From the Page to the Stage to the Digital Age

When theatergoers enter a venue in New York City and elsewhere, they inevitably receive a copy of Playbill, the printed program and magazine that provides news and information about the event, including biographies of the actors and other artists that comprise the show. It’s a 132-year-old tradition and one that continues to serve theaters and the public well for both Broadway and off-Broadway productions.

But like any organization, Playbill faces growing business and IT challenges. As people step into theaters and settle into their seats, they’re increasingly seeking an enhanced experience through their smartphone and an app. “Although the print publication is still extremely valuable and we have operated a Website since the mid-1990s, there is a growing desire to access content and features on an immediate basis both inside and outside the theater,” said Rachel Glickman, chief digital officer for Playbill.

In January, Playbill unveiled a mobile app for iOS called Playbill Passport. It allows theatergoers to view additional news, information, photos and videos for shows. It also let’s users reserve a parking spot at Icon Parking in New York City, find a restaurant, bar or other nearby attraction through Google, and book a car through Uber so they can get home easily after a performance. The app links to outside partners through APIs. “It’s a level of interaction that is simply not available for the print publication,” Glickman said.

Initially, the application launched with 15 Broadway theaters but it will soon expand to 40. An Android version of the app will also be available by the spring and Playbill plans to expand the initiative to some off-Broadway theaters later. The app, which taps geofencing technology from Gimbal and mobile marketing engagement tools from Urban Airship, determines whether an individual is located inside or outside a theater. General content is available everywhere while those inside a theater view messages and enhanced content. 

For example, Playbill can welcome a theatergoer to a performance, display specific information about the history of the theater or about the cast, and it can politely remind theatergoers to switch off their phones just before a performance begins (once the play starts, the app stops working). It’s also possible for an individual to snap a photo of the program from the performance and store it in his or her account, or post an image of the program on social media—with an autograph from one of the stars of the show.

Glickman said that the app has been received enthusiastically by theatergoers. Moving forward, Playbill will use the app and data gathered from it to better understand customers, market to them more effectively, and add features that further expand and enhance their experience. 

Says Glickman: “People have a very close tie to the theater and an emotional connection with the Playbill brand. The ability to deliver news, information, photos and more on a real-time basis allows Playbill to be even more in touch with our audience and its needs.”

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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