Solving a Classical Mystery

Solving a Classical Mystery

Symphony orchestras across the country faced a fundamental challenge: an aging concert-going audience combined with an economic downturn that was taking a serious toll on their business.


Performing arts organizations have long known that the key to prosperity in good times and survival in economic downturns is a loyal core audience – long-term patrons who attend concert after concert, buy tickets for family and friends, and make generous donations. And they have mainly assumed that the challenge in augmenting their core audience is introducing new people to the experience.

However, that is only half the solution. For our major US orchestras, more than 90% of first-time customers and 60% of occasional concert-goers don’t purchase tickets again the following season. It is the same customer churn phenomenon that afflicts subscription and repeat-purchase businesses, such as mobile operators, cable TV companies, airlines, and banks.

Oliver Wyman applied the same rigorous, customer-based strategy methodologies that have proven powerful with business clients to study the issue. The effort included a dedicated team of top consultants, a steering group of the firm’s senior leaders, and dedicated senior partners for each of the nine orchestras.


The study consisted of three phases designed to answer these questions:

  • Who exactly are orchestra-goers?

    Box office data from the nine participating symphony orchestras was analyzed to understand customer behaviors and identify key customer segments. The analysis identified six clusters that reflect different customer behaviors and require tailored approaches to reduce churn: uncoverted trialists, special occasions, non-committed, snackers, high potentials, and core audience.

  • What elements of the experience drive customers to return…or churn?

    New research and analyses on the drivers of customer satisfaction and ticket repurchasing identified 16 orchestra experiences that draw people back and established the relative impact on churn.

  • What offers will be most successful in bringing customers back?

    Offers were designed and tested by simulating a purchasing situation to understand which aspects of the orchestra experience customers value, what tradeoffs customers are willing to make, and what a “killer” offer consists of The Oliver Wyman analysis found that successfully graduating customers from unconverted trialists to other clusters can yield a very significant increase in long-term value. To accomplish this, orchestras need to do three things :


    First, in addition to keeping their core audience of long-time patrons happy and attracting new customers, orchestras should shift some of their focus to serving unconverted trialists, those customers who have experienced a single concert.

    Second, orchestras should give unconverted trialists a seamless end-to-end experience: offering a familiar music program, providing music information before the concert, creating opportunities to mingle socially with other patrons and musicians, and making the logistics easy, from buying tickets to parking to finding their seats.

    And third, orchestras should offer unconverted trialists targeted promotional offers to sell them another ticket or two before asking them to commit to a subscription, for instance, Friday night tickets at 25% off, 20th century music, a famous instrumental soloist, pre-concert talk from the conductor, and free drinks. Getting first-timers to return even one or two more times during a season increases their likelihood of returning the following season from 10% to 50%.



The findings of Oliver Wyman’s report, “Orchestra Audience Growth Intitiatives” (aka the “Churn Report” caused symphonies to completely rethink — and overhaul — their approach to attracting new customers.

The report identified five tangible solutions to implement over 6-18 months. These solutions ranged from creating “killing offers” that targeted local tastes to making parking more easily available.

Numbers increased for both current orchestra subscribers and first-time attendees. And for some orchestras, their subscribers’ average age has fallen by 10 years.

Download Audience Growth Initiative Reports

Audience Growth Initiative: Detailed findings and recommendations
The original "Churn Report" PDF/Adobe Acrobat
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Turning First-Timers Into Life-Timers: Addressing the true drivers of churn
2008 National Performing Arts Convention presentation PDF/Adobe Acrobat
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