Originally posted: March 28, 2016
by Colin Mitchell
1) Why did you go to the LA Weekly first for an interview? Nobody reads the LA Weekly anymore? Don’t you know they are as about as in-touch with LA Theater as the out-of-touch LA Times? What were you thinking?
BF: Our mission is to introduce theater to everyone, including the “out-of-touch” ones. But, anyway, here I am at Bitter Lemons. The big leagues. :)
1a) Okay, that wasn’t really a question, more like an outburst, but thank you for making us feel good. So, the real first question: Why TodayTix? And what I mean by that is, what makes you different from the veritable plethora of ticketing outlets available to Los Angeles Theater such as Goldstar, StubHub, Brown Paper Tickets, Plays411 and LA Stage Tix?
BF: The world is moving mobile. At the beginning of 2013 when we started out in New York, the Broadway League published a stat that only .08% of theater tickets were sold through a mobile device. It’s a staggeringly small number, especially with such mobile mainstays already part of the millennial lexicon: Uber, HotelTonight, AirBnB and the like. We saw a need in the marketplace for an app like TodayTix to take what we already knew about modern consumers – they love their phones, use apps for everything, and plan more spontaneously than ever – and use it to get more people to the theater, more regularly and in new ways. As producers ourselves, my cofounder Merritt Baer and I didn’t want to see the industry left behind in an age of innovation – so we hired the best developers, engineers, and marketers we could find to change that statistic and create a platform that modernizes the theatergoing experience.
Additionally, while you list a wide variety of ticketing alternatives, we remain the only mobile-first, theater-only app out there – it’s a subtle focus that consumers appreciate. We also work differently with our theatre partners – we consider ourselves to be truly aligned partners with these organizations and venues, not only helping them to move inventory, but also to offer insights about their audience through data sharing and integrated digital strategy. And our technology goes beyond regular ticket offerings – we’ve launched the first mobile lotteries and rush programs in the industry, with really wonderful institutions signing up as our first access partners in LA.
2) Since you’re advertising with us (thank you btw) everyone is going to think this is a mere puff piece, which it is, but in an effort to try and distract them from that, I’m going to ask you a somewhat provocative question: By what year do you think we will be a fully paperless society? And how will that affect the business and the art of doing theater here, in Los Angeles, and elsewhere?
BF: Mobile ticketing is definitely on the horizon for theaters and consumers who want to embrace it. I think that by 2018, more and more theaters will have the option to go completely paperless with their tickets, and they’ll be able to do so with our help. We already provide mobile tickets with a handful of pioneering partners. But as a company full of theater nerds with robust Playbill collections, we hope that paper isn’t going away entirely any time soon!
3) Okay that one was a little creepy and it was actually two questions, so here’s something a little more light-hearted: Obviously you believe the business of ticketing will go fully digital at some point in the future, but do you feel, like I do, that the same thing is happening with theater criticism? And if so, what do you see that looking like here, in LA, and elsewhere? And if not, just tell me I’m nuts.
BF: You are nuts, but we like it. But really, these tiny devices in our pocket are changing the way we engage with nearly every aspect of our lives beyond simple commodities like transportation and ticket buying, and as such, digital and social dimensions are changing all facets of the industry. Whether the relevance of traditional theater criticism is diminishing is not for us to say, but we do see more impact of word of mouth through social platforms than ever before, including from professional and amateur critics. Sites like Bitter Lemons provide a necessary, and exciting, portal for consumers to engage in meaningful dialogue. Democratizing the critical aspect of the industry is probably not the worst thing, so long as trust and authenticity are preserved.
4) Quickly what are some of your favorite shows you’ve seen in Los Angeles so far? Don’t lie. I’ll be able to tell if you do. If you haven’t seen anything, who are some of your favorite people that you’ve met over here on the Left Coast so far? You don’t have to mention me. I know how you feel.
BF: Most recently, I saw an awesome new play called The Dodgers at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood – it was a world premiere about draft dodgers during Vietnam. Aside from a few customers thinking they were going to a baseball game, it was a great success!
5) Right now, small theater in Los Angeles is bunkering in, bruised and reeling from what many believe is an organized attack from without, how does TodayTix, an outsider itself, plan on making friends with the Hooligans in Noho and Theater Row and all points in-between?
BF: We’re happy to already be friends with many of them! We may be an ‘outsider’ to LA (or once were, when we first launched in beta last fall), but have had some fantastic ambassadors in the community who believe in what we were doing and were willing to make valuable introductions on our behalf. A lot of smaller theaters love the app because it’s a true discovery platform – on TodayTix, it’s just as easy to discover an intimate venue as it is to find the latest National Tour. With that said, we’re always looking to expand partnerships, so if any of the other “Hooligans” are reading this, we hope they get in touch!
6) And how will you be able to make the same partnerships with the Big Boys work; CTG, the Geffen, the Wallis, the Broad, the Pasadena Playhouse, South Coast Rep? Many of these more entrenched institutions are very set in their ways and don’t always take kindly to the new fangled sorts of things. I have some experience with this. Have you run up against it yet? And if not, why not?
BF: We’ve had great success so far with our relationships with CTG, the Wallis, the Broad, and the Geffen. We’re actually working with the Wallis right now to launch a mobile lottery for The Revisionist, which starts on March 29th. We have over 160 organizational partners in our regional markets (in addition to LA, this includes NYC, London, Chicago, D.C., Boston, and San Francisco), and the list is growing every day – so while some organizations may be harder to ‘infiltrate’ than others, we have faith.
7) Does TodayTix have any plans yet to work with some of the more entrenched arts organizations like LA Stage Alliance and the Hollywood Fringe Festival? If so, what will that look like? And if not, why not? What do you have against non-profits?
BF: We love non-profits! We are still in the early stages of forging relationships with LA Stage Alliance and Hollywood Fringe Festival, and are already starting to explore opportunities to be involved with their programs. We’re also getting to know the team at Stage Raw, among others. All of these organizations are clearly invaluable to the community, and we all care about the same thing – getting butts in seats and getting people excited about theater.
8) Sorry, that was another outburst, but you handled it well. On your site there is this language: “By adding mobile technology and adapting to consumers’ last-minute buying habits, Brian and Merritt hope to not only bring audiences to live theater more often, but also to introduce new and tech-savvy audiences to theater.” You, Brian M. Fenty and Merritt Baer being the co-founders of TodayTix, of course, but what I see missing from that sentence as a challenge is the degraded attention span of most Millennials. These people have serious difficulty focusing. As a matter of fact, some of them are looking away from this article right now. How does TodayTix wrestle with the fact that the virtual and the live may just not be compatible? That Millennials simply can’t actually sit through an entire live theater performance without wanting to post it on Facebook?
BF: There’s certainly plenty out there that’s competing for Millennials’ attention, but a live theater experience is pretty special – just ask the folks setting up tents and camping out for Hamilton tickets. You’ve got to appeal to them differently, with programming, advertising, packaging, and yes, ticketing, that gets them excited and meets their needs for convenience and spontaneity. And it has to be easy. Like 30 seconds or less easy. We’ve gotten our app in over a million hands, and our average customer age is 30 – so we’re of the belief that Millennials are excited by theater, they just need the best tools to easily access what’s out there. Also, 99% of my employees are Millennials, so if we can speak on behalf of all of them, we do more than take selfies and watch cat videos!
9) I’m glad you answered that last one coherently because I actually had no idea what it was I was asking. So thank you for once again making me look somewhat intelligent. Okay here’s an easy one: What did you think of Hedwig on Broadway?
BF: I loved it, and saw it three times! I saw it with John Cameron Mitchell, Neil Patrick Harris, and Andrew Rannells. I was there the week after John Cameron Mitchell broke his leg, and he rocked it.
10) Holy crap! We may have seen the same show! I saw it just days after Johnny injured himself as well. I call him Johnny because he’s my brother. And yeah, he definitely rocked it. Finally, in your still, as yet, early foray into Los Angeles Theater, if you had to, how would you describe this community to someone who was perhaps thinking of re-locating here?
BF: While we’re still relatively new to the scene, we’ve met amazingly talented, passionate, and visionary people at every level of the LA theater community. There’s also a ton of theater here, and the offerings are incredibly diverse. In terms of how the community fits into the larger LA landscape, for whatever reason, theater just doesn’t seem to be in the cultural zeitgeist as much as it is in some other major cities. That’s something we at TodayTix – in addition to many awesome organizations and theaters – are hoping to play a role in shifting. The hard work and creativity happening in LA’s hundreds of theaters should definitely be seen and recognized. So if I had a friend moving to LA, I’d tell them to go buy some theater tickets, and that I’ve heard of a great app that sells them.
10a) Nice plug! Now really finally: How do you propose to cater to a market that may not actually exist? There have been recent statistics that came out showing that LA, one of the largest urban populations in the country, is at the very bottom in pretty much everything related to the performing arts, donations, ticket sales, audience, attendance, funding, you name it, we were at the bottom. It may not be here, the audience, how do you propose on finding it? Or creating it? Or importing it?
BF: I read those statistics (on Bitter Lemons, of course), and sure, they’re bleak. But doing what we do, it’s an interesting challenge. 91% of TodayTix users reported that they see more theater because of TodayTix. We hope that new TodayTix users will lead to a new pool of regular theatergoers. Also, with seven cities on the app and more to come, TodayTix is a global company, and our users trust us as a resource when they travel – making it easier to discover and see theater as a tourist. Of course, it could take a long time to see those statistics change, but over time we think the trends will turn alongside smart producing, visionary companies and new technologies like ours.
Okay I’m really done now. Thanks for your time and welcome to Los Angeles Theater. I won’t feel at all offended if you accidentally lose my number.
BF: Thanks for doing what you do!
Guess we made the cut.