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Reimagining the Orchestra Subscription Model

May 25, 201625 May 2016


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Based on a survey of over 4,000 orchestra attendees and “the largest ever orchestra sales dataset” from 44 American orchestras and one Canadian one (the National Arts Centre Orchestra), this report examines “why people subscribe, why they lapse, and what they might want that is not currently being offered” in current orchestra subscription packages.

The report indicates that orchestra ticket sales have decreased at a compound annual rate of 2.8% over the past decade. In response to declining sales, many orchestras have increased ticket prices, a trend that the report suggests cannot continue without the risk of losing many attendees.

Over the past 10 years, “total subscription revenues for the average orchestra have fallen by 15%”, with a 24% decrease in the number of subscription packages sold and a 13% decrease in the number of subscription tickets sold. There have been substantial differences in subscription sales by size of orchestra:

  • A compound annual decrease of 2.4% for orchestras with budgets over $16 million.
  • A compound annual decrease of 1.7% for those with budgets between $7 and $16 million.
  • A compound annual increase of 2.2% for those with budgets under $7 million.

The report examines a number of potential reasons for the decrease in subscriptions, with an assessment based on the research findings (which are detailed in the report):

  1. “People are just losing interest in classical music. Somewhat true.
  2. Other arts and entertainment options are taking audience share from orchestras. False.
  3. Orchestra-goers are unhappy with their orchestra experience. Overwhelmingly false.
  4. Subscribers are discontent with programming or the quality of performances. Somewhat true.
  5. Subscribers are dissatisfied with the subscription product itself. Largely true.”

The survey found that “the top reasons for subscribers lapsing include price, scheduling issues, a desire to chose one’s own programming, and dissatisfaction with the programming being offered”. To counter this and “revitalize the subscription model”, the report recommends that orchestras build “closer, ‘stickier’ relationships with customers”, as has been done in other sectors of the economy, by:

  • “Expanding their use of social media, apps, and ‘bring a friend’ programs”, all of which could help attract millennials.
  • “Decoupling curation from package size”, i.e., offering “small curated subscription packages” as well as “large customized options”.
  • “Improving the value proposition” by allowing “subscribers to pay in monthly installments” (including automatic renewals) and offering a “buy now, choose later” option.
  • Considering offering “a membership completely divorced from attendance frequency” that would “confer belonging, exclusivity, and certain benefits – such as access to a VIP lounge in the orchestra hall and preferred access to single tickets”.

The report concludes that orchestras should “think carefully about [their] unique circumstances” and “customize new offers for [their] local market”.

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