The New Theatre Frontier . . Live Streaming

We have just been through a pretty historic week in theatre. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest School of Rock just opened on Broadway with a new line-up on innovative marketing techniques. ABC aired a four-part prime-time operatic TV show in partnership with Opera Australia. But I’ll write about those later. What I want to focus on is the biggest jump away from the traditional theatre model in a long time . . . Live Streaming.

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Off-Broadway show, Daddy Long Legs, took some big leaps and bounds with its long legs into the technological future of theatre broadcasting a live streamed performance of the show across the world. And only one question remains . . . will it reap great benefits or cannibalize the audience?

As for all early adopters, live streaming a show is a big gamble. It could quite easily go either way. Audiences could flock in droves to see this show in the flesh. Or seeing it on screen could have removed all desire to see it in real life. We don’t have enough examples to know definitively one way or another. But they could have unlocked the secret with the format of broadcast.

Slowly, more and more productions are releasing their performances on DVD. Memphis, Shrek the Musical, RENT and Billy Elliot are just a few of the examples. In this circumstance, I can understand the cannibalization argument. You are essentially giving your customers a lifetime ticket to watch a show as many times as they like (or until they burn out the DVD) for $20. If they have friends who are interested, they might pass the DVD around removing the power in word of mouth to get people through the door.

But live streaming is a bit different. It is a one-time opportunity. If you loved the show and want to see it again then you have to go in person. If you have a friend who definitely must have the experience then the only recommendation is to buy a ticket. Live streaming limits these opportunities. And that is exactly what motivated this show.

All shows rely on word of mouth to sell tickets. Advertising messages are effective but they are nowhere near as effective in encouraging ticket purchases as a recommendation from a trusted friend or family member. For an off-Broadway show in a 150 seat house, you can only have a maximum of 150 people spreading the word after each show. And this is dramatically different from a big Broadway house such as the Gershwin Theatre (currently playing Wicked) which can fit 1,933 people in each performance.

See where they are going? By hitting the airwaves, they have exponentially multiplied their reach for one performance. Sure, the people who saw that performance may not come again, but all of a sudden they are talking to their friends about it. Generating that powerful word of mouth amongst the theatre community that will encourage more audience members into the theatre, encourage regional producers to consider taking the show on the road and encourage more people to check out the recently released cast recording on iTunes. All strong forms of revenue generation!

There is no question that there will be audience members who are completely satisfied with seeing a recorded version of the show, but that doesn’t mean their interaction was a waste of time. They may have another use in the word of mouth department!

Congratulations to Daddy Long Legs for being the first show to test out the water of live streaming. Hopefully there will be many more to come.

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