Incoming: Keep the Audiences Coming
Gates Planetarium, Denver, Colorado
Paper presented at the Rocky Mountain Planetarium Association conference in
Audience surveys and visitor analysis have helped us to better serve our
audiences. For our current show we are testing some new presentation
methods to learn how to continue to improve audience satisfaction.
We have been making an effort in recent years to better understand and serve
our visitors. We were not just interested in content and formative analysis.
Rather, we wanted to learn how people felt about their entire visit. Museum
visitor surveys, market analysis and focus group interviews are just some of
the tools used to learn about our Denver audience. In addition to these
surveys staff members were assigned into teams such as the "Dynamic
Experiences Group" to identify visitor traits. The Museum is fortunate to have
staff expertise to draw from including several full time evaluators.
The resulting collection of audience information has helped us to identify what
kind of visitor experiences leave a good impression and which experiences are
disappointing. We are not just interested in attracting new visitors. We wanted
to know how to encourage more frequent repeat visits. Some specific
recommendations have been made to help turn our infrequent visitors -
attending only once every few years - into more frequent visitors. Once we
understood what people wanted we were then able to do something about it.
We improved crowd management by offering shorter shows and scheduling
them more frequently. We now offer more choices, six different shows
throughout the day including at least one live startalk. We try to welcome
visitors to the theater and make them feel more comfortable. We offer
participatory and immersive experiences that are relevant and entertaining.
We include local connections when possible and set the stage for unique and
These changes seem to have improved things for both the staff and the
audiences. But the affect of the admission changes have been quite
significant. When we made the planetarium "free" with Museum admission we
increased attendance by nearly 100%. Even when we offer more shows we
often reach full capacity in the dome, Most, of this new audience was familiar
with the museum but they had not been to the planetarium before.
The Museum management acknowledged this popularity and introduced a
radical change. We are closing the Planetarium in January 2000. But seriously,
this is good news. Our old theater can no longer keep up with this new
challenge. We will be undergoing a complete renovation as well as adding over
25,000 square feet of "Space Science Exhibitions" Our marketing department
suggested that we offer something popular and current for our final
production, something with impact. We created "Incoming - Comets Meteors
It is a dynamic fast paced show, designed in 8 short modules. Each module
has a distinct sound and theme such as "Hollywood" and "What to do if you
see a Fireball". The modules are "stand alone", each one makes sense by
itself yet when shown sequentially they flow well together. Live demonstrations
are sometimes given during the show and we pulled out 60 seats to make
room for a stage. Since the show is only 20 minutes in length it can be offered
twice per hour during busy times. Incoming also refers to Colorado history
giving it a local connection and experts from the Museum are even featured in
interviews seen in the show. All of these design concepts are an evolution from
previous work and testing.
Before we close in January 2000 we will have tested version 1 and 2 of this
show It is hoped that this information will be useful for the development of
Version 1 is a traditional pre-recorded show and is identical every time it plays.
Version 2 features a professional actor presenting the same script and the
same pre-programmed visuals and sound effects exploding on the dome
around them. I have found this live format to be particularly entertaining. The
actors actually deliver a more enthusiastic and better synchronized
performance than the pre-recorded version. This itself was a test of our four
performers, even though it is fully scripted they enjoy giving the show.
We have found that Denver audiences like choices, convenient times, easy
access, popular and meaningful content, entertaining and amazing sights and
sounds, but most importantly they like to feel welcome and special. Preliminary
results from audience surveys of Incoming have supported these assumptions
but comments about the live version are more revealing. Our test results show
a marked difference when a live actor gives a performance. Audiences
respond by being more engaged and attentive, our performers report creating
a personal relationship with the audience.
Retention of content - such as what to do if you see a fireball - improved
dramatically when presented live. With virtually no negative comments listed,
positive comments include; feeling "lucky that they came to this show today,
"That the Museum gave this show just for them. That they felt special because
they could talk with the presenter after the show, and they were excited to
share the experience with others. But most importantly THEY SAID THAT THEY
WANT TO COME BACK!, I hope some of these ideas can help keep visitors
coming into your theater.