Venues Digitize Program Books

Digitizing cuts costs and allows for data collection

  • by Noelle Leavitt Riley
  • Published: February 3, 2016

Onstage Publications creates apps for performances, giving customers digital information.

As venue operators become more and more enthralled with digitizing offerings for consumers, they’re finding new ways to reach key audience members through data collection while cutting the cost of printed products.

That’s why Dayton, Ohio-based Onstage Publications launched a new way for entertainment companies to distribute program books to venue patrons through an application called Stageview, which is a performing arts program book app.

Rather than concert attendees grabbing printed, hand-held programs, Onstage creates apps for performances, giving customers digital information on shows, artists and the narrative, while collecting analytics from its users.

Onstage’s offerings don’t eliminate the paper version of programs. Instead the company offers venues a one-stop shop to both printed and digitized offerings.

The company actually designs the print product, sells the advertising, prints the program and launches an app for each show — taking that work off the plate of venue operators who instead can focus time on booking shows, recruiting talent and “putting butts in seats,” said Norm Orlowski, president of Onstage Publications.

“Our story is, we’ll do it for you,” he said.

‘Going Green’ 

Onstage was recently hired to take over programming needs for the Nashville Ballet, Nashville Opera and Nashville Repertory Theatre.

“Our wish was a mobile program to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Noah Spiegel, executive director of the Nashville Opera Association. “The original process started because we put out an RFP for a publisher for our program books.”

Often consumers will take more than one program for a variety of reasons, increasing printing costs, Spiegel said.

“When they do the Nutcracker they find that a family with kids in the show, they take more than one program because they’re sending it home to grandma and grandpa,” he said.

Digitizing the programs allows smart device users to opt out of the program books and grab them through an app. Those who wish still to take printed books can, but overall, it lowers the amount of books needed for each show.

“The critical issue is cost forecasting for us,” Spiegel said. “It helps us control costs.”

It’s especially helpful when the Nashville group thinks it’s going to sell 73 percent of venue capacity and ends up selling 95 percent — no longer will they need to rush-order printed program booklets, as a large chunk of the audience will opt for the digital platform, Spiegel outlined.

“What it really boils down to is having flexibility throughout the course of a season without having a financial hit is really critical,” he said.

Collecting analytics

The Nashville performing arts groups will launch the new digital program books in the fall of 2016, but other venues already using Onstage’s services say the data collection is invaluable.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company hired Onstage five years ago, and the analytics it obtains from audience members is priceless, said Jay Woffington, executive director of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.

“We’re using it a lot for data collection, which is the most valuable piece for us,” Woffington said. “We ask patrons to use the virtual program, but in order to do so they have to complete a (online) survey. We measure the impact of what we’re doing in the application.”

The return on investment is understanding why and how consumers donate and spend money, he said.

Therefore, when Cincinnati Shakespeare Company looks for an investment or a grant opportunity, it uses data collected from guests to make proposals and financial requests, Woffington said.

Such information is what the Nashville groups look forward to, Spiegel noted.

“It’s a digital marketing tool that we can use without adding staff,” he said.

Not only that, it also allows the venue to connect the audience with the talent in a way never possible through printed programs.

“We can add Twitter handles for the artists, and we do digital takeovers for the artists,” Spiegel said.

That means the Nashville groups can interact with audience members and help artists manage their responses with the crowds.

Audience members also can buy more tickets through the app, make a donation or get information at their fingertips on upcoming shows, where to dine and how to navigate the venue.

“I think the digital element that Onstage offers is going to help us. It’s going to grow with us,” Spiegel said.

Reaching Various Generations 

Another option a digital program offers is information in other languages — something that was not possible in the printed programs.

“Having one more ability to reach people is critical for success in a modern performing arts program,” Spiegel said.

It allows performing arts officials to reach a larger demographic. In Nashville, the multicultural population and younger generations use smart devices mainly to book tickets, he noted. So having an app for them to use while navigating performances is key to catering to different age groups.

“We know, especially with opera, we have an older patron base who like to call and book tickets on the phone,” Spiegel said. “Younger people and multicultural families book online.”

Nashville continues to grow as a city, making it vital for performing arts centers to find new ways to reach audiences.

“We are attracting people to this community at a record pace, which means our performing arts community has a responsibility to maintain a connection to people’s lives,” Spiegel said. “If you can access national opera on your smart phone, and connect with our audience, that is one of the most valuable tools that we can have as a producer.”

Family-Run Publishing

The Nashville groups specifically went with Onstage in its RFP process because of the accessibility it had to the president, Spiegel said.

“The other thing that we really liked about Norm is that he’s running this company, but he spoke to us personally,” Spiegel said.

Orlowski runs Onstage with his sons, and they take a hands-on approach to dealing with clientele. They started the company in 2001, and it’s evolved with technology over the years.

Orlowski started his career in the publishing business with Yellow Pages and felt the growing pains publishers had when the digital era took over.

“The unique thing about us is we know how to sell advertising,” he said. “Not only are we uniquely positioned, but we actually do all the layout and design of the printed program.”

That means Onstage offers the Stageview app to performing arts groups, sells advertising for both the digital and print product, and it also prints the programs for venues.

“We sell $2.5 million of advertising from the west coast to the east coast each year,” Orlowski said. “It’s a soft sell.”

Onstage’s goal is to take the publishing and app business off of venues operators' plates, giving them more time to focus on the entertainment they offer to patrons.

Interviewed for this story: Norm Orlowski (937) 369-5198; Noah Spiegel (937) 751-9581; Jay Woffinfton (513) 518-0772.

  • by Noelle Leavitt Riley
  • Published: February 3, 2016