Netflix for theater. It’s here.

Ok. It’s not here here.  It’s over there here.  Like in the UK.

The Brits beat us to the screen this week when went online with a few titles of taped theatrical productions that can be viewed in the privacy of your own home.

DigitalTheatre’s plan is to create a “library of diverse and acclaimed productions from some of the finest theatre talent around.”

They’ve got a production of Far From The Madding Crowd up right now available for 8.99 GBP (or about $15 bucks) and are promising more in the future.

Here are a couple of statements from the contributing theatres:

We’re always looking for ways to bring our work to the largest possible number of people. And the potential of digital technology to connect with a worldwide audience is genuinely exciting.

– Dominic Cooke, Royal Court

There needs to be a revolutionising of the capture of live theatre, and we are enjoying the pursuit of that ambition with Digital Theatre.

– Michael Boyd, Royal Shakespeare Company.

These guys have got it right.  A video revolution is coming.  It has to be.  Our attendance is waning.  A new audience isn’t being born.  It’s getting harder to pull people away from screens and get them into a theater.

So perhaps we use what has been our greatest fear (those screens) and turn it into an asset.

PBS has done it in the past. And seeing Into The Woods and Sweeney on TV certainly didn’t deter me from seeing those shows live when they came back to Broadway.

The Met has been successful in putting operas in movie theaters around the country.  My 80-year-old Dad loves them, and now he wants to come to NYC to see an opera more than ever.

– Legally Blonde didn’t lose all of its business here in NYC after a couple of plays on MTV.  And the tour is doing quite well . . . hmmmm.

– The Rent final performance DVD was pretty dang cool (I bought it), and even better than the movie in my opinion.

Of all of the options out there now, I think the Rent model is what could work the best.  Take a show that is closing, memorialize it, market it and use it to get people excited about another show live.

It’s like distributing a DVD after the movie has left the theaters.

The unions would have to play ball to make this financially feasible, but if the show is closing, shouldn’t they be more inclined to do it?  If all of the employees who worked on the show while it was being taped got a piece of future sales?  It’s found money for the employees (and the union benefit funds), and since the show would be closing, there shouldn’t be any fear that the Producers would be benefiting from the taped production as a promotional tool for Broadway (there is a question about using it to promote sub rights and tours, but certainly a profit participation for the union employees could make up for it).

The Digital Theatre folks are on to something.  And we better get on it as well, and stop guarding what we do like it’s the Queen.

Because this could be one of the few ways we have left to get what we do out to the masses.

  • I’ve always wondered why Disney didn’t take the reigns on this since they would have the marketing might and the audience to make a DVD of AIDA or MARY POPPINS a monstrous success.
    If they can afford to produce all those BUDDIES movies and make a profit, I can’t believe they wouldn’t make a healthy profit from even crap like TARZAN. MARY POPPINS would be a really great idea since it’s such a beloved movie and the stage version is so different.

  • I’ve been saying this for about seven years now, ever since we recorded one of our shows as a test for such a thing…

  • Marshall says:

    Huh! Theatrical productions for television? Wonder who had that idea a year and a half ago…oh, yeah: ME! Vindication is a drink best served with take out. 😉

  • Nick says:

    Theater on video always sounded like an oxymoron to me. And most taped productions just don’t translate very well on the television screen, unless they have a really big budget to shoot it the right way. But anything that might get people interested in the theatrical arts is okay in my book.

  • Anonymous says:

    Here is a response that I posted on BWW:
    “There have been dozens of discussions here on BWW regarding professionally recording Broadway shows for DVD/TV/Cinema/Pay-per-View. My sentiments all along has been that when a show announces its’ closing, there should be plans to professionally record it for some sort of distribution.
    It’s another way to make money while also having the benefit of preserving the work. What Mr. Davenport doesn’t address, however, are the costs in producing a professional recording. Just how much does it cost to get a camera crew in there, pay the film director and editors, etc.?
    I asked Lonny Price his thoughts about why more DVDs aren’t make of shows. His response was that the demand was very very high, however the costs doesn’t make it worth it. He used CANDIDE as an example. He said it cost $2 million to record the concert of CANDIDE, and they would be LUCKY if they got *half* of it back.
    So is it worth it, financially? Those numbers aren’t available to us. But I would *LOVE* to know how much money it took to record & distribute RENT, and how much they made from the theatrical release and DVD sales.
    And as for a DVD of the show “hurting” sales for the show on Broadway/Tour…well, I think that argument is no longer valid. When A&E recorded PETER PAN, it certainly didn’t hurt the tours that followed. When MTV recorded LEGALLY BLONDE, it didn’t close the show and it created a new fanbase for the Tour.
    IN THE HEIGHTS, JERSEY BOYS, THE LION KING, MAMMA MIA!, MARY POPPINS, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, SHREK, and WICKED are all shows I think make the most sense to record for DVD.
    Disney, especially, lost a lot of opportunity with their shows. If they had recorded BEAUTY & THE BEAST, AIDA, ON THE RECORD, TARZAN, and THE LITTLE MERMAID…those DVDs could be raking in the dough. Look at all the different types of people to market to:
    -Theatre fans
    -Disney fans
    -Theme park visitors
    -Disney Cruise Line Pay-per-View
    -Disney Hotel/Resort Pay-per-View
    -Disney Movie Club
    -People (especially kids/teens) wanting to watch to reference for amateur productions
    Last time I was in the city, a group of 4 college-aged girls were in line and we got to talking. They said they were going to see BEAUTY & THE BEAST. I had to break the news that the show had closed and THE LITTLE MERMAID took the theatre. They said I was wrong because they had seen advertising for it, and sure enough they got to the window and the teller confirmed what I had said. So they saw THE LITTLE MERMAID instead. If these girls got to the theatre and they were selling DVDs of BATB, would one or more of those girls have bought it? Who knows…but they never had that opportunity so we’ll never know…”

  • P.S. You are absolutely correct about the Rent video. I bought it too, and love it!

  • Shane says:

    YEAH! I’m tired of musicals just being turned into movies. The original musical is always better the film that comes after it. When I saw RENT Filmed Live, or Legally Blonde, or Into the Woods, it only made me more excited to see the show live. The Hot Ticket, the film ‘brand’ that released RENT, should be filming a majority of the closing shows. They need ‘events’ to film. Why not more Broadway shows?
    Kudos to you for bringing this up.

  • Ed says:

    I think you are exactly right in the way to do this. And why would the union object if the show is about to close anyway and everyone involved will see some sort of payout on it?
    Three other shows that did this pretty recently: Will Ferrell’s President Bush show, on HBO, and The Light in the Piazza and Company on PBS.
    Again, all were taped at the very end of their run so box office wasn’t hurt and, if any of them want to do a touring version, my bet is it works more in their favor for ticket sales than against them.

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