Familiar Show, New Stage: A Conversation About Mobile App Monetization with Playbill’s Rachel Glickman

A 135-Year-Old Publishing Brand Takes to Mobile

If you’ve ever been a lover of the theater, or if you’ve ever been close to one, then Playbill is likely more to you than just a familiar name and eye-catching yellow-and-black logo. The print magazine version has been publishing since 1884, distributing its goods to readers who want to stay informed about what’s happening in the world of live theater.

Playbill has only recently come into the mobile app scene, though — the Playbill app launched earlier in 2016. That said, according to Playbill Chief Digital Officer Rachel Glickman, when they began developing the app, they had some clear ideas about the content it should deliver, the interactivity it should offer to users inside and outside of the theater, and the strategies it should ply to monetize. AdMonsters recently had a conversation with Glickman about what Playbill has done with its app to deepen engagement with its audience and to further relationships with its advertising partners. Here’s how that conversation went.

GAVIN DUNAWAY: I love the theater, and this app is a great contemporary take on Playbill. How long was it in development?

RACHEL GLICKMAN: Not terribly long, to be honest. We worked in conjunction with Broadway Voice and Smart AdServer. We started the development cycle in June, and the app launched just after the first of the year.

It was a very intuitive technology, and we have a very robust, 135-year-old database, so everything came together fairly seamlessly.

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GD: When did driving revenue and monetization come into the planning?

RG: It was always in the planning. The question was what levels of participation were available to the various partners. The Icon Parking deal was a natural fit, for the theatergoing audience that comes into New York and is looking to park. So is the Uber relationship, for people who just want to get a ride home. Those were our first two strategic partnerships. But there are many opportunities for associations relevant to the theatergoing experience.

And, the productions are very interested in this technology. The ability to target advertising based on predisposition to a particular theatrical genre is very powerful.

GD: In the app right now, I see the banners. Are all of these direct sold?

RG: Yes. We may explore programmatic at some point, but for now, most of the advertising on the app is coming from our agency relationships. We also are using some of the inventory to promote our strategic partners.

GD: Have you experimented with mobile native or video? Are there any interstitials in there?

RG: No, there aren’t any interstitials running right now, but we’re going to be reaching out to advertisers and talking about those opportunities and native, starting with the endemic advertiser base of the shows . The content in the app is coming through the website’s API, so we have a huge library of photographs and videos, and working with solutions such as the Smart AdServer SDK enables us to build in natively on the productions’ show pages. The app pulls the news feed from our main site, and we can also use that space for native as well.

GD: Is there anything that worries you about mobile programmatic?

RG: Playbill as a company had not done any programmatic on the site before I got here, a year and a half ago. The space has evolved so significantly from the ad network days, not only in terms of who’s using programmatic to buy advertising, but also in terms of the controls that the publishers are given. So we’ve had a very positive experience programmatically and there are really no concerns. If that carries over into the app, then we’ll all be very pleased.

GD: Are you able to offer your advertisers any interesting targeting capabilities?

RG: Icon Parking is the largest parking system in New York City. They are really prevalent in the Theater District and interested in association with all of the theaters. So, from a targeting point of view, the geographic aspect is huge. When you have the app running in the background and you are driving to the theater, it can deliver a push message that says there is an Icon garage nearby—click here for directions and a discount offer.

We expect to have similar opportunities with area attractions. If you are going to the theater on 42nd Street and you have time before or after, do you want to go to Madame Toussaud’s, Ripley’s, restaurants? We’ve also spoken with several of our retail advertisers about how to embed them into the app as well.

GD: Are you experimenting at all with any audience targeting on top of that?

RG: The back end has some interesting analytics, and we can definitely target audience segments and geography. The geofencing is very precise. We’ve narrowed it so that you actually must be inside the theater—not even inside the vestibule, but past the ticket-taker. Right now, the simplest thing to do is to identify people based on whether they’re in the theater or outside of the theater—what we would call contextual vs. noncontextual targeting. – to deliver relevant messaging.

GD: What are some of the challenges you’re finding in monetizing your mobile space?

RG: It’s an education process. We’re helping advertisers who have strong relationships with us understand this new product, how people are using it, and the analytics that are available to them.

GD: Are there any particular metrics that you find mean more to advertisers?

RG: What they’re really interested in, beyond the size of the audience, is how much time they’re spending, how many screens they’ve seen, what they’re doing within the app. We learned a tremendous amount about our audience based on how they’re behaving with the app. And truthfully, the app has some very interesting, cool capabilities. If you click on Kinky Boots, then click on the Playbill cover, you end up at a screen that just shows the cover and what looks like a series of little pens on the bottom. You can take your smart phone to the stage door and the actors can use their finger to sign your Playbill and post the image with the signatures straight to social media.

We’ve also built a “Fun” section on the show’s page that includes a social media section where the user can find handles for all of the relevant people involved with the show.

GD: There’s a lot to mine there. Have you already worked on a mobile commerce angle? Are you working with any of the ticketing companies?

RG: There are so many ticketing options right now. Playbill works with the primary ticket-sellers—Telecharge, TicketMaster—and we use their APIs on our site. Within the app, we haven’t integrated ticket sales. But if there’s an ad for a show, you can buy tickets through that ad.

GD: You’ve got a lot of big plans, big ideas here. What are you most excited about pushing forward in this mobile app, when it comes to monetization?

RG: We’ve really only scraped the surface in terms of revenue and what users can do within the app. We’re watching very carefully what is and isn’t seeing views, what functionality is performing better, and we’re taking our cue from the users.

GD: How are you balancing user experience and revenue opportunities?

RG: It’s a moment in time where the users are receptive to the advertising if it makes sense in the context of what they’re doing. For us, we try and work very closely with our advertisers to help them understand the environment they’re going into, how people are using the app and what might be the most relevant messaging for them to include within that environment. Whether we’re talking about display ads, native advertising or content marketing, if you’re delivering something that makes sense to the audience there is less resistance.