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How did “The Lion King” turn around its once-shaky fortunes and become the top-grossing show on Broadway in 2013, an unprecedented feat for long-running musicals, which usually cool after a few hot seasons? Hint: It’s not because it added performances after 16 years.
Since 2011, the show’s producers, Disney Theatrical Productions, have been relying on a previously undisclosed computer algorithm to recommend the highest ticket prices that audiences would be likely to pay for each of the 1,700 seats at every performance in the Minskoff Theater. While other shows also employ this so-called dynamic pricing system to raise seat prices during tourist-heavy holiday weeks, only Disney has reached the level of sophistication achieved in the airline and hotel industries by continually using its algorithm to calibrate prices based on demand and ticket purchasing patterns.
By charging $10 more here, $20 more there, “The Lion King” stunned Broadway at year’s end as the No. 1 earner for the first time since 2003, bumping off the champ, “Wicked.” And Disney even managed to do it by charging half as much for top tickets as some rivals.
“Everyone would love to get their hands on Disney’s formula,” said Paul Libin, a veteran producer and executive vice president of Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns five of Broadway’s 40 theaters. “All Broadway shows are getting into dynamic pricing as a way to survive, but ‘The Lion King’ has really mastered it.”
Credit the management science experts at Disney’s corporate offices — a data army that no Broadway producer could ever match — for helping develop the winning formula.
Disney executives, who for two years have turned down requests to talk about dynamic pricing for “The Lion King,” recently gave an interview to explain how the show achieved its top ranking. The executives consented in part because dynamic pricing is less of a proprietary issue since more producers are trying it. Even so, not every secret was spilled: Disney rebuffed a request to observe executives analyzing the algorithm’s recommendations and finalizing prices