Part 6 of my series on Expanding Musical Theatre Development.
Streaming has huge advantages over traditional film distribution and theatre.
Practically unlimited geographic potential
Built-in content push/marketing with instant results
User targeted recommendations
Seamless connection from social media hype to audience participation
Extremely low barrier to entry for new audiences
Shows can find their audience slowly, instead of having to hit opening weekend
The Broadway strategist I spoke to hopes to get every musical, every season on a streaming platform. Producers mitigate investment risk, musical theatre spreads in reach and influence, and great shows can gain a following faster. I love it, but there’s still a pipeline issue. This doesn’t help us find and workshop great shows; it just helps us once we have them.
It’s not just writers. At any given moment, even before the pandemic, 90% of the actor’s union was unemployed, and those employed outside of Broadway aren’t making stable income. We’re burning out performers because we don’t have a way to pay them. We’re losing audience engagement and accessibility because our work is expensive to produce, per capita.
We have to cut Broadway out as the distributor, the middle man, and let Broadway reap the benefits of popular content developed and distributed elsewhere. They already rely on Ars Nova, La Jolla, Papermill, Goodspeed, and the Public to do their innovating. Let the innovators deal directly to consumers.
And, more importantly, we need to invest in diversity, equity, and inclusion by streaming the theatre work already happening in Black, Latino, Asian, Indigenous, disability communities. They should be directly connected with their broader communities, empowering them to produce more and pay the creators.
The live experience of theatre is important, especially in communities where the work is written specifically for them. Texas is a better place to produce shows written by and for Mexican-Americans than New York. Even better—do it in Spanish, stream it, and you’ve now connected an entire new continent-and-a-half to our work.
Here’s where things get juicy for those regional theatres.
For $4 million, you can develop and produce a superb show at a regional theatre.
For $1 million, you can capture the show. ($2 million for Broadway, but NYC makes everything more expensive.)
That regional theatre production can sell tickets, offsetting the development, production, and capture costs.
That production might look like
2-3 week lab workshop
4-6 week rehearsal period
4 week initial run, serving as previews
1 week off to rehearse/tech major changes
2 weeks off, final full with some performances captured
Extended run, if popular
At just 50% capacity, selling tickets for an average of $75, a 1,200 seat regional house would make gross revenues of $45,000/performance. Averaging that for 8 performances/week, for 6 weeks, the production would make $2.16 million.
If the streaming company puts up $5 million for the development and capture, in exchange for streaming rights and 75% of the box office, the theatre makes a half million in revenue, without taking any financial risk. The streaming company has just produced quality content for $3.5 million, a fraction of their typical film budgets. If they can score a share of future Broadway/licensing profits, they stand to do even better.
Disney paid $75 million for the streaming rights to Hamilton because it was
already a worldwide phenomenon
a huge draw for subscribers to their new platform
But streaming services have to keep generating new content to keep subscribers, especially now that they’re competing with one another. Musical theatre fans are passionate and loyal, and if one company were to heavily invest, they could develop a reputation for musical theatre development stronger than Broadway. If the model I suggested proves feasible, for that same $75 million, they can make 21 new musicals. It’s even cheaper than doing it on Broadway. $75 million also happens to be the listed budget for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
Money isn't the point of art, but it's what allows us to do keep doing this work. By investing in and innovating the development process of more shows, we open the pipeline to more writers, more actors, more audience members, more revenue streams, more diversity, and more peace, as we rest easy, knowing we’re not missing out on the best musicals theatre available. Spread the word.
Thanks for reading and all the love to you, whoever you are,
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