Now that the oversized confetti had already been swept from the floors of the Planet Hollywood Theatre, and beautiful Bảo Hân had performed her swan song on the stage of Paris by Night 100, much of the debate turns to what the future holds -- for Thúy Nga, and of course, the elusive Paris by Night 101. What will happen to the singers currently contracted with Thúy Nga? Will other productions like Asia, Van Son, Blue Ocean, etc., absorb the orphaned talents like Wall Street firms did with the staff of AIG and Lehman Brothers? Or is this just a shrewd marketing ploy to promote PBN 100, and plans for PBN 101 are already underway? Well...no one is talking, and certainly not the bosses at Thúy Nga Productions.
Paris by Night 100 closing moments
All we've been told is that the uncertainty of Paris by Night now rests squarely on the shoulders of the audience, more specifically, the Viet consumers who are willing to pay $24 for original copies of PBN DVDs. Assuming that Thúy Nga gets a surge for the sales of PBN 100 DVD, which it will, given the hype and the efforts put into it, how much of a surge will keep Thúy Nga Productions going?
Well, I hate to burst the optimists' bubbles, but old habits die hard, they say. PBN 100 DVD sales might go through the roof like the dot-com bubble of Wall Street in the late 90s, but the bubble will burst again soon after that, perhaps with PBN 101, or 102...and then we'll be back to square one. What we know is that you can't change people, those that have already figured out a way to watch PBN for free or get a pirated copy for $2 will continue to do so. It's like telling your kids to start eating vegetable because it's good for them. They'll eat it when you threaten them with a time-out or take away their toys. But the moment you look away, they'll feed it to the dog or throw it away. You have to come up with a sound and sustainable strategy.
Bao Hân performs her swan song on the glitzy stage of PBN 100 in Las Vegas
(photo courtesy of thuyngaonline.com)
There's little debate that the Paris by Night brand is Thúy Nga's flagship product, and Thúy Nga would not be where it is today without its 100+ Paris by Night programs. Many Viets will agree that Thúy Nga consistently puts out the most elaborate programs, and has most of the sought-after Viet singers in the industry. Not to mention its prized choreography boss Shanda Sawyer, who got PBN nominated for the American Choreography Award against America's best acts. So losing Paris by Night would be a big loss to Viet showbiz, akin to Hollywood shutting down Universal Studios.
Speaking of Hollywood, an article from today's headlines predicts the closing of Blockbuster and its 2400 retail locations in 2011, America's largest DVD movie rental retailer by far. The article cited "Blockbuster's model of renting movies through physical locations has been destroyed by cable and satellite video on demand, DVDs via mail and dispensing machines." Sounds familiar? Has Thúy Nga's model of selling DVDs at its physical retail outlets been destroyed by piracy and the proliferation of internet downloads? Should Thúy Nga continue to pin their hopes and dreams on DVD sales? Those who follow Thúy Nga closely will remember that Thúy Nga experimented with selling its DVDs via internet download a few years back through Miratunes, which quickly faded into oblivion, perhaps because it was just as easy to download those programs for free elsewhere. So my guess is that they are not re-visiting that option anytime soon...
Acrobats, traditional costumes, Greek themes line the variety show
(photo courtesy of thuyngaonline.com)
In the business world, or at least in MBA classes, when a business model fails, strategic management dictates an exercise called benchmarking. Benchmarking is the practice of researching and studying the business models of your competitors, or of any successful companies that are doing it right, so you can copy it. While we're in Vegas, let's do a quick-and-dirty benchmarking of the successful shows out there that are consistently selling out their seats. We're talking Cirque du Soleil, we're talking Celine Dion, we're talking the phenomenon of Jersey Boys. What are they all doing right that Thúy Nga is not doing?
The answer is surprisingly simple. They're not relying on DVD sales, as those are sold strictly as souvenirs in their gift shops alongside coffee mugs and t-shirts. In other words, DVDs are an afterthought. They make their money from their ticket sales, end of story. Critics will say that Thúy Nga is not on par with these acts to copy their business model. But I've never heard of Thúy Nga executives complaining about ticket sales for their shows of late. In fact, they even announced in their forum that tickets for PBN 100 were sold out within the first few weeks. And I've also been to PBN 98 and saw that the same Planet Hollywood auditorium was filled up or sold out, without any threats of Thúy Nga shutting its door or PBN 98 being the last one. It appears on the surface that Thúy Nga may have already figured this out. For PBN 100, they raised their VIP ticket price to $2500 to 800 for the first five rows and $500 to $68 for the sixth row and back. Whether the proceeds from those higher priced ticket sales will cover the estimated $1.2-$1.5 million Thúy Nga reportedly spent on these extravagant shows remains to be seen.
They would need to make some changes to adapt to this new business model though. For starters, they would have to have more than two live shows per each PBN edition in order to ensure profitability. Perhaps two shows on the west coast, two shows in the Houston area, and two more shows out on the east coast, with ticket sales being the primary source of revenue and sales from DVDs to be icing on the cake. With DVD sales being an afterthought, perhaps they can finally rid of lip-synching, since the perennial excuse for lip-synch was to ensure good sound quality for the DVD and karaoke discs. That alone will generate more ticket sales.
And most importantly, figure out a pricing scheme for tickets that would be high enough for Thúy Nga to make a handsome profit, but not so high that people won't buy. I've been to most of the Cirque du Soleil shows in Vegas and a few others such as The Phantom of the Opera, Jubilee, etc. And I've always gotten decent middle of the theatre seats in the $150-$250 range. So you don't need to price them in the $500 or $1000 to make a profit. Of course, VIP tickets for the first few rows are an exception. The saying goes that if you have to ask how much a VIP ticket is, you probably can't afford it. Okay, I just made that up....kekekeke
Thuy Nga reportedly spent $10,000 to put up this billboard alongside Interstate 15 in Vegas
Of course, this is just my theory and Thúy Nga may have other plans. A very interesting moment during the PBN 100 show may have provided a clue into what they have on the table. About half-way through the 5-hour long program, Marie To, Thúy Nga's CEO, presented a plaque as a gesture of appreciation to Monsieur Jean-Pierre Barry, the head boss of Euromédia. This is the man who helped Mr. To Van Lai (Thúy Nga's founder) in creating the first taping of PBN in Paris in 1983. I reckon that the boss of Europe's largest cable conglomerate didn't just fly out to Vegas to accept a plaque from Thúy Nga. May be he did, but I'm betting my chips on something more. Here's my hypothesis:
Once he stepped on stage, after some obligatory praises, he proclaimed that Thúy Nga had already proven it can conquer the Viet music industry with its 100 PBN programs, to a round of applause. Then he turned serious and challenged the Viet showbiz industry, Thúy Nga pointedly, to produce a Viet entertainment TV channel that would be shown worldwide (including Vietnam) with the help of Euromédia, I would assume. The audience's reaction was more subdued, may be because his English was hard to understand, or they realized the gravity of his statement. Monsieur Barry's vision of a worldwide entertainment Viet cable channel is a tall order, even for Thúy Nga and all its talents. It would need to dance around some thorny issues such as politics, not to mention trying to come up with enough programming to stay on air 24/7. Partnering with an existing Bolsa-based Viet TV station would be ideal.
It would make sense, a Thúy Nga channel with Paris by Night programs (old and new), as the main course, via subscription to Vietnamese all over the world. Piracy will be less of a concern for Thúy Nga. I mean, MTV and VH1 don't really care if you tape their programs do they? The revenue would also be more transparent. They would profit from cable TV subscriptions and would have virtually no competition (besides the amateurish VTV4 channel from Vietnam and SBTN caters largely to the US market). And with Euromédia backing them up, they could force-feed the new Thúy Nga channel into markets that don't want to pay for such a niche channel. Piracy and cable theft will now be the problem of the big media companies, no longer Thúy Nga's. Whether this venture pans out or not, who knows. But you can't expect change for the better if you're not willing to take the risks, especially when you have big Euromédia as your swingman.
All in all, Thúy Nga Productions is at the proverbial fork in the road. Whether they take the road less traveled by going cable via Euromédia, or the road more traveled by trying to sell more live shows and curtailing their reliance on DVD sales, will be closely watched by millions of Viets all over the world. But they need to do something fast, because time is changing and DVDs will soon be obsolete, just ask Blockbuster.
Duy Hân is a supervisor in the advertising department of a large financial organization. He earned his B.S. from the University of Maryland and is an MBA graduate. Duy Hân lives in the Washington DC area and has a beagle named Alaska that likes to take long walks on the beach. He can be reached at AskDuyHan@gmail.com.
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