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The Lion, the Nanny and the Mermaid

Disney Theatrical Productions has been heavily discounting tickets to its three Broadway shows during the economic crisis, which has decreased weekly revenues since 2008, The New York Times reported.

Although Disney has said “The Lion King” draws more foreign tourists, “Mary Poppins” does better with an older crowd, and “The Little Mermaid” has proved popular with New Yorkers, the three musicals risk contending one another with the commonality of struggling to fill seats on weeknights. They also compete with a growing number of Broadway shows such as “Shrek,” “Hair” and “West Side Story," which appeal to parts of the core Disney audiences.

A comparison of ticket sales for the first 15 weeks of 2009 with the same period of 2008 shows that gross revenues for “The Little Mermaid” have declined 27 percent, “Mary Poppins,” about 17 percent, while “The Lion King” is off about 5 percent.

“Disney faces major questions in this economy. Can it sustain three shows at a time when the cost of going to Broadway is very high for a family of three or four, say, and can it differentiate its shows from ‘Shrek,’ ‘Wicked’ and other competitors?” said Stuart Oken, a theater producer who spent nine years at Disney Theatrical, where he served as executive vice president before leaving in 2003. (The New York Times)

Broadway has 35 shows to choose from, and many are discounting tickets. However, Disney was the first to use this marketing strategy.

“Discounting is always dangerous because once you start, it’s very hard to ever stop,” Oken said. (The New York Times)

In order for each show can pursue its target audiences through its own advertising and marketing strategies, Disney plans to separate the three this spring, said David Schrader, executive vice president of Disney Theatrical in an interview on April 1 with The New York Times.

“Out of efficiency for the past two of three years, when we could, we bundled them together — with two shows buying TV or space in the paper, for instance, or discounting all three,” Schrader said. “Now we’ll try to let each show do what it wants to do to address its needs.” (The New York Times)

Disney Theatrical executives declined to cooperate with The New York Times article.