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The ABC’s three-tiered show plan breeds a box office safety net

With vast expanses of unpopulated land separating its urban and rural communities, Australia poses some unique problems for theatrical events producers looking to take a kids show on the road Down Under. 'We have a very small population base, primarily situated...
February 1, 2001

With vast expanses of unpopulated land separating its urban and rural communities, Australia poses some unique problems for theatrical events producers looking to take a kids show on the road Down Under. ‘We have a very small population base, primarily situated in five locations-Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth,’ says ABC head of consumer publishing Grahame Grassby. ‘Distance between venues can be as much as 1,000 kilometers, and the costs of feeding, housing and paying a cast and crew for travel days are so crippling that if a show falls below 60% of capacity ticket sales, it’s unlikely to make it around to all its venues.’

Mid-tour derailment is a fairly common pitfall that has claimed many overseas tours as victims. The last time Sesame Street Live (a theatrical show that’s been successfully touring State-side for 21 years) visited Australia, it wasn’t able to complete its schedule; so too Rugrats Live last year. Grassby says most failed shows abandon ship between Adelaide and Perth, the biggest geographical gap on the capital-city circuit.

ABC Events, which launched in 1998, has offset this geographical challenge by evolving three different levels of theatrical shows of varying costs, allowing the unit to penetrate Australia more efficiently with shows tailored to fit community scale.

At the high end of the spectrum are Theatrical Shows, which Grassby refers to as ‘Andrew Lloyd Weber for children.’ These five-city tours visit big-seated venues such as the Sydney Opera House and command ticket prices between AUD$15 and AUD$20 (US$8 and US$11). With whopping production costs between US$350,000 and US$500,000, these shows need to recoup a total box office between US$725,000 and US$850,000 to be profitable. The Big B Show (working title), featuring Bananas in Pyjamas and Bob the Builder, is next year’s addition to ABC’s Theatrical roster, running from September 2001 through to Christmas.

Next down the line are Concerts, which, since they require much less staging, lighting, choreography and directing, cost around US$50,000 to produce. Consisting of a character performing on-stage with a simple backdrop and some props, these shows have ticket prices between AUD$7 and AUD$12 (US$4 and US$7) and are staged in smaller venues like clubs, town halls and community centers. Says Grassby: ‘This is where the bulk of Australian children’s live entertainment exists because the costs are significantly lower than a Theatrical Show, yet the ticket price is not.’ ABC Events will launch Concerts centered around Postman Pat, Spot, Blinky Bill and Fireman Sam this year.

Finally, free one-off events called Shopping Mall Shows round out ABC Events’ bag of tricks. Showcasing elaborate US$5,000 character costumes and live performances, these 40-minute shows are commissioned by retail centers looking to attract additional mom and toddler traffic during their hardest trading period Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Although Mall Shows cost roughly US$25,000, Grassby says ‘the revenue the ABC receives from these one-off events is very, very low-sometimes not enough to recoup the cost of production. It’s really done more as a marketing exercise rather than a business initiative.’ Maisy, Paddington, Little Bear and Franklin will all debut at the mall this year.

ABC gets the most mileage out of its Events properties by channeling concepts between its three tiers to maximize profits. ‘Ideally, any show that we put on at the Theatrical level will end up being at least a five-year proposition,’ says Grassby. ‘It may do one or two Theatrical tours, then two years in a stripped-down Concert version, and finally it can be used for a number of years as a Shopping Mall Show. So even if the initial Theatrical is unprofitable, there’s the potential to amortize that loss across a number of more profitable scenarios later.’

In terms of annual income derived from ticket sales or commissions, ABC Events nets 80% from Concerts, 15% from Shopping Mall Tours and 5% from Theatricals.

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