iitypeii is the work of two current affair nitpickers ([C] and [M]) and guests ([G]) giving their perspective and insight on publicly available statistics, the connections (and lack thereof) between them, and the erroneous conclusions made...

UK Theatre prices on the rise \ [M]

BBC Breakfast ran an extensive piece this morning on the rising price of theatre tickets in the UK, based on a recent piece of research by UK theatre. All of the source data can be found in the UK Theatre report - although be warned, it appears whoever produced it got "graph-happy" and decided to use a graph for every possible permutation of the data in a report which manages to run to 153 pages. This is despite the fact the raw data is simply a breakdown for 2013 and 2014 ticket prices, realised ticket prices and total revenue by venue category (in bands depending on size) and production type (musical, play etc. etc.).

Anyway, this report piqued my interest as I regularly go to (and spend too much at) the theatre (my most recent excessive purchase being tickets to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in 2017...).

However, it appears that the BBC has either mis-interpreted (or as I suspect not even consulted) UK theatre on their article because it is confusing and contradictory to the source report. Indeed, the source report itself is somewhat misleading as I will discuss....

To begin with the BBC reports a caption to their video directly below the headline that "Theatre ticket prices increased by more than 5 per cent across the UK last year so what can be done to retain audiences?", which would naturally lead you to believe that there has been some dramatic decrease in theatre attendance. Indeed, a quick glance at the reported data does reveal a modest 0.5% drop. However, the source report quite clearly states in its introduction that " this report still does not represent 100% of tickets sales in all UK Theatre venues" and furthermore "This report compares figures for 2013 and 2014. It should be noted that the sample is not constant", which makes any such conclusion somewhat circumspect.

Further confusion is created in that the source report has two "ticket prices" - "average ticket price asked" (which has gone up by 5.1% according to UK Theatre) and "average ticket price achieved" (which has gone up by 5.5% according to UK Theatre, and is what I would suspect most people would interpret as "average ticket price"). The BBC also has figures of 5.1% and 5.5%, although it is purportedly (i.e. the source data is not explicitly referenced) for a London / Not-London split (something which UK Theatre does not appear to provide). The graphic which I have captured above appears in the BBC article and provides a further regional breakdown based upon  "Inside Out" data - which is incidentally not the topic of the article (the UK Theatre report is) and is totally unclear to me whether or not it is on the same basis as the UK Theatre report...

Moving on, the BBC contrasts these price increases with inflation, although it appears to have used RPI - a wholly inappropriate comparison as this index was superseded by another measure of inflation (CPI), and includes within its "basket goods" items which are not really comparable in any way to UK theatre. 

Now to UK Theatre - I do admit the 5.5% increase in average prices achieved is indeed worrying to me as a regular theatre-goer. However, is it really 5.5%? UK Theatre provide a breakdown of the data by production type (comedy, concerts etc. etc.), which will have differing production costs and consequently different average ticket prices. In the period 2013-2014 one of the most pronounced features was actually the shift in the type of production people went to see. Manipulating the raw data and calculating the average ticket price rise assuming 2013 sales by production type, actually the price increase is a less dramatic 3.4% (i.e. for the mathematically inclined sum([2013 ticket sales by production type]*([2014 average ticket price achieved by production] - [2013 average ticket price achieved by production]))/[2013 box office income]).

So ticket prices have gone up by 3.4% - this is still quite a significant rise. However, UK Theatre executive director David Brownlee provides a plausible explanation as he told the BBC "the rising prices were not just down to theatres charging more - theatregoers were also choosing more expensive seats".

So its unclear what the UK Theatre report is actually reporting - and by a process of BBC Chinese whispers the report has been shoehorned into a piece on cuts in arts funding, which is the topic the BBC article manages to meander onto by the time of its conclusion...

"If it cannot be expressed in figures, it is not science, it is opinion."
Robert Anson Heinlein