Marketing Broadway: a Case Study in Audience Research

ABSTRACT - The article describes a theatre audience survey designed to: measure the impact of alternative advertising media and other sources of influence; identify the most efficient vehicles within each media; and provide demographic and media profiles. The results are presented against a background of a psychographic segmentation of a Broadway theatre audience.


George A. Wachtel (1981) ,"Marketing Broadway: a Case Study in Audience Research", in SV - Symbolic Consumer Behavior, eds. Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Morris B. Holbrook, New York, NY : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 92-94.

Symbolic Consumer Behavior, 1981     Pages 92-94


George A. Wachtel, League of New York Theatres & Producers, Inc.


The article describes a theatre audience survey designed to: measure the impact of alternative advertising media and other sources of influence; identify the most efficient vehicles within each media; and provide demographic and media profiles. The results are presented against a background of a psychographic segmentation of a Broadway theatre audience.


Most of the audience segmentation studies that have included theatre have been restricted to performing arts patrons. However, Broadway theatre appeals to a far broader segment of the population. In January 1980, a study of The New York Audience For The Broadway Theatre was conducted by Consumer Behavior, Inc. for The League of New York Theatres and Producers, Inc. The study provides a structure in which to better understand the subgroups, or segments, that comprise the Broadway theatre audience.

The traditional audience for theatre is well-informed, has a high critical standard of expectations,- and exhibits above average attendance of drama and plays. They are older, best educated fairly evenly divided by sex, and veteran theatregoers. A large majority, within the New York metropolitan area, come from Manhattan, Queens, and the affluent suburbs. With the highest incomes, few are black or have children. The theatre is part of their general cultural interest, nothing unusual or especially exciting. The Traditionalist, however, accounts for only one-third of the Broadway audience. There are Enthusiasts, for whom Broadway is the prime cultural interest; Entertainment Seekers, who prefer shows that are light; and Dispassionate Theatregoers, with a low level of theatre interest in general.

The Theatre Enthusiasts are younger, average in family composition, below average (among theatregoers) in education and income, and below average in years of attendance. They have a higher proportion of blacks than other groups, have a high proportion of women, and come from all boroughs and counties. With a strong interest in Broadway theatre, they like serious and light theatre, musicals and plays. Their interest in drama is high, but without the critical values of the Traditionalists. They are well-informed about Broadway output. Along with the Traditionalists, they have the highest frequency of attendance, approximately four shows per year, and account for 30% of the audience.

Entertainment Seekers comprise 35% of all theatregoers, but account for only 24% of attendance, by volume. They are the oldest group, mostly married, least well-educated, non-professional, and mostly suburban. They are above average in family composition and income. The majority have been attending for over ten years, and are women. They look for entertainment that is light and makes them happy. They have the lowest level of cultural interest in general. Theatre is seen as a social, special event.

Dispassionate Theatregoers are the youngest and mostly married, with small children. They are well-educated, but have average incomes. Many are new patrons (first attendance within the past five years). Mostly men, many live in Queens and the Bronx, with few from Manhattan and Long Island. The group has an above average proportion of blacks. They have a passive attitude, and are often influenced by their spouse. Broadway is not their prime going-out activity. They have a strong interest in dining out, jazz and rock concerts, sports and discotheques. Like the Entertainment Seekers, they have a lower frequency of attendance, approximately two shows per year, and account for only 13% of the audience.

The purpose of the study is to provide information which will be useful to theatre owners and producers in their efforts to increase the attendance at Broadway performances. The focus of the identified segments is to develop demographic and media profiles which can serve to define efficient target groups for promotional efforts; and to describe their theatre going behavior, preferences, and expectations.

A few problems arise in the application of this information: Frequently, there is insufficient information on which to decide to which segment a show's audience belongs; often, a show may have broad enough appeal to interest members of more than one segment; through the lifecycle of a show, the audience changes.

The solution to these problems is found in an audience survey. This approach offers two advantages. The media habits of the audience may be studied in greater detail. The impact of existent promotional efforts may be assessed.

The author conducted one such survey of THE ELEPHANT MAN, on March 19 and 20, 1980. The dates were weeknights, chosen in order to provide a profile of the audience whose incidence of attendance most needed to be increased.

The questionnaires were self-administered and consisted primarily of multiple response items. The entire audience was surveyed. In all, 1239 questionnaires were fielded, yielding 932 usable questionnaires, for a 75% response rate. One question asked if the respondent had selected the show. 445, or 48% of the respondents, identified themselves as decisionmakers. The results presented below are, unless otherwise noted, for this group only.

The Results

Compared to other current shows, THE ELEPHANT MAN benefitted from extremely favorable word-of-mouth. As demonstrated in Chart 1, !more than one-half of the audience had heard friend's recommendations that made them want to see the show. As yet, television commercials reached only a narrow segment of the audience, but were relatively persuasive. One out of every two who had seen the commercial indicated it made them want to see the show. Newspaper advertising performed comparably with the other shows surveyed. One-fourth of THE ELEPHANT MAN audience recalled seeing a newspaper advertisement. Only about one in five readers, however, cited it as having made them want to see the show.


Chart 2 presents the results of a question which first asked respondents if they had heard about the show from each of several sources, and subsequently, if what they had seen or heard made them want to see the show. In general, friend's recommendations, reviews and articles, and awards were more persuasive than advertising. Television and radio were the most persuasive advertising med ia.


The buying of television time, because of the high cost and multiple choices, presents an unusual problem for the producer. The efficiency of a time buy is determined by the relationship between its cost and the incidence of viewership. Program length and turnover rate also enter the equation as, all other things being equal, a longer program and greater turnover of the viewing audience (e.g. segments of The Today Show) require a greater number of spots to reach an equal audience.

Chart 3 describes the television profile of the audience. Phil Donahue was the most efficient television buy. The Today Show, CBS Morning, and Good Morning America were also superior, with The Today Show, the most efficient. The Early Evening News was more efficient than the 11PM News; the IOPM News in channel 5 and The Tonight Show also appeared to be better buys than the 11PM News.


Seventy-eight percent of the audience indicated they listened to radio on a daily basis. Since stations were not listed on the questionnaires, respondents were asked to recall the names or numbers on an unaided basis.

Chart 4 prioritizes the New York area radio stations on the basis of how large a target audience is reached per dollar (spot cost). The efficiency numbers are reciprocals of the cost/reach ratio indexed Lo 100. WRVR, WQXR, and WRFM emerged as the most efficient radio buys, followed by WNEW-FM, WPAT, WYN1Y and WPIX. The popularity of certain rock stations understandably reflected the youth of the audience.


The New York Times dominated all other newspapers read as a source of theatre information. The Daily News was infrequently read for this purpose. Chart 5 shows readership of the major New York dailies, and magazine publications.


One-third of the audience lived outside the metropolitan area. Among metropolitan area residents, representation was extremely strong from Manhattan, below average from the remaining boroughs and about par from the suburban areas. The audience was strongly skewed female, and comparatively well represented by never-married adults, under 25 years of age. Charts 6 and 7 compare THE ELEPHANT MAN audience to an all-Broadway-show composite.




The Broadway theatre audience is far broader than the performing arts audience. A psychographic segmentation of the Broadway audience has produced four homogeneous groups of theatregoers, each with its own behavior, preferences, and expectations - Traditionalists, Enthusiasts, Entertainment Seekers, and Dispassionate Theatregoers.

At any point in its life, a Broadway show's audience is comprised of varying proportions from these four segments. An audience survey allows marketing efforts and the media mix to be customized to the appropriate target audience at each stage of the show's run.



George A. Wachtel, League of New York Theatres &amp Producers, Inc.


SV - Symbolic Consumer Behavior | 1981

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