Crafting the Perfect Ticket Price: Strategies for Film Festival Success and Sustainability
The world of film festivals is a delicate balance of artistry and business, where organisers must find the sweet spot between creating an exceptional experience and ensuring financial sustainability. One of the most critical factors in this equation is pricing and funding. In this blog post, we dive into the intricacies of film festival pricing and funding by exploring the various factors that come into play when determining ticket prices. As a crucial aspect of the marketing mix, pricing not only affects attendance but also the overall perception of your festival.
Join us as we unpack the strategies that can help you optimise your pricing model to ensure your film festival's success
For months, Shift72 has been asking our partners, “how do you determine pricing for your film festival” and the answer is usually, “we look at what everyone else is doing.”
Pricing is one of the fundamental P’s of the marketing mix and, while it may not be the sole driver that determines whether audiences fill your seats, it is a critical factor in the experience decision. Price it too high, and affordability gets cut as audiences weigh in the virtual or in-person cinematic experience against other methods of entertainment such as dining, sports, a night at the bar, or a free night at home with the family.
Price it too low and risk the ability to recoup your costs while degrading the perceived quality of the film and experience.
So to play it safe, many choose to “follow their neighbours”. The process is less scientific and more of a guess that assumes that the established price of a film experience - whatever that may mean for your region - is the one that audiences are willing to accept as an appropriate price point.
To help with this critical decision, Shift72 has come up with 6 factors to consider when establishing the ticket price.
NOTE: Pricing is one of many [potentially] critical components of the product and service decision. As mentioned in How to Market a Film Festival: From A to VOD, there are many other factors that will determine your success, some of which include:
• How would you define your brand?
• What makes you unique?
• Are you offering access to a film or access to an experience?
• How does your experience differ from everyone else’s?
• Is that point of differentiation something that your audiences want?
• Would they be willing to pay more for it?
• How hard would it be for a new or existing business to replicate what you do?
• How well do you know your audience?
• How do you connect with them?
• How do you track your performance?
Here are the top 6 factors to consider when establishing the single ticket or festival pass price for your film festival:
1. The overall cost of organising your film Festival
The first and most important factor to consider when setting a film festival ticket price is the costs associated with organising the entire festival. There are MANY different line items that may be factored into the overall cost decision including:
• Volunteer thank you gifts / incentives
• Venue rentals
• Event (e.g., parties, lighting, entertainment, etc.) costs
• Film licensing / rights
• Marketing expenses
• Technology rentals
*For a more detailed list of expenses - and to help determine what your break-even price and sales are for tickets Download the Shift72 Film Festival Break Even Calculator
2. Your target audience
When looking at your customer database – whether it is sourced from your in-person ticket sales or your online Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool (e.g., SalesForce, Hubspot, etc.) – what do their demographics look like? If using their personal address information (where available), what can you derive from their spending habits?
• Are they students or professionals?
• Retired or working?
• Affluent or economically challenged?
• Family, DINK (Dual Income No Kids), or Single?
• What country do they live in?
By using some basic demographic details, a quick google search may be used to determine the average entertainment spend for that demographic in your region. Furthermore, you may find surveys and statistics through free (Google) or paid (Statista) services where you can learn more about their entertainment habits and their price sensitivity.
3. Affordability: the film festival A/B test
Building on your demographic and engagement information gives you the chance to test segments of your market via an A/B test. By experimenting with different prices, you can gain a better understanding of how the audience responds to different prices, and ultimately, determine the price point that will maximise attendance and revenues for your in-person and virtual events.
If using a CRM tool, you can review your data to find out what your average revenue per audience member is and which audience members bought multiple tickets. If this information is available, create a customer segment of single ticket buyers to draw one of two conclusions:
“My affordability was limited to a single ticket (e.g., $14.99)”,
“I only attended because I liked one particular actor or film”
If the audience member is a multi-year attendee watching diverse films, it may disprove the second conclusion and allow you to test the buyer’s budget threshold. Perhaps their budget is actually $25 but, because only one film fits within that budget, the audience member pocketed the savings rather than choosing to extend their entertainment experience. In this scenario, that audience segment could be directly targeted with a two-ticket bundle at $25 instead of one at $14.99. Depending on your conversion, the result may indicate that you can increase your average customer value by marginally decreasing the single ticket price without any impact to the premium brand perception you’re hoping to maintain. Alternatively, knowing that the available spending budget is $25 may signal another A/B test that would allow you to marginally increase your single ticket prices to carve out more of the available consumer budget.
“Certainly in the first couple of years back, you want to be pretty cautious because you want to have the festival accessible and enticing but, I think, over time, everyone is talking about inflation, and cost of goods and that includes filmmaker travel, people that are hired just for the festival, salaries, etc. All of those things mean putting on a festival is an expensive thing and ticket prices will need to reflect that.”
Rod Armstrong, San Francisco Film Festival
4. Economic conditions in recessionary times
The global market during the expected 2023 recession is uncertain. According to Deadline, the international box office is expecting an 11.6% increase to $20.4 billion dollars in box office revenues in 2023 and, although this is an impressive figure, ~50% of global box office revenues came from the top 20 films and 80% of the films made won’t make a profit. Film festival attendee numbers – which often involve traveling patrons and businesses could be inversely affected as fewer non-local audience members may be willing to pay the ensuing hotel and travel costs to attend the event.
Between 2018 and 2023, inflation has risen by 18.14% over five years (~3.4% per year) but the price of a US cinema ticket - and by extension a film festival ticket - during that same period has remained relatively flat.
While - per the diagram below - major streamers have adjusted their prices accordingly - cinemas have not followed suit and, instead, elected to seek alternative ways to add value to the customer viewing experience through tiered pricing offerings based on luxury seating, adding pricing tiers based on the location of the seat within the cinema , 4D sensory experiences, and food offerings.
For film festivals a virtual offering hedges against recessionary impacts as distant and inaccessible audiences are easily reached. Furthermore, considerations for transport time, gas, and childcare can be ignored as the experience is observed from home. Like the cinema experience, adding value through a tiered pricing scheme can be achievable. By partnering with local food delivery suppliers or adding a live streaming component at the beginning and end of a screening, festivals can create additional sources of revenue streams to offset their costs while maintaining an “affordable” price for their consumers.
5. Competition for time and money
The competitive landscape for a film festival extends far beyond “other festivals”. It is a competition for time and share of wallet on the entertainment line item of the family budget.
“Traditionally, the festivals are your competition, but suddenly, with a lot of content going to streaming platforms [Netflix, Prime, Hulu, etc.] - that’s changed the game quite a bit for us.”
Deepthi Pendurty, Festival Manager, Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF)
For the film delivery form of entertainment, Shift72 conducted a review of film festivals, cinemas and major VOD players in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, US, and Europe to find out what the average price point is for a single ticket or monthly subscription in their respective currency. The following graphs represent the average cost of each based on the organisations surveyed.
The pricing decision relative to the market does not have to be uniform. Whether you are a not-for-profit using the revenues to give back to the arts community or a for profit festival seeking to grow year over year, using the market to baseline your ticket prices while applying A/B tests each year can serve to optimise your revenues – or community contributions – without sacrificing your audience in the process.
6. Distribution resistance to streaming: limiting your reach
Film distribution particularly in the film festival space is a critical challenge that can have a major impact on retaining your future audience’s attention. Many film festivals rely on the support of distributors to secure the rights to screen films. However, some distributors may be resistant to allowing their films to be screened online, as they may view it as a threat to the…
1. Traditional cinematic experience that allows audiences to hear and feel the movie experience that tap into the visual, auditory and sometimes tertiary sensory experience within the cinema.
2. Feeling of exclusivity and success in the selection of their film by a traditional distribution channel.
3. Security of the film as pirates may copy and redistribute the film online.
4. Marketability of the film as it gets lumped into a collection of hundreds of others.
Many of these threats, while concerning, are part of the evolving fabric of consumer experience tastes and, in some cases, become irrelevant depending on the trusted and secure streaming provider you choose (e.g., Shift72).
Unfortunately, this resistance can have a negative impact on audience retention, as it limits the accessibility of the films to a wider audience. When New Zealand’s International Film Festival decided not to pursue a hybrid option in 2021, the blowback from the community was Fierce:
“We have a disabled adult daughter and  was the first year we were actually able to easily participate. We watched at least 10 films as opposed to not even being able to see any in some previous years.”
Facebook user 6
To mitigate this issue, festival organizers can explore alternative distribution channels, such as streaming platforms, to make their films more accessible. The extended reach can significantly improve revenues, reach, and accessibility for all audiences who want to experience the curated voice that festivals bring to audiences through their film selection.
“I do not think that it’s pricing that will be the death of Virtual film festivals. I think it is the risk/fear of uncontrolled exposure that [may] end public virtual offerings regardless of how great the benefits may be. Regional festivals will not be able to get permission to screen their large-draw films virtually and have great lineups full of smaller films, but audiences will be less likely to take a risk without the headliners as a point of reference or hook.”
Ahbra Perry, Director of Virtual Experience, Fantastic Fest
Determining the right pricing and funding strategy for your film festival requires careful consideration of various factors, from understanding your target audience to assessing market conditions and competition. By taking the time to analyse these elements and applying data-driven insights, you can create a pricing model that both attracts audiences and supports your festival's financial goals. Moreover, exploring alternative distribution channels and embracing the virtual experience can help widen your reach and make your event more accessible to a broader audience. Remember, the key to a successful film festival lies in striking the perfect balance between providing an unforgettable experience and maintaining financial stability. With the right approach and a keen understanding of your audience, your film festival can flourish and continue to celebrate the magic of cinema.
1 https://deadline.com/2022/12/amazon-netflix-hbo-streamers-censorship-box-office-storylines- international-2023-1235205659
3 https://www.forbes.com/sites/schuylermoore/2019/01/03/most-films-lose-money/?sh=4861b5df739f 3
4 https://www.the-numbers.com/market/ https://variety.com/2023/film/news/amc-theaters-movie-ticket-price-seat-location-1235514262/
5 Anonymous User. “We have a disabled adult daughter and  was the first year we were actually able to easily participate. We watched at least 10 films as opposed to not even being able to see any in some previous years.” Facebook, October 7, 2021,