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.