The Follow Up Act: Part 2

The Wiz may be the next follow up to NBC’s live musical broadcasts, but when the show was announced yesterday it came with its own follow up. After its broadcast in December this year, the production will be quickly taken to the stage in time for the Broadway 2016/17 season. When this happens we will finally have a decision on a long-running debate in entertainment circles.

Billy-Elliot

For a long time, there has been a debate about the effect of broadcasting live shows on television and movie screens. But it hasn’t stopped people giving it a go! Billy Elliot was recorded on the West End and released on DVD. Legally Blonde taped their Broadway opening night and it was shown on MTV. And, if you are looking for a more conservative example, the National Theatre in London is regularly broadcasting their plays to cinemas across the world.

The argument against these technologically-forward moves is that it will cannibalise audiences. Taking a product and giving the consumer a choice between a $20 version in the cinema or a $150 version live on a stage, the assumption is that the audience member will always choose the cheapest option. However, there is a flaw in this assumption. It assumes that the two experiences are the same.

In reality, watching a show in the theatre is completely different to watching a show on a screen. There is an element of separation anxiety. People don’t clap in the cinema, yet you hear them clapping at the live recording. The performers don’t respond to your actions as an audience member. And if there is any interactive element to the show then it there is a 0% chance that the interaction will occur with you. It is the same as any other entertainment form – people still go to live concerts by their favourite singers and bands despite being able to listen to their latest album at home.

The special case for The Wiz is that they will be taking something which is already freely available on the airwaves and putting it onstage. The initial television version will reach a huge number of people theoretically making it unnecessary to pay admission into the theatre. But will people still go when it hits Broadway in 2016/17.

My bets are on an incredibly strong turnout. But why? It doesn’t make any sense when people can engage in the comfort of their own home.

70% of Broadway’s audience are tourists. This means that they are most likely going to see a Broadway show because it is one of the activities to cross off a bucket list when on a holiday in New York. If these people don’t often see live shows and are a little out of their comfort zone seeing a show they will tend to hit up one of the long-standing musicals with big reputations and bigger performances. Wicked, Chicago and The Phantom of the Opera are perfect examples. They are low-risk investments for that $150 spend. So many people have been and gone before and come out of the experience satisfied that they must be good.

Well, here is an opportunity to encroach on the audiences of these big hitters.

If they enjoyed the broadcast version then they can be pretty sure they will enjoy the live version and that ticks the activity off their bucket list while also giving them the quintessential tourist experience in a very low risk environment. The same low risk environment of a long standing show. Essentially they are creating the kind of brand longevity overnight that it took Wicked ten years to build.

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