Monday, May 09, 2005

Can't Stop the Signal

San Francisco sold out in less than an hour.

After the success of last week's Serenity screening, Universal decided to do it again-- they added ten more theatres, doubling the number of venues, and scheduled the encore for Thursday, May 26th. That was the good news. The bad news is, the theatres involved weren't prepared to provide the appropriate level of service to screaming hordes of rabid Browncoats.

The studio posted screening info at cantstopthesignal.com-- theatre addresses and phone numbers, plus links to buy tickets online-- but they were slow to update the page, and people just called the theatres in the meantime. All but three of the venues were sold out by half past noon. No word yet on whether people bought in bulk, and if so, whether those people were scalpers or Browncoats. We're all hoping for the latter.

I tried to buy tickets for SF online, but movietickets.com hadn't been fully updated; it let me go all the way through the purchasing process, then spewed an error message which told me to call the theatre. Hell with that. Call me antisocial, but I prefer online transactions to dictating my billing information in real time and having to spell my last name and street name and explain that "Mountain View" is, in fact, two words. And then after I hang up, if I'm lucky, I've got a confirmation number scribbled on a post-it note.

I'll give you my money, but not if you're going to waste my time.

Anyway, DeeAnn thought it would be pretty funny if Universal just decided to keep doing these screenings through the summer, going slightly wider each time. They know they're going to sell out every house, at least the first five or six times, and that's a pretty good chunk of change.

Let's do the math: average ticket price, call it $7.00. Average house size, say 250 seats (we got a smallish screen even in SF). That's $1,750.00 from one screen. Ten screens, $17,500. So after these first two events, Serenity will already have grossed over $50,000.

Okay, so it's not a $20 million opening weekend, but it's only 30 shows. For comparison, Hollywood considers an opening weekend per-screen gross north of $10,000 to be good business. (Blockbusters like Star Wars are in the $15,000 range.) Three days, and four shows per screen per day, means an average take of $833 per show, or approximately 119 people-- less than half a full house.

It all comes down to understanding your audience. I'm glad that at least one studio seems to understand that fans are willing to do crazy things that you couldn't pay any number of PR or marketing people to do. But you gotta ask them nicely.
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