiansen, so I assume the concentration on opera is deliberate

 

I suppose it’s because opera is his domain in the Telegraph - it’s the Mail on Sunday he covers ballet for, I think.

Edited by Lizbie1
Typo!

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1 minute ago, MJW said:

There is an article by Alex Beard in the new edition of the RoH magazine discussing new prices etc and that the RoH needs to react in the light of declining Arts Council grant.

 

Is the report from his grilling by the Ballet Association still expected to be published?

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11 minutes ago, MJW said:

There is an article by Alex Beard in the new edition of the RoH magazine discussing new prices etc and that the RoH needs to react in the light of declining Arts Council grant.

 

Well, then, it can react across the board, rather than putting some of the cheaper seats up by something like 50-100%.  We do appreciate the problem of reductions in grant.

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All a bit tricky to see what’s going on as we still do not have the 2017-18 Annual report.

 

The 2016-17 Annual Report states:

31% of tickets at £30 or less
38% of tickets at £40 or less

47% of tickets at £50 or less

 

The only headline figure for ‘last season’ we currently have is:

40% of tickets at less than £45.

 

In the Autumn Magazine, Alex Beard refers to the advantages of flexible pricing, setting different prices for each production, including having seats in different price categories and how it wouldn’t be possible to publish the pricing detail for each production on a coloured plan.  I don’t have any issues with that.  But he is a little disingenuous in suggesting that the flexibility is ‘as much to do with lowering prices where it makes sense as nudging them up elsewhere.’  The overall impact of flexible pricing has been an increase in prices and it would be much better to be open - most seats have gone up in price, a few have reduced, and some low priced seats have gone up very significantly.

 

But Alex Beard concludes that ‘price rises have been held below the rate of inflation over the last five Seasons.’  No data is provided and I have no idea what inflation measure is being used - RPI or CPI or something else?  But I would be very interested in understanding the evidence for the statement.  It might be box office revenue per audience member.  But I’m surprised by the statement as I recall looking at prices for similar Ballet’s from one season to the next and the price increases were significantly greater than any generally accepted measure of inflation.

 

I do like the point he makes that the ROH is the cheapest and most expensive theatre in the West End.

 

In the Telegraph interview there’s an interesting comment:

“Audience development is a high priority. As another of his predecessors, Genista McIntosh, once put it: ‘We don’t need more people here; we need different people.’ Although the ROH may be full every night, it tends to be the same crowd, drawn from a narrow demographic that leaves the Government uneasy.”

 

I’m not sure when that statement by Genista McIntosh was made - perhaps someone might help?  But it certainly has been strongly repeated in the Baker Richards analysis.

 

Offsetting the concern about the need for different people, it is good that so much is made of all the outreach work, schools matinees, Paul Hamlyn subsidised performances, students etc.

 

I’ll be very interested to read the Annual Report is published and try and get my head around some of the issues.  Meantime the Autumn Magazine Alex Beard article is well worth a read, as is the Telegraph interview. 

 

Apologies this is a bit scatter gun but I thought it worth saying something now, before looking more closely once the Annual Report is published, which I’m told will be in May.

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Posted (edited)

The key sentences, at least from the perspective of another long thread here, are:

 

16EEC70F-5485-4722-A6AD-56F0E75CD324.jpeg

 

(Apologies for poor snapshot editing)

 

Edited by Geoff

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I'm not sure how they know for sure what the 'demographic' is every night; I have rarely filled in surveys, and my work and financial situation has changed radically in recent years.

 

And, the only possible starting point for reaching a wider audience is to address the ticket prices; not to put them up, by whatever rate of inflation they use.

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2 hours ago, Geoff said:

The key sentences, at least from the perspective of another long thread here, are:

 

16EEC70F-5485-4722-A6AD-56F0E75CD324.jpeg

 

(Apologies for poor snapshot editing)

 

 

Disappointing that the mantra about needing a different kind of audience has had another airing. These interviews/articles could have been used as an emollient, but not so (although I say that without having sight of the ROH magazine as yet.)

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3 hours ago, Geoff said:

The key sentences, at least from the perspective of another long thread here, are:

 

16EEC70F-5485-4722-A6AD-56F0E75CD324.jpeg

 

(Apologies for poor snapshot editing)

 

 

This section made me pretty hacked off when I read the article earlier. It's depressing to read that an organisation that I've spent spend hundreds of pounds with most years for the last 15 years doesn't seem to actually want my custom. The fact that Pappano earns £17,000 per performance was also rather depressing to read, given that's more than I earned all year in the last tax year!

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Dear Marketing Helpline,

 

Our family firm has made chocolate biscuits for fifty years. They are very successful and the shops sell out as fast as we can make them, the only exception being when we created a new flavour which didn’t sell well first time around, even though they were cheaper than the original flavour.  Still, we brought them back two years later, increasing the price and baking more of them.  It was a bit of a disaster and we ended up giving most of them away.

 

Our new Marketing supremo tells us that it is not enough to sell all our biscuits and that we should be worrying about who is buying them.  Apparently what we thought were loyal biscuit buyers who choose our brand over competitors are actually totally unsuitable and must be replaced.

 

Can anyone advise us?

 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, bridiem said:

I'm not sure how they know for sure what the 'demographic' is every night; I have rarely filled in surveys, and my work and financial situation has changed radically in recent years.

 

And, the only possible starting point for reaching a wider audience is to address the ticket prices; not to put them up, by whatever rate of inflation they use.

 

I'd also question whether the demographic is as narrow as all that. Maybe this reflects the Amphitheatre - which is about half of the total capacity - rather than the audience as a whole, but I see much more homogenous audiences at "straight" theatre (in the provinces at least) and at concerts. The Wigmore Hall audience in particular is notoriously dominated by a certain demographic but I don't recall seeing much hand-wringing about it.

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Surely the 'narrow demographic' is always going to be 'people who like opera, classical music and ballet', so how they are going to change that is beyond me. 

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Is there a sort of weird logic going on here?

 

I assuming that the rush to diversify and replace ballet/opera lovers with ABBOL (anybody but ballet and opera lovers) is to justify the public subsidy. If they are successful and give the heave to the regulars and replace them with others who may be one-off's,  when revenues fall, will this not, in turn, increase the need for public subsidy?  Similarly, if those one-off's turn into regulars, will they, in turn, need to be replaced?.

 

I would love somebody to explain this to me.

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10 minutes ago, taxi4ballet said:

Surely the 'narrow demographic' is always going to be 'people who like opera, classical music and ballet', so how they are going to change that is beyond me. 

 

Which is why it is much better to make the most of the excellent outreach work such as the recent schools matinee Romeo & Juliet with Anna-Rose O’Sullivan and Marci Sambe, perhaps a first ballet for many of the audience and hopefully a number will become regulars.

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Many museums and art galleries are subsidised. Only people who are fond of such things are likely to go in them.

 

Is that another 'narrow demographic' or is it deemed to be ok because you don't have to be able to spend £££ on a ticket?

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I suppose I'm part of this 'narrow demographic' because I buy a few expensive tickets each season.  (I can't stand for an entire performance and can't see well enough to sit high up) but I come from an ordinary working-class background and developed a love for ballet after my parents took me to see the Festival Ballet at the old Davis theatre in Croydon. Each year, there would be a RB production on the BBC at Christmas which kept the memory alive - sadly there are few on mainstream TV now.

 

Now I do my best to give family and friends a similar introduction to ballet.  I took my niece to see a Swan Lake (Dowell and Makarova, I think) when she was a child and now I take her children for the occasional Nutcracker.  I have taken friends and neighbours too and now we often watch the live transmissions in a local cinema as it is more affordable for pensioners and saves us booking months in advance.

 

What these marketing types overlook is the trickle-down effect from everyone who sees ballet and loves it enough to spread the word.  Aren't we bringing in the new audiences that they want?

 

Linda

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I guess they don't know, Linda, because it doesn't show up in the bookings.  You may be bringing 3 new people, but all "they" see is that you, an existing patron, have booked 4 tickets.  And they have no way of making the connection if any of your people start to book in the future.

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Alex Beard fronts an article in the new edition of the Friends Magazine, entitled "Our greatest challenge".

 

The article headlines four key statistics:

40% of tickets were £45 or less

174 Opera performances

208 Ballet performances

8,000 children attended a Schools Matinee

 

The total number of Opera and Ballet performances is 382, so it must include performances taking place outside the main house.

 

By implication this calls into question the statistic that 40% of tickets were £45 or less, since this will almost certainly also include performances taking place outside the main house.

 

I wonder what percentage of tickets in the main house were £45 or less.

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Presumably this was for the previous season?  So - Swan Lake and Lohengrin aside - before the (sometimes outrageous) price hikes?

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“£45 or less” seems a rather carefully chosen benchmark. I understand why they feel the need to present figures in the most favourable light, but when you keep moving the goalposts you lay yourself open to accusations of a lack of transparency.

 

It’s good that Alex Beard is tackling the subject head on, but he must know that the Friends are a very engaged group (with many having too much time on our hands!), and there are unanswered questions remaining about, for example, the lack of a cap on Forza tickets and disproportionate price increases in the cheaper seats.

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2 hours ago, Lizbie1 said:

“£45 or less” seems a rather carefully chosen benchmark. I understand why they feel the need to present figures in the most favourable light, but when you keep moving the goalposts you lay yourself open to accusations of a lack of transparency.

 

 

Think this is a valid point - also as others have mentioned the 'value for money' aspect needs to be considered (e.g. things like upper slips and standing tickets should be substantially cheaper rather than a nominal difference). 

 

Another thing is the proportionate increase - for example seats that used to be £30 now costing £45 vs seats that used to be £85 now costing £95 for example, both have increased but not proportionality. (I've made these numbers up by the way so this isn't a real example but illustrates the point!) 

 

As someone who tends to sit in the seats around the £30-45 mark and seeing that these same seats are likely to be near £70 for productions like sleeping beauty you can present statistics in a favourable light that isn't a reflection of what's going on. Yes it makes sense in terms of revenue for sleeping beauty/nutcracker etc to charge more as they will sell out and I'm somewhat ok with this (allow these to fund newer productions as well as keep showing 'less popular' and 'less profitable' productions), but I think it needs to be a reasonable amount more, not a substantial amount more. I guess it's impossible to have the balance perfect for everyone but I do think (at risk of being controversial) that price increases should hit the most expensive seats first before the cheaper/middle seats. 

 

 

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6 hours ago, Lizbie1 said:

“£45 or less” seems a rather carefully chosen benchmark. I understand why they feel the need to present figures in the most favourable light, but when you keep moving the goalposts you lay yourself open to accusations of a lack of transparency.

 

Isn't £45 currently the top price for Linbury tickets? So I'd take a guess that they picked that as the benchmark so they could put all the Linbury tickets into the category in order to increase the percentage of tickets in it. I'd be surprised if 40% of tickets for main house productions are under £45. We could probably have worked it out for the main house when they used to produce those seating plans with every seat shown in a category then the prices for each category given but since they've stopped doing them I imagine it'd be much harder for interested punters to try to work it out. Being cynical, that may be one reason why they stopped producing such a plan!

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