The Life of a TV Show Audience Coordinator
From sorting through thousands of advance ticket requests to managing hordes of studio audiences, the audience coordinator has an exhausting job.
"Are you interested in working with live studio audiences? Are you energetic and diplomatic?"
So reads an online job posting from the Burbank-based full-service television audience company On-Camera Audiences. Another job posting for an audience coordinator, in this case from the ABC network, lists the job's responsibilities as "researching and booking audiences, coordinating daily audience logistics of advance ticket distribution, audience traffic in/out of the building, in/out of the set, and seating arrangements, as well as outreach to viewers and community groups." The requirements read: "Great organizational, and communication skills required, production experience. Must be able to function well under the pressure of a live daily TV show. College degree preferred."
From that description, it may not sound like such a bad position. It even sounds like you will have an exciting job in the world of TV production. Little do the applicants know what they are in for. Being an audience coordinator for a television show is a difficult and often thankless position in an unpredictable industry that appears to have little or no budget to help support the job or develop the role.
The Challenge of Being an Audience Coordinator
It is a job that requires the ultimate 'people person' because your whole job is about corralling people. The best audience coordinators are the Type A personalities who can juggle a million tasks while managing a mob of people and still maintain a chipper attitude. Those who aren't blessed with an endless reserve of energy, though, quickly get burned out by the rigors of the job. The audience coordinator often finds that everything is working against him because of the nature of TV shows. With non-existent budgets and ancient ticketing mechanisms, most TV shows supply their audience coordinators with scant resources to do their job. The chief difficulty stems from the fact that a) TV show tickets are free, and b) TV studios need to be full.
Unloading Free TV Show Tickets is Harder Than You Think
One would think that getting rid of free tickets would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately people tend to value what is free less than what they have paid for, which means that many people who have reserved free tickets to see a TV show don't actually show up. If fans of the TV show turn up on the day of the taping and join the standby line, the coordinator can pull people from that line to fill in the empty spaces. Frankly, it's not that unusual for a big chunk of the studio to be filled with standbys. If there aren't enough standbys, though, the coordinator or her interns must hit the streets and try to give their tickets out to tourists and locals who have nothing better to do. (And their standards are pretty low, so beware, you could find a crazy street person sitting next to you!) It is vital that the audience coordinator get that studio full of living, breathing, clapping individuals, because the studio audience is almost always shown - if only briefly - on TV shows. If the studio is half-empty, it would look very, very bad for the show's hosts. Although the reality is that if they don't have enough audience members, they will remove seats and make it appear that the show is very exclusive.
Dragging TV Shows Into the 21st Century
As a younger generation starts getting into the audience coordinating game, web and social networking applications are being used more as a way to draw in audiences. Many TV shows are getting more user-friendly ticketing mechanisms on their websites, and TV show audience coordinators can be found on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Smart audience coordinators will also post their contact information on web forums as a way to reach out to their target audience.
Average Life Expectancy of an Audience Coordinator
Most audience coordinators don't make it past 3 months. The role is usually occupied by a wet-behind-the ears college graduate, who has little world skills and makes a mess of things early on. The TV show producer usually fires them or makes them a production assistant (they get the coffee) if he/she likes them. He then rolls another college graduate into the role. There are however, a unique few, seasoned audience coordinators in New York City who have been doing the role for many years and have it down to a science. These audience coordinators have perfected the job, have great leads to get audience, amazing management skills, and have managed to make a profession out of this poorly respected role - our hats off to them. If these individuals manage to hook up with a TV producer that actually respects the role of audience coordinator then they are golden, but most producers think the role is worthless and as such they are left without budget and are often so poorly paid that no-one wants to stay and put up with the disrespect.
Typical Locations and Salaries for Audience Coordinators
Traditionally, the audience coordinator has worked out of major cities like Chicago and New York City, with Los Angeles having the greatest demand since so many television shows are filmed there. However, recently some TV shows have been moving to smaller towns because those places are offering significant tax breaks to the productions. For example, a number of New York City area TV productions have migrated to Stamford, CT, meaning that the NYC-based audience coordinators -- assuming they were invited to keep their jobs at all -- would have had to re-locate to Connecticut in order to stay employed with the show (or else deal with a lengthy commute every day).
The salary of an audience coordinator can vary depending on where and what show they are working on. SalaryExpert.com indicates that pay can range from approximately $29,000 per year for the job in Miami to $55,000 in Boston. SimplyHired.com shows the average salary for audience coordinator as being $52,000. The On-Camera Audiences job notice noted "experience not necessary; however, salary will depend on it," which speaks volumes about the nature of the job. Technically it could be seen as an entry level gig, but a wise TV producer who understands the value of experience would probably opt to pay a bit more to get someone who knows what they are doing. By the same token, an energetic go-getter with no experience might be hired if the powers-that-be at the TV show see that they have the promise to grow into a great audience coordinator.
Meet a Real-Life Audience Coordinator
In a 2007 profile of The Colbert Report's audience coordinator Mark Malkoff on the website NoFactZone.net, Malkoff was quoted as describing his job thusly: "Basically, I handle all aspects of the audience department. This includes ticket requests, checking the audience in, and loading them in and out of the studio. I should also mention I have an assistant audience coordinator and two audience pages that assist me."
Some audience coordinators are not so lucky. For a really small budget TV production, the audience coordinator may be handling the entire job themselves. In some cases the audience coordinator also has to serve as the "warm-up" person before the show, prepping the audience on how and when to applaud during the taping and getting them revved up before the show starts.
The job stands to be a lot better if, like Mark Malkoff, you are on a long-running show that isn't in danger of being canceled at any moment. The long-running shows have had a long life for a simple reason: they're popular. That translates to an easier life for the audience coordinator, who doesn't have to be running around midtown harassing tourists.
Tales From the Darkside
Working for the right show or network, being an audience coordinator can be a pretty decent job. But the road to one of these good gigs can be brutal. Malkoff describes an awful internship he once had: "The worst gig I had was working as an intern for Sally Jessy Raphael. I had to sign her autographs and send them out in the mail. I was required to sign her name in red ink because of her famous red glasses. I also had to draw a heart over the letter “a” in Sally. I felt gross at the end of the day."
Needless to say, Audience Coordinator is not exactly a dream job. Most people who take this position do so with the desire to move further up in the television or entertainment industry. A natural next step might be to become a TV producer or to take some type of management job at a TV network. The challenge is surviving long enough in the job to actually take the next step up the ladder.