New York State of Mind

When it comes to theatrical merchandise, the number one seller is the humble program. Filled with cast biographies, information about the show and beautiful full page stills from the production, this is a great piece of merchandise that keeps on giving and giving to the production. But as they get increasingly filled with advertising the program’s power is decreased. What if there was a win-win-win for advertisers, audiences and the production itself? It already exists!


The program is actually a double source of revenue for the theatre. Not only do they make money out of the physical sales, programs contain several pages of advertising which is sold as another revenue source. Sounds like a win-win for the production and the advertisers. The production gets an extra line of funding and the advertisers get their product mixed in with the full page glossy photos. But what about the audience?

Over the last decade, programs have become more focussed on the latter revenue source. Increasingly the pages dedicated towards advertising have increased and the amount of interesting show-related content has decreased. This isn’t really an issue in a free publication, but when audiences are forking out $25 or $30 on top of an expensive ticket price surely we want to give them plenty of bang for their buck.

In fact, giving them plenty of bang for their buck is the gift that keeps on giving (to the production). If your audiences love the production, then chances are they will be looking for a prop to explain how wonderful the experience was to their friends. And nothing sells that experience better than twenty appealing pictures and some barrier-decreasing information.

Dedicating more pages to advertising works against this important word of mouth creation. If your audience has to flip through four pages of advertising to find one full page picture then they aren’t going to bother sharing it.

However, this is not a problem in America. Americans have a different approach to audience advertising. Don’t get me wrong, they are by no means against the concept. In fact their methods are even more effective. Rather than fill a program with advertising, these shows give every member who walks through the door a Playbill. This paper publication features everything the audience would want to know about the people in the show, the song list and about thirty pages of advertising. But it doesn’t matter because it is free. The audience haven’t shelled out $30 to read advertising.

There is then the possibility of purchasing a program which is entirely pictures from the show and information about the performance. Something which is much more appealing for excited audience members to read and also sells the production much better to any of the audience’s friends and family.

This is a win-win for everybody. The production gets plenty of revenue from advertising (and it can even charge more because it reaches every person who walks through the door rather than only those who buy a program). The advertisers reach an even larger audience. And the program purchasers get a better quality product to walk away with and fondly remember their experience.

Disney’s The Lion King follow this model across the world. Maybe it is time all of the other shows take it on board too?