Spielberg thinks Hollywood is going to implode. Will Broadway too?

Here’s my rule of three:

Whenever I hear the same comment from three or more people, whether that’s “Ken, I don’t like that actor’s costume,” or “Ken, you should really get involved with Kinky Boots,” or “Ken, have you thought about blogging,” .  . . I take action.

Three or more suggests some kind of trend, and a good way to do business is to give the people what they want.  (A great way to do business is to give the people something they don’t know they want . . . yet!)

Last week, I got about ten emails from some of my most faithful readers, all pointing to this article asking for my response.

Before I even read the article, I knew I needed to respond.

And then I read it.  And you should too.

But the quick recap is this:

Last week, Steven Spielberg told a group of USC film students who were all paying big bucks to prepare themselves for a career in film . . . that the film industry was about to implode.  (USC refused to give tuition refunds, FYI.)

Yep, he said that he foresaw massive changes coming to tinsel town, including different prices based on demand for the content ($25 for Iron Man versus $7 for Lincoln) . . . and he even said that the release of films might start to trend more like Broadway shows (!), where there are fewer released each year, but they stick around longer.


Then George Lucas stepped in and joined the implosion revolution saying that it costs too much to market these films, and Hollywood was too focused on commercial success, and wasn’t (or couldn’t afford) to make movies for niche markets.

Sound familiar?

Was Spielberg right?

Well, the man tells stories for a living.  Great ones.  Dramatic ones.  And I think there was a little “E.T.” going on in this speech as well.

I don’t see an implosion happening in Hollywood, but I do see massive changes on the horizon (just like the record industry turned upside down when digital music became a thing).

And I don’t see an implosion on Broadway happening either (although sometimes I’d love a little market correction – but read this post to see why I don’t think it’ll happen anytime soon).

But I do see massive changes coming . . . and massive changes are necessary if we’re going to maintain any sense of profitability.

But Broadway will never implode and it will never go away.  It’s too much of an institution, and it is the nucleus of the Times Square economy.

But it could go entirely non-profit.

Let’s make sure it doesn’t.

Read the article here.


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  • Elisa Christina Clayton says:

    What are the massive changes you see coming?

  • PDXComposer says:

    This is gonna be a loose series of quick observations.

    A. All things change. The film industry has changed before and it must inevitably do so again as market demand changes. It seems likely that the brick and mortar movie experience is continuing to dwindle – as more content is watched at home on stream. Ergo, big features which deliver a big impact to the senses will likely become the leading sales product and smaller stories will be told in smaller markets via technology of convenience.

    B. Things Morph. The artists who collectively develop movies will simply move their talents to other markets that will continue to demand product. While even the OTA broadcast market continues to shrink, cable and satellite networks continue to consume content. And the newest streaming content niche’s like YouTube (channels), HULU and NetFlix are all developing entertainment products for their markets which still include domestic and foreign sales, plus ancillary product (DVD) sales.

    C. Things Morph II. The current trend in musical theater is the adaptation of hit movies into hopeful hit musicals. (Whereas it used to be that writers adapted works they felt they could, that should be improved upon.) Disney gave birth to this 15 years ago and now the major studios have developed theatrical divisions who’s hope is to re-exploit their aging film library into new plays and musical plays. A number of projects are in the works from both Warner Bros and Universal. So while the number and variety of films may change, the industry itself is looking to develop new works for other markets which in turn exploit their existing asset base, renew life and interest in some titles and develop projects which, upon a successful theatrical run, may become a film all over again. (see The Producers.)

    I do not lament the passing demand for grand opera or the operetta, that demand was lost to other art forms – born from these. New technologies are changing film and the performing arts. All life must evolve or it will perish. As Martha says: “It’s a good thing.”

  • janis says:

    A rule I learned from my Daddy is: You can’t charge too much for too little for too long.

    Sooner or later those paying too much for too little go elsewhere to get more for less. Hollywood gave us less story, less character and too much spectacle for too long. They deserve to implode.

    Except for revivals, Broadway may be heading in the same direction. Word of mouth is the only effective entertainment marketing tool and expensive spectacle driven shows create a temporary word of mouth buzz, but it lasts only until a greater spectacle comes along then it is quickly forgotten. Great stories with great characters live forever in our hearts.

    We’re a nation of lonesome story tellers. We need stories and characters we can love. Hollywood forgot that and Broadway seems to be forgetting as well. Some producers are reaching into the past for great shows, but even those great shows eventually become tiresome. There is great new work available and audiences need it.

  • Fathom Events is proving that there is a market for niche movie events at higher prices, from operas, plays and symphonies to art shows and lectures. It’s interesting to go to the operas. When I was in Santa Cruz, at 52, I was the baby of the audience.

    I was happy to see Phantom for $18 rather than spending $50 or $100 to see it live. I liked it much better than I thought I would. Audience was still pretty old but I was more in the middle. I will have to see what it’s like in Berkeley, which is a much more urban environment.

  • I think this is a flawed assumption. Spielberg is comparing blockbuster movies with independent movies with cable movies. This is not the same as Broadway versus non-profit theatre. First, in the terms of “non-profit” I assume that theatres like The Public, NYTW, and MTC are the targets of enmity. They are a few exceptions that have had success on Broadway bringing shows that started out as non-profit, but then led to successful runs on Broadway. They cannot on paper make a profit. If they do, their non-profit status would be revoked (I worked 5 years for cpas and was 4 classes from completing a Masters in Accounting). So, if the people are earning money, they’ve had to do some creative accounting to make it look like all of the money was remaining in the organization. More likely, (if you read Joe Papp’s book about The Public) when a show transfers to Broadway from a non-profit venue, it transfers to a for-profit venture that is only strictly associated with the non-profit from a development point-of-view which is not that different than how some Broadway shows get their start (i.e. Next to Normal vs. A Chorus Line). Speilberg is talking about his concern that the “little guy,” the independent filmmaker will not be able to make money in a theater event. If you watch the supplementary material to “The Best and the Brightest,” many films do not make any money in the theater event but make most of their profit from dvd/streaming sales. For theatre, it’s more complex in that with the big for profit and non profit theatres all vying for audiences there are less to go around and some one will lose out because there is only so much time and money. How little non-profits help you if you help them: like everything else, it comes down to money. The non-profit world should be the basis for education and experimentation. If it’s serving its purpose correctly, larger audiences should emerge with a wider range of theatrical interest. Why are those who have a large monetary investment in theatre not investing in more theatre education and involvement? Many children NEVER get to see a live theatre production or at the most get to see a community theatre production where they’ve paid $20 to see their plumber singing poorly and then is there a question why it’s so hard to get people in to see a professional show for $40-$200. I was fortunate to live my first 13 years of my life in NJ and get to see 2 Broadway shows in NY and then more when I moved and saw them on tour. If I had only been exposed to a high school or community theatre production, I probably would’ve been hesitant to spend a lot of money to see a professional theatre show. This should be the role of a non-profit professional theatre. Does it do that? Does it encourage audiences to see your shows? If not, why not (we are a theatre COMMUNITY)? As an artist, if more non-profits were invested in being training grounds perhaps there wouldn’t be such a need for “NAMES” in for-profit shows because we would expect that all artists were (with genetic exceptions) of the same caliber. I think we’re so fixated on the American idea of competition that we lose some of the craft. Reminder: 7 years ago Laura Osnes was a young girl auditioning to be in a Broadway production of Grease and now you can’t turn your head w/o seeing her as the ingenue in the latest musical. Question: Would she be in this position if it had not been for tv? I think American theatre is beating its head against a wall and needs to go over to the West End and see what they are doing right, b/c it seems more effective. Their long-running shows run longer, they are able to try out shows that wouldn’t even get the sets up before they closed on Broadway and as a personal note, I know if I see the worst production in London (which I might have seen) that even that would have enough quality artistically to make it worth while for me to spend my money on shows. (I’ve been to London three times and to NY 20 or 30 times). I think there is something between the reciprocity of artists, art-businesses, and government that makes it more sustainable and I have yet to figure it out but to quote “Raiders of the Lost Ark” “You’re digging in the wrong place.” Speilberg is dedicated to developing young artists and Broadway should find ways of doing so for its artists too. As for audiences, maybe work some kind of incentive thing as well. What I see is an adversarial system of art which is supportive of no one in the long run. I don’t know if that makes complete sense, but I’m still trying to figure these things out and plan to get a doctorate.

  • Carlito says:

    I wonder if Broadway has already imploded. Perhaps it has in a manner of speaking. Ticket prices are higher than they have ever been….putting many Broadway shows out of reach for the average New York City tourist. Many discounted ticket prices at TKTS or Broadway Box are equal to or higher than what full price tickets once were. But of course times change, business changes, things get more expensive, and that’s just how it works…. Right?
    Right. But is it wrong?
    Let’s look at hotels. What were hotels all about 20, 30, 40 years ago? Yes of course, they were businesses to make money…..but what were they beyond that? Hotels were all about hospitality. Hotels were about a warm welcome. Conrad Hilton (not Paris Hilton) was always known for his “optimism, honesty, and unfailing sense of fairness” and with every hotel he opened he made sure that the staff would be kind to each other and to their guests. His entire business philosophy centered around being GENUINE. It’s no wonder why Hilton grew to be what it is now. Hotels were much different then though…. do you remember this?.
    So what have hotels in New York City become? Many people would argue that hospitality has reached new levels at properties such as the Four Seasons. But what about the other 99%? I stay in NYC hotels about 30 nights a year and I rarely have felt that anyone was being hospitable. New York City hotel prices continue to increase (they are up 6% from last year) and many investors know that acquiring hotel properties is lucrative. The end result….incredibly high nightly rates (it’s not uncommon to see rates at $399/$499/$599 a night) with service that is not always impressive. It’s all about the RevPAR (revenue per available room).
    Back to Broadway. Shows need to be profitable. After all, why would anyone invest in shows if there was no money to be made? Not every show will run for 25 years (Christine must be TIRED by now) and it’s necessary to be able to recoup and profit…. although we know this doesn’t always happen. But I wonder, is there a line between reasonable and unreasonable that should not be crossed?
    Are Premium Tickets are out of control? I think everyone would say yes….except producers.
    Example. One of my best friends has never seen Wicked and I’m going to be in NYC on July 5th. I have decided that I’m finally going to take him so I log on to see what’s available at the Gershwin.
    ALL available seats in Center Orchestra Rows 2,3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18: PREMIUM PRICE
    Left and Right Orchestra seats on aisle, Rows 14 & 15: PREMIUM PRICE
    I’ve had this conversation before, many times, and I do believe that this is somewhat disheartening. So now only the ‘1%’ can have a ‘great’ view and the other ‘99%’ need to settle for side view, or center orchestra (but 22 rows back). For those wanting to be close to the performers partial view seating is available for $95.00 (seems reasonable). Now of course every show has different amounts/locations of seats which are sold at premium and I just use Wicked as an example.
    I am not opposed to Premium Tickets. I actually think they are a wonderful addition to the many seat options and price points available on Broadway. I can even tell you that I’ve paid premium for Next to Normal, In the Heights and a number of other shows. But to have SO many premium price points does seem to be a bit…. dirty.
    It begs the question….. IS BROADWAY NOW ONLY ABOUT THE BOTTOM LINE? And where is Broadway headed? Can you IMAGINE if the PLAYBILLS went digital? I have every playbill and ticket stub from every show I’ve ever seen…. protected in my ‘Ultimate Playbill Binder’ (make fun if you please). Fast forward 20 years from now. I step into the Music Box. I’ve just paid $499.00 (plus service charge) for my ticket. They scan my phone (or eyeball) and I am then emailed my Playbill. I have no tangible memory of the show….unless I buy a magnet for $75.
    We have seen the economy go through some hard times but I have to wonder if people who create Broadway shows REALLY know what the cost is to tourists? Let’s say you want to go to New York in the Spring before the Tony Awards…. You’re at a hotel for 6 nights at $249++ a night and you want to attend at least 1 Broadway show at top price of $147.00. You’ve just spend almost $2,000 dollars and you have not yet ate, not taken a subway, not had a drink. If things continue to get more and more expensive, will tourism in New York continue to grow?
    We can look at things a million ways. Growth and decline are subjective, based on the parameters in which they are examined.
    The New York Times published an article on May 28 which basically said that “attendance at Broadway shows fell to its lowest level in eight years, but grosses were unchanged because of rising ticket prices….The high cost of ticket prices also may have hurt attendance: Many musicals and some plays now sell their best seats at premium ticket levels of between $200 and $300, with relatively inexpensive seats limited to the worst locations in the theaters.”
    Now of course….there was a Hurricane, among other things, but all of this is still interesting.
    Reinventing ways to earn revenue is necessary, but at what cost? For example, I bought a window card when I was at Pippin (of course I did) and walked over to a store underneath the Marriott (as I have been doing for years) to purchase 2 pieces of cardboard to protect the poster. For years I have paid $1….but this time I was told $5+tax. When I inquired about the price increase I was told that unless I am “buying the poster here, the cardboard now costs more.” Putting this into perspective, I have given a lot of business to this store (where do you think the Playbill Binders come from?) and it’s never really been appreciated. What else bugs people? How about when you order a soda during intermission for $10? I’m pretty sure you don’t feel great after that. But there’s a reason behind the madness…..make as much as you can, in a very short time period. It’s necessary, isn’t it?
    Same day rush and lottery policies are an amazing way for people to experience theatre at a discounted cost but there is always a catch. If you are in New York City for a couple of nights only and you would like to see a show you need to take a gamble with a lottery. Wicked, for example, can have 1000 show up to submit their names. The odds are not in your favor. Some shows offer rush seats when the box office opens, but in order to secure one of those (usually) 20 seats, you often have to arrive VERY early or camp out (especially if the show is popular). Even then, sometimes these seats are obstructed rear orchestra, extreme sides, obstructed boxes, etc. But then the argument is, “what do you expect at that price?”
    So what would make me camp out to see a show? Why was I so attracted to In the Heights, for example? Because Lin Manuel Miranda was EVERYWHERE. His story was EVERYWHERE. Their was HEART in the show. You couldn’t help but be happy for his success and cheer him on for succeeding. HOORAH FOR THE LITTLE GUY! But what made the show special for me? He responded to messages I sent him online. I had asked him if he was taking any breaks in the summer as I wanted to bring my family to see him. He also recognized me at the theatre and winked at me. And the rest of the cast was just so amazing to fans, and so proud to be a part of something so special.
    If you paid $150 to see GHOST on Broadway, what did you see? You saw exactly what was in the film, sometimes word for word. Do you want to pay $150 to see someone put their hand through a door? Do you need to see Spider-man leap across the theatre (with 14 cables attached to him)? Spectacle can be an insult if it’s the only thing the show has. Audiences crave fresh new stories. They want characters to love. They want a reason to cry. They want to be shocked. THEY WANT HEART.
    AND THAT’S WHAT PEOPLE GOT IN IN THE HEIGHTS. The cast took center stage. I personally didn’t feel bad about spending my money on the show. My ticket purchases were completely justified in my mind. I felt that the show was more than just 8 performances a week. The show and the cast connected with people beyond curtain call.
    And on that note……isn’t that what you do Mr. Davenport? How often do producers communicate with the public on the level that you do? How often does a producer urge to hear (or care about) the opinions of not only people in the industry, but theatre lovers? While I don’t always agree with your opinions (service charges on house seats for example, but we can discuss that 😛 ) … I respect them. You have a way about you, everything you say is….. reasonable. So what does that mean to the AVERAGE PERSON? Maybe this connection you have to people will make someone WANT to see a show without even knowing anything about it.
    “If Davenport invested in it…he must REALLY believe in it.”
    So what am I trying to say? I don’t profess to know all the answers, but things are changing as they always do. What I do know is that more people need to talk about these. Maybe we would benefit from someone occasionally challenging change. Just because things progress doesn’t mean the progression is a good thing. But change can be good. At the end of the day I do think that we need to think about the people who are filling the seats and how every change affects them.
    I should mention that I am a huge theatre lover and fully support as many shows as I can. I try to see every new musical, revival and play….. every year. Quite the challenge. My future will be in theatre whether writing or producing and it’s my passion. I’ve never thought twice about it. I indeed paid top price to see Kinky Boots (do you know what THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING IN THE WORLD is yet? If not…….go see the show). I have also arrived at 4am to line up for rush tickets…. dedication.
    Verb 1. Collapse or cause to collapse violently inward.
    So will Broadway implode?
    It really depends on whose eyes you’re looking at the question from. From a producer’s perspective, if the money is coming in, no. Through the eyes of anyone else who can’t afford to see a show, or see a show in a good seat, the implosion has already happened. And although Broadway is the nucleus of the Times Square economy it can be argued that it is no longer possible for Broadway shows to be reasonably enjoyed by all.

  • Re:5 Tips on how to get your show off the ground.
    What my problem is, in anything I write, is no one takes me seriously! Me? A Playwright? A Screenwriter? A Novelist? You must be crazy, they say. Find a friend who shares your passion for your work? I haven’t been able to find someone who has the inclination to even read the work.Friends are too busy and so are producers, and agents and agencies. How can nobodys get attention when no one thinks they are serious? You are just one of millions trying to make a living writing. Just like all the contestants who try out for “American Idol” or “The Voice.” The singers who got turned away was either pitied by friends, or worse, laughed at. THIS problem is what an aspiring writer is up again. Sometimes, not even your family or friends are behind you in your writing career. I’m been constantly told: “Go Get a REAL Job!!”

  • P.S. What do Steven Spielberg and George Lucas care about Hollywood imploding? They’ve made their careers, they’ve made their movies, they’ve made their billion dollar fortunes. Sure, there may be a sentimental feeling about those old days when they started out and now it’s so different. But it’s those two who started this blockbuster Hollywood business. “Jaws” especially started this “must make hundreds of millions to be a success” crap. Steve, if you are dismayed at the way Hollywood has become, well, you were a big part of why this is happening. You and George started this implosion.

  • David Merrick Jr. says:

    The real problem for me is the ridiculous cost of tickets. With “dynamic” pricing, producers are getting more bolder than ever.

    So with tickets now going for $150-180 and climbing…that’s just not healthy. Recently Jersey Boys was selling for $172 on a Saturday night!

    Sure, there’s lots of discounts out there. But still, it’s getting to be a real turnoff, to the point that our precious tourists and locals are just gonna say Fuck It. Not going. Maybe once a year.

    I think Lucas nailed it about the film industry (I work in both). It’s the cost of marketing a theatrical feature that continues to grow unabated, with less DVD sales than ever (the raison d’etre of the movie biz). Thanks Netflix and Redbox.

    And those ever-rising factors could spell doom for these businesses if not corrected somehow.

  • Derek says:

    If Hollywood implodes it will be because the the studios never stop re-cloning and rehashing concepts that are long past their sell-by date. The studios are churning out more and more expensive garbage – I’m sure you could intercut reels of 5 or 6 different movies and no one would see the story did not make sense : as long as you’ve got a car chase, a fight scene, a torture scene, a scene with lots of f-words, an explosion scene, another fight scene, etc, etc – think about it – all the big movies are starting to look identical. Forget about actually engaging the audience – that doesn’t count – or, it would – if the imbeciles who have hijacked Hollywood knew how to do it – which they don’t. I think Spielberg is right – they are heading for a string of massive flops – and quite frankly, the sooner the better – then the Indies can revive Hollywood. I doubt if Broadway will implode. Even as a foreigner, I can see a high degree of healthy experimentation and inventiveness happening on Broadway. Producers are taking risks, pushing the boundaries whereas Hollywood is busy cutting it’s own throat. They are so dumb they have not noticed that millions of Americans have started watching Korean movies and TV shows to get fresh storylines. K-drama is taking over – and K-pop too. Audiences crave entertainment that is fresh and different – but the in-breeding in Tinseltown has made them oblivious to this.

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