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Analysis: The Economics of Theatrics

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All the world's a stage… but will the world pay for it? The usual dilemma is faced by WCPA, Ammini Eappen, aunt Omanna, Eappen and its large cast of actors - all of them seemingly challenged by the concepts of marketing and economics. After all when it comes to art, or for that matter, matters of the heart, does the twain ever meet? 

The "Centrestage with Pricing" case raises three fundamental questions. First, whether this kimd of theatre actually caters to the consumer's unmet needs, and can it stoke that need? It is a fundamental marketing question. Second, can these needs be converted into a product or service, viz, 'WCPA theatre offerings' which can be packaged, marketed, priced and positioned in a consumer relevant manner. Third, what are challenges ahead such marketing ventures and how they should be addressed in a holistic manner?

The WCPA operates in a consumer driven entertainment market. At a deeper level theatre reaches out, touches people through its live performance in a manner cinema cannot, captures and fires the imagination, and finally asks the consumer for a share of his or her wallet in return for the joy it provided. While it seems that Ammini and aunt Omanna are typical creatures of passion for whom the pleasures of theatre, and its economics are not necessarily related, it is only the financial realism of Thomas Kodipalli and Bishen Dagar that jolts them into reality. It seems that establishing a break-even price is an esoteric matter divorced from mundane issues such as costs, break-even points etc. The WCPA's work when compared with other theater that charge as low as Rs.75 per ticket and traditional/folk theater which are often free is making the decision on pricing an issue. It is almost weighing them down.

Ensuring affordability and the passion to extend theatre at low prices to mass audience seems to be the heart of dilemma.So what is the case all about? At its core, it is about accepting market realities. It is also about recognising and reconciling theatre as an art form with cost structures and market dynamics. To me the answers to this case are not blowing in the wind but they are in fact anchored very much in WCPA's Mango Grove premium location. 

The product is not a low priced mass market offering - it is in fact a premium aspirational product which needs a marketing tweak to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable. If I would enter into this angst ridden cast, as an intruder perhaps I would do several things. Ammini, aunt Ommana, Dr Teja and the other dreamy eyed idealistic theatre lovers would need to be won over. For that I would need Thomas Kodipalli and Bhishen Dagar as allies. Next, I would analyse the Mango Grove location - its catchment area, potential (theatre going) customers and their entertainment needs. I will find out the competition from other entertainment sources. This would lead to a well developed positioning and marketing plan which  would put oomph into WCPA's offerings. It is my conviction that the inadequacy of theatre-going space in urban India has grossly inhibited its outreach. What has worked in the rural landscape is bound to work in urban areas. After all even Hollywood and Bollywood fail to engage audiences all the time and urban audiences are seeking alternatives for entertainment. What better than theatre with its ability to adapt, engage, entertain and capture people's imagination in a manner that no other medium can? Indian history of theater, and more recently the global success of theatre proves this point.

Finally, the issue of pricing. To me if the product is adequately packaged with entertainment value, in an excellent ambience at a premium location, a premium pricing is a natural outcome. Yes, this is definitely a venture with the future.
After all isn't all the world a stage?

The author is President Corporate Strategy at HCL, a $6bn Technology/IT enterprise. He is also a Senior Advisor to the Shiv Nadar Foundation. He has worked in several global firms and assignments in Unilever, Pepsi, and Groupe SEB before joining HCL.