New Research Proves ‘Saturday Night TV Effect’Date: 21 October 2009
Proponents of reality TV casting competitions have been long been arguing that the “Saturday night TV effect” benefits theatre overall. And now they have the data to back them up – in part.
According to research released today by SOLT (the Society of London Theatre), the marketing body for London theatre owners and producers, television programmes like I’d Do Anything have indeed encouraged theatregoing amongst their viewers – but, those viewers motivated to purchase show tickets as a result aren’t likely to be new theatregoers.
SOLT commissioned two pieces of research on the matter. In the first, Ipsos MORI questioned theatregoers about their views on TV casting shows. In the second, SOLT worked with Arts Council England (ACE) to analyse audiences for West End productions which have and have not been featured in such TV casting shows.
Among theatregoers who have actually watched a theatre-based reality TV show, almost half (47%) of those surveyed by Ipsos MORI said that watching the TV show had made them more likely to see the musical production featured on TV, with 34% saying it had made them more likely to go and see a musical in the West End in general. In addition, 23% were more likely to see non-musical productions such as plays or comedies as a result of watching a reality-based theatre show on TV.
However, analysing the socio-economic make-up of audiences across several West End musicals by comparing postcode data from ticket purchasers, the SOLT/ACE research found that the profile of audiences in shows featured on TV casting shows was almost identical to that of audiences for shows not featured. This indicates that the TV casting phenomenon has not encouraged new socio-economic groups to purchase tickets.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and the BBC spearheaded the TV casting craze and the annual programmes - How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? in 2006, Any Dream Will Do in 2007 and I’d Do Anything in 2008 – have made stars of Connie Fisher, Lee Mead and Jodie Prenger and driven record box-office takings for their productions of The Sound of Music, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Oliver!.
Next year, Lloyd Webber and the BBC, with host Graham Norton, will return to the small screen with a new series to cast a Dorothy and Toto for a revival of The Wizard of Oz (See News, 11 Sep 2009). Less successfully in the TV ratings, ITV’s Grease is the Word found Danny Bayne and Susan McFadden to play Danny and Sandy in Grease in the West End in 2007.
Commenting on the research published today, impresario Cameron Mackintosh, who appeared on I’d Do Anything and produces Oliver! at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, said: “There is no doubt that searching for the star of a musical on primetime Saturday night TV has had a tremendously beneficial effect on the West End, not only for promoting a particular show but, just as importantly, exposing new talent who find great opportunities in other productions in the West End and around the country. So the theatre industry has every reason to be grateful to Andrew Lloyd Webber and the BBC for putting musical theatre centre stage and the current buoyant state of the West End is living proof of the benefits.”
SOLT chief executive Richard Pulford added: “The last two years have seen record attendances for London theatre. It is of obvious interest whether these high-profile TV shows have contributed in some way to ticket sales. The research seems to confirm that major television exposure for West End shows stimulates ticket demand both for the theatre productions featured and – to a lesser though still significant extent – for other productions too.”
At the 2008 Laurence Olivier Awards, organised by SOLT, Andrew Lloyd Webber was presented with a Special Award for his lifetime contribution to theatre, including his promotion of the West End via his television appearances (See News, 9 Mar 2008). For its part, ACE commented today that “clearly TV coverage on its own is not going to turn harder to reach people into regular theatregoers”, but that other initiatives continue to try to address the concerns of those segments of the population who feel that theatre is not for them.