As it is Christmas time, the BBC have run a story about the importance of pantomimes to the successful operation of UK provincial theatres. Theatre-goers are extremely loyal to this annual tradition, so that theatres that put on pantomimes operate at near capacity throughout the run. This means that, in three weeks, a theatre can make as much as £400,000 profit, on a production that might cost between £250,000 and £300,000 to stage.
There are two basic business models. Some theatres produce and stage their own pantomime. This will typically take 18 months from conception through to opening night. The advantage of this is that it is highly ‘customised’ for the local audience, and the operator retains all the profits. The second business model is to stage a pantomime produced by a production company such as QDos Entertainment. This company specialises in pantomimes and in 2013 will be staging 24 of them around the UK. The advantage of this business model is that costs can be lower through economies of scale – scenery and costumes used in one location one year can be reused in other locations in following years. But the theatre has to share the profits with the production company.
This peculiarly British theatrical production continues to have an extended product life cycle. The audience expects it to retain all of pantomime’s traditional features – men dressed as women, slapstick, audience participation and so on. But the ‘product’ can be ‘refreshed’ each year by incorporating jokes about current affairs and the inclusion of trendy celebrities.