Theatre’s saving grace . . . Television!

I am going to make a prediction. The future of theatre lies in television . . . and I don’t mean advertising. There is a great fear in the industry that recording musicals and broadcasting them far and wide will absolutely cannibalise theatre attendance. But if the up-and-coming trend is anything to go by, television broadcasting could be the saving grace of theatre’s future.

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Television seems to be on everyone’s lips this year. There have been two big announcements in the theatre world this year that are innately linked to using television as an effective method of musical promotion. Firstly, NBC announced that their next live-action musical broadcast would be The Wiz which would premier on television before making the cross over onto the Broadway stage for a full-on Broadway season. And the second big announcement has just hit.

Bombshell, the musical within NBC’s television show SMASH, is officially headed to Broadway. This Marilyn Monroe musical biography will be making the jump from the silver screen to the stage because producers believe that there is going to be a strong audience response. And all evidence says that they are right. Earlier this month, the cast of SMASH gathered together for a one night only performance of songs from the musical and the concert sold out within an hour of releasing pre-sale tickets. So imagine the response to a fully-staged Broadway run!

But it raises the question . . . why is television becoming such a powerful medium for Broadway?

Cinema broadcasts of musicals are gaining in popularity bringing the Broadway experience across the world. National Theatre Live is increasing its reach by sharing its plays through an online streaming service. And NBC’s yearly musical is reaching millions of people in America alone. The ease of access to this entertainment would suggest there is no reason for audiences to engage with the real deal. But we are actually seeing the complete opposite as the 2014-15 season broke all the records for theatre grosses and attendance.

Why? Because if people enjoy engaging with a show through a low-risk options, such as a cheap cinema ticket or a free-to-air broadcast, then they are more likely to seek it out again. Whether they see the same show or a different show comes down to the amount of risk each consumer is willing to take on.

Tourists to New York are faced with two options. See The Lion King – a show where they will have seen the music, heard the songs and know all the jokes before the curtain rises – or try their hand at another less familiar show. If they have engaged with The Lion King before and are rather risk-averse, they will probably go back to see the show again because they had such a great time. If they are feeling a bit more confident and want to roll the dice, audience members will try another show and broaden their horizons.

Neither of these actions are wrong, but they both stem from being exposed to theatre through a more accessible option. Because the alternative is that potential audiences have the assumption that they won’t enjoy the product and aren’t willing to fork out $150 to give it a go – but it doesn’t cost anywhere near as much to take a gamble on an NBC broadcast!

And that is why television is theatre’s greatest ally!

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