Is It Time To Rethink The No-Cell Policy During Performances?

Among the well-worn topics in this field at the top of my avoid-at-all-costs conversation list is whether or not to allow patrons to use their cell phones during performances. Having said that there were some fascinating stats during Jason Fahlstrom’s Selling Out: Understanding The Path To Purchase For Performing Arts session at the 2015 National Arts Marketing Project Conference (NAMPC).

Fahlstrom is a Senior Consultant at Google and they track the sort of live events and touring industry data you would expect a company like Google to compile and among the nuggets he tossed out from his session was one in two attendees look up future show info while at the performance.

cell phoneThere was mention that this bit of data included a time frame that precluded this from being limited to only scheduled breaks such as intermission and as a result, begins to beg a lot of new questions along with introducing a number of long standing concerns.

What would be even more helpful to know are type of events, conversion paths, and conversion rates* along with how often patrons engaged in this behavior at the same venue.

But if the conversion rates are high enough, it introduces a new variable into the mix when juxtaposing creating an environment for artistic excellence and potentially increasing earned income by double digit leaps. No one enjoys a policy discussion driven solely by the bottom line but I know that I expected the 50 percent figure to be much, much lower; consequently, it certainly makes me willing to reconsider re-examining points that would have otherwise been closed.

It will be good to see if Fahlstrom will include any detailed notes from his presentation along with the slides once NAMPC makes that content available.

In the meantime, I’m curious to see what you think via this little poll.

Oops! We could not locate your form.

*BTW, how easy is it for your patrons to buy tix on their phone – odds are, not very good.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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8 thoughts on “Is It Time To Rethink The No-Cell Policy During Performances?

  1. Great idea to be “respectful to other patrons” but how can that work? As a society rudeness and a lack of concern for others with our phones defines the age. How can a white screen in the dark, tapping away on twitter, be a respectful act? We’ve all sat beside someone texting away at a performance or movie. Hard to see it not being a distraction.

  2. Looking up “future show info” can and should be encouraged to be postponed until the intermission and/or close of the performance rather than distracting audience members (and performers) from the performance taking place at the moment. The previous commenter has summed things up nicely.

  3. I have no problem with people using their phones during intermission, before the concert and after the concert but not during. The complaints from audience members around people who do have been rising, especially when the offenders refuse to stop using their phones for texting.

    While I understand the marketing/sales angle of this question, I’d like to bring up something else. We live in a world in which technology dominates now and we’re rapidly losing the ability to sit for a period of time in silence, listening — at movies, plays, music concerts. It can be a relaxing, de-stressing period of time and constructive in that sense, as well as positive for one’s health. I would really like to see more of an emphasis on the listening experience and insist on turning off ALL electronics. There was a time when this issue didn’t exist and people got along just fine….:-)

  4. I’m finding the comments to this point fascinating, especially when juxtaposed against the actual poll results. What is worth keeping min mind at this point is cell phone use during concert events is something that already happens via organized and encouraged effort. Tweet seats are increasingly common at a wide range of performing arts organizations so it isn’t as though there isn’t precedent at this point.

    I have yet to find any wide ranging study on the matter (if anyone is aware of one, please chime in) but based on communication with marketing directors at institutions that do have those programs, patron intrusion and complains are non-existent or very infrequent.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, all of the issues and concerns mentioned in this thread so far are hot debate points among groups moving in this direction and one of the more common results is to limit the availability level to certain seating sections. That isn’t to say it should be any sort of defacto solution but more of an example that transitional considerations exist.

  5. This may be a bit snarky, but if I ruled the concert hall, a Cone of Silence, disabling all smartphones, etc., would be activated from the time the concertmaster steps on stage until intermission.

  6. BTW, how did Fahlstrom monitor those cell phones? Was the NSA involved? Did the “hall” secretly tap the ticket stubs with electronic monitoring devices? Where is Edward Snowden when we need him?

    • Well, Fahlstrom works for Google so that pretty much answers the tech angle of the question. Tracking user behavior is exactly what they do and if this sort of thing rises to the level of setting off any privacy alarms, I suggest unplugging entirely and going back to a landline only lifestyle (or at the very least, a non-smartphone cellular device).

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