Guess what? The Tonys aren’t about reaching new audiences.

The Tony Awards ratings dropped a disappointing 8% this year, despite one of our most celebrity-studded presentations ever.  We had Green Day and a NY Jet and more Hollywood stars than the Betty Ford clinic.

So why didn’t tons of new viewers tune in and get hooked on showtunes?

Because it’s still a three-hour presentation about the very nichey subject of theater.  And if you’re not a theater fan, most likely you are not tuning in, I don’t care who you dress up in a gown and teach an R&H song to.

Are my football-loving and Budweiser-drinking friends from suburban Massachusetts all of a sudden going to give up three hours of their lives because a NY Jet has a 45-second intro to a musical?

Is the JetBlue pilot who flew me from Tampa to JFK but lives in Houston and has never seen a show in his life gonna feel so compelled to turn on the Tonys just because he loved Sean Hayes’s character from Will & Grace?

Or is my Brooklyn-based little brother, who works as a sound engineer mostly in the hip-hop scene (although he has worked a few sessions of Broadway musicals), gonna take time out from mixing beats to watch the number from Fela?

The answer is no, no, and whatever the word for ‘No’ is in Nigerian.

But don’t be depressed.  They were never the audience.  Sure, we’d all love it if millions of viewers turned on CBS just to catch a glimpse of Denzel in a tux, but that’s just not what happens.  Do a few more folks tune in because we’ve got a couple of folks from Glee?  Probably . . . but it’s not enough to make any noticeable difference.

And that fact has never been more noticeable than this year, with the almost double-digit drop in ratings.

But don’t be depressed, because IMHO, our mission with the Tony Awards isn’t about reaching new audiences (especially since it’s not working anyway).

Our marketing mission of the Tony Awards, should be energizing our core audience, the ones that tune in year after year, and to try to excite them so much that they . . .

  • See one more show per year than they usually do.
  • Bring a friend to a show who would not have gone on their own.

Pareto’s Principle states that 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the causes. Rather than focusing on trying to reach past our 20%, we should focus our efforts (and our awards shows) on that 20%, the faithful who are tuning in.  The show should whip them up into such a Broadway frenzy, that they go out and preach its importance as entertainment louder than the year before.

Because here’s what we know:

  • Word of Mouth is what sells everything.
  • People fall in love with the theater after being introduced to it by someone else.

New audiences don’t buy Broadway because they see a clip or a star on a Tony Award show.  They fall for what we do because they are dragged to it by someone else.  I didn’t have any clue what I was going to see when my Mom dragged me to Les Miz when I was 16, and I had been involved in the theater since I was 5.  But that performance changed my life.

I had never seen a Tony Awards before then.

And I’ve never missed one since.

  • Lola says:

    My opinion is not based on any fancy numbers or strategical design, just my opinion. But it is my opinion that if theatre doesn’t evolve to reach young audiences, it will die. Young people go to arenas to see musical acts all the time, and these shows have major production value and pricey tickets. To me, elegant design would be to create shows for Broadway whose road show plays arenas like a rock show. Take theatre to the audience and in return bring the audience home to you. Where the band and the story meld into one powerful, though-provoking, electrical kick. Where rock music once again gets bought by the album instead of the i-tunes 99 cent single. Both need a shot in the arm, and boy, what a perfect marriage of freshness. People want meaning. They need meaning, now more than ever because meaning has been extracted from so much. And music delivers meaning on so many levels! Artists infuse things with meaning, business (at least Hollywood) likes to take that out. Crazy. Just crazy.

  • Douglas Hicton says:

    Yes, and by the same token, we could be playing to our base (fans of musical theatre) more in the writing. I’m kind of tired of musicals written “for people who don’t like musicals.” Why can’t we have more musicals for people who do like them?
    I think a good start would be for us to lay off staging jukebox musicals for a while, no matter how well they sell. No musical without an original score should be even nominated for Best Musical.

  • Kathi Gillmore says:

    Ah, Ken, you crack me up–and you’re right! To be perfectly honest, I was a little offended that there was so much camera time dedicated to the “movie” stars in the audience. This is not the Oscars or the Emmys–have a little respect for the theatre stars who are being honored at the Tonys. And let’s not forget, they’ve been telling us that Broadway is dying since (at least) 1975, when A Chorus Line came out!

  • Esther says:

    I wonder why more of a marketing effort isn’t directed at people who see touring productions of Broadway shows. You’ve got a captive audience for a couple of hours. When you bring in the spring musical, put a commercial for the Tonys on the video screens in the lobby. Make sure there are Tony fliers on the table with the seasons subscription renewal forms.

  • Ronni says:

    Yes, I agree that the Tonys aren’t about reaching new audiences. So, how can we convince CBS or The League of this?? How can we get them to make the broadcast one that WE want to see?? How can we get them to show ALL the awards and stop disrespecting the writers and choreographers who work so hard and whose friends and relatives and fans don’t even get to see their win on the broadcast?? How many times can CBS and the League pander to Hollywood, watch the ratings go down and STILL not present the kind of show that the core audience is yearning for??

  • Rosie says:

    The fact that Hollywood stars came in and swept up a lot of the awards is depressing for aspiring theatre actresses. The ratings probably dropped because the regular audience didn’t want any of the extra pizazz of the commercialism of it. They tuned out and the intended target didn’t tune in. And you’re right, I come from a family that taught me nothing about theatre, but in high school someone urged me to try out for a play and I’ve been hooked on the art form ever since. I am now pursuing it as my major and making it my life. I have done that with others! I introduced the Tony Awards this year to a family I am close to. They enjoyed it so much! THis article is absolutely correct

  • K.lo says:

    I’ve been following this Tony Award discussion here, and there are a few things that come to mind.
    1. As excited as you were about Green Day, it probably made me just as nauseous. Green Day, a band whose COMEBACK was already 5 years ago is Broadway’s answer to finding young/fresh audiences?
    2. I’ve got to say. I didn’t mind seeing all of the stars featured on the show. I actually think their presence is a good way for people to connect the craftsman of popular culture to elements of Broadway. Hi Paula!
    3. This is the big one. The longer that we keep thinking that Broadway is for a small (and shrinking) group of people the more we keep them outside the theater doors.
    My parents (who are black) were avid theatergoers…well they were consumers of all the performing arts. My father subscribed to the MET, attended the Ballet, and my mother took me to see just about every show on Broadway. In the early eighties we were not an anomaly. Perhaps my relatives and peers didn’t see everything (I still question the decision to allow me to see La Cage aux Folles at 7…twice), but people went to the theater, and not just to see Dreamgirls. Shows ran for a shorter period of time and everyone in the New York Metropolitan thought of Broadway as their own.
    Then came Cats.
    I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that Broadway producers, for financial reasons, have gotten away from “edge” and it’s willingness to excite. That’s what’s wrong with the Tonys and Broadway specifically. This years Awards almost lost me forever.
    Starting with the two-song Green Day set and moving on to the horrible musicals that were featured. I was almost lost forever, and to loose me, someone who has been a Broadway theatergoer for 30 years, holding an MFA with a concentration in commercial theater means makes me scratch my head.
    Two people up-thread hit the nail on the head.
    1. Broadway needs freshness. Broadway shoes need a reason to compel people to show up. Rehashing tired stories and trotting old stereotypes across the stage (Memphis) isn’t going to do it. Turning cool $15 a ticket movies into $125 a ticket tuners (Billy Elliot and Adams Family, which I secretly kind of liked) isn’t it. Putting together shows strung together with dead people’s music filled in with revivals (A Little Night Music, La Cage, Million Dollar Quartet, Come Fly Away, Ragtime [RIP], Promises, Promises). Old. Old. Old.
    2. If we want to bring new audiences into view the Tonys broadcast we have to meet them where they are. With so many presenters investing in shows you would think that there would be bigger deal made of making the connection between the Broadway the Tonys and the touring productions. When I was a child I watched the Tonys to see what shows I wanted to see. This could be the same type of commercial for people in touring cities, getting them excited for the upcoming “Broadway” seasons.
    Because, guess what? Some of the same people who have seen Wicked also watch the Jets…like rap…and watch American Idol.

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