Rethinking the Business of Opera

Research supported by Barra has proven to David Devan that the audiences filling his theaters are rapidly changing, not so much in what they want to see on stage, but in the ways they make the purchasing decisions that get them to the theater.

“The competitive landscape for opera has extended way beyond the usual suspects to include a wide range of quality, on-demand entertainment options. The time has come to get real about how we’re going to thrive in a new age of consumer behavior.”

David Devan, General Director and President

Opera Philadelphia

David Devan, Opera Philadelphia’s General Director and President, had taken it as far as he could on intuition alone. Opera Philadelphia was losing subscribers and not recruiting new ones, despite fresh programming, exciting collaborations and changes of venue. Performances were full and audiences were enthusiastic, so what else could be done to create more dependable revenue and stabilize the future? “We figured we needed to do market research, and that’s where Barra comes in,” Devan said.

Devan, 51, who studied at Stanford and has a marketing background, looked for inspiration on the internet. What he found may set Opera Philadelphia, and potentially, the entire ailing arts community, on its ear.

As in Coca- Cola.

As in a nimble, bold, responsive corporation that aims to double its revenue with new products and intuitive product placements. A smitten Devan began showing Coke’s 70-slide power point marketing methodology presentations at business meetings. It may be unheard of for an arts organization to perceive salvation in a soda bottle, but a driven and fearless Devan was willing to try anything. With foundation money, Opera Philadelphia engaged prominent market researchers with commercial clients to focus solely on the motivations and priorities of its audience, just as Coke had done.

The research so far has been eye-opening, and contradicts common theories about what ails opera—that it’s a fusty ancient art that’s no longer relevant, for instance, or that tickets are too expensive, neither of which has proven true.

The research is entering its final phase, after which a new marketing plan will be developed.

“I’ve never had this kind of data available to me,” Devan said. “Now we’ve got the tools to reinvent an opera company for the 21st Century. Because if we don’t adapt to changing consumer buying patterns, we’re dead. It’s that simple.”

Photo of the Esperanza Academy Charter School Dance Ensemble performing as a part of We Shall Not Be Moved: The Hip H’opera Project by Phillip Todd.

Catalyst Fund Investment

December 2013
$75,000/8 months

Funding supports Opera Philadelphia’s research on consumer motivation and values. They will look at visitor behavior across all types of entertainment, not just attendance at Opera Philadelphia. Opera Philadelphia is investigating how the subscription model and other sources of earned income have changed over time in order to learn from and adapt to changing consumer behavior.

Why We Funded

  • Clearly identified challenge facing many
  • First one to test creative approach
  • Willing to significantly change business model
  • Positioned to spur change

Learn More

operaphila.org

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