What’s the value of entertainment?

Hollywood’s going nuts this weekend, because of a deal between Lionsgate, Groupon, and Fandango, to pack theatre seats for the premiere weekend of Matthew McConaughey’s new movie, “The Lincoln Lawyer.” Here’s how the deal works.

  • In most cities, it costs $11 to see a first-run movie.
  • Lionsgate and Groupon offered a deal for $6 tickets to “The Lincoln Lawyer” when you redeem a special code through Fandango.
  • New Groupon and Fandango customers got an extra $5 off, bringing the ticket price to $1.

If you’ve read Grow Your Band’s Audience, this strategy sounds familiar, right? It’s about making an investment or sacrificing some revenue today so you can build the social proof you need to guarantee future bookings. Here’s the impact of this deal, as reported by Deadline’s Nikki Finke:

  • Fandango’s reporting sell-out showings in some cities. Say what you will about the convenience of seeing movies or concerts with lots of other people. A huge crowd heightens the intensity of any concert or film. Plus, the social proof of a sold out event makes other folks interested in it. (If the film’s good, word of mouth should be huge.)
  • Box office reports can’t tell the difference between a cash ticket and a Groupon ticket. If a theatre with 1,000 seats “sells out” with nothing but Groupons, they will report a gross of $11,000.
  • Theatre owners are elated. You may not know this, but theatres only make between 5-10% of ticket prices in the first few weeks of a feature film. The $1 covers that. The studio’s fronting the rest to themselves. Therefore, every person in the cinema who buys popcorn, candy, or soda just added extra revenue that wouldn’t have existed. Do you think theatre owners will remember this act of generosity the next time they get a special request from Lionsgate?

What can you take away from this experience, when building your music career?

  • You’re not competing against other musicians, you’re competing against every other form of live entertainment and “outside the house” activity. Don’t worry about battling the other acts on your bill for a percentage of the door. Team up to prevent from losing your audience to the bar down the street with better drink specials.
  • $1 is better than “free.” When it comes to getting folks out of the house, charging even a dollar or two delivers far better results than offering something for free.
  • It’s okay to ask your audience for the opportunity to provide value. Would very many of us have lined up for a lawyer movie this weekend? Probably not. But the “ask” from a trusted site like Groupon makes the offer seem like a treat, just like buying someone a drink at a bar. We’re willing to carve out time for experiences when folks ask the right way.
  • Focus on the long term. Lionsgate’s holding their breath, knowing that burning an opening weekend’s profits might lead to a longer theatrical run, or to some better long term DVD, cable, and overseas royalties. Selling out a gig (even if you made little money on it) is always better than playing to a half-empty room.
  • Have faith in the product. Critics might balk at the idea of Matthew McConaghey playing a lawyer, but the producers clearly have faith in a film that they want people to see. You have to have the same faith in the quality of your work on stage. If you worry you’re not good enough, you won’t have the authenticity to ask an audience for their support.

Getting people into your live shows is the most important thing you can do to advance your music career in the 21st century. It’s what will set you apart from other musicians, and it’s what will generate the most money for you in the shortest amount of time. Learn how the most successful acts in your town do it, and you might find some strategies that look like what Lionsgate has done (and what we cover in GYBA.)