Cheaper admission just the ticket for landmark venue

Updated: 2011-11-18 07:54

By Raymond Zhou and Zhang Yuchen (China Daily)

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Cheaper admission just the ticket for landmark venue

A local high school student pins a school badge to the lapel of Sir Simon Rattle, principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, after its concert on Sunday in Shanghai. The performance was shown live on a big screen on the Nanjing Road shopping street, and Rattle stopped by afterward. Provided to China Daily 

Low-price strategy

Wang said the center prices its tickets slightly below market. "The brass quintet from the Berlin Philharmonic fetched 300 yuan for the highest, which was 100 yuan below what others might have charged. A New Year concert could go upward of 1,800-2,000 yuan elsewhere, but ours went up to only 1,680 yuan," he said.

In each of its first three years, the center presented around 800 commercial performances in its four venues - an opera house, a theater, a concert hall and a multi-functional hall that doubles as a small theater. The average ticket price is 314 yuan, Wang said, putting the annual gross in the 300 million-yuan range.

The center has gradually lowered admission fees by placing more tickets in the medium and low brackets. "We started with 72 percent of overall tickets in the below-500-yuan bracket, and now that ratio has grown to 83 percent. For seats below 300 yuan, which is deemed low, the percentage has increased from 44 to 52," Wang said.

Other theaters have similar strategies, said Zhang Chaohui, operating director of Poly Theater. "Poly gives priority in service to top-rated shows, some of which may not be expected to bring in profits. And it provides student discounts in the range of 80-100 yuan for certain commercial performances, to groom future theater aficionados," he said. "The bottom line is, we won't let our house be empty."

Poly has a chain of theaters nationwide, which allows it to coordinate touring performances, and competitive rental rates, according to a manager at a performing arts agency who insisted on anonymity.

He said the center's high rental fees cut deeply into the profit of producers. "If we rented the National Center for the Performing Arts, we'd have to raise our per-ticket price by 500 yuan."

An Ting, an official at a Beijing government agency in charge of culture and recreation, sees NCPA's functions as somewhat different from "purely commercial houses such as Poly, Beizhan and 21 Century", of which he feels the city should have more. He considers the center more a landmark, and said it may not need to compete on equal footing with other market players.

Financial aid

An, the official, suggested subsidies for both suppliers and consumers in this business. "A monthly income earner of 3,500 yuan would never go for an 800-yuan seat. The government can impose a limit on price by subsidizing the projects."

This kind of subsidy has its critics, but also its success stories. The Beijing People's Art Theater is a case in point.

Several actors in its ensemble are big-name stars who command salaries in the millions of yuan for screen roles, yet are paid a relative pittance as regular staff members of the theater. Scalpers may charge thousands for a hot show, but the official price falls well within the low hundreds.

The theater also offers student discounts and over the years has developed an extremely loyal following. "We do not compete with commercial houses," said Sun Ning, a publicity manager for the theater. "Reform toward commercialism may not benefit our artistic quality."