5 Things I’ve Learned From Producing Streaming Theater (So far).

It’s rule of three.
 
I’m not talking comedy. I’m talking education through action.
 
You can’t learn anything by doing something once. Success or failure could be a fluke. Trends aren’t trends when they are based on one-offs.
 
And twice. Well, ok. Better than once.  But not much.
 
But when you do something three times. The learning potential increases by thirty times.
 
Less than three months ago, I announced I’d be going “all in” on producing streaming events.
 
And, since then, I’ve produced three. (Well, four, if you count my TheaterMakers Summit, which was the biggest of all!).  I started with an event with Kate Rockwell, followed up with The Doo Wop Project, and stay tuned for the world premiere of the viral sensation, Mat and Savanna Shaw! (Not to mention all the Zoom readings, Livestreams and other streamed events I’ve been involved in.
 
While I was quick to draw a few conclusions after my very first streamed event, I sat on my data-filled hands and waited.
 
But now that I have finished my Big Three , I’m ready to share my learnings with you.
 
Here are five things I learned about streaming theater or concerts or anything . . . so far.
 
1. The biggest asset AND liability of streaming theater.
 
It’s a help. And it’s a hindrance.
 
HELP:  Unlike The Shubert Theater or New World Stages, streaming events have no fixed capacity. You can fit as many people in your “online theater” as you want. And unlimited capacity makes recoupment charts look sooooo sweet. The upside is enormous. In one night, you can “seat” a year’s worth of traditional-theater audiences.
 
HINDRANCE: With no fixed capacity, there is no scarcity. One of the biggest drivers of ticket sales when there is a new hit show on Broadway (or a new toy at Christmas) is the limited amount of tickets. Our traditional audiences know that when a new musical has super-buzz and great reviews, they’ll have to wait for a long time to see it unless they get their tickets right away. So they JUMP when tickets go on sale.
 
The streamers? They know they can wait.
 
The good news? You WILL see an uptick in ticket sales in the last 48 hours of the event. On each one of my streamed events, I saw a massive uptick in tickets, in some cases DOUBLING the sales in the 24 hours before the event. And that is fun to watch.  (BIG TAKEAWAY – INCREASE YOUR ADVERTISING AND MARKETING IN THE LAST 48 HOURS LEADING UP TO YOUR EVENT.)
 
But the challenge is that when people wait to buy, they could wriggle off the hook.
 
It’s worth noting that one of the biggest “successes” in the past year was ‘The Present’ – which limited the number of tickets sold for each performance. It limits profit, but extends the brand. And as you’ll see below, THAT might be more profitable in the LONG term.
 
Before you drool all over the possibility of 10,000 coming to your streamed event, ask yourself, is it better if I got 100 instead?
 
 
2. Do you usually perform live? Then you MUST perform live.
 
I get it. You’re a perfectionist. You want to shoot your show, concert, reading, etc, and then edit it up and stream that.
 
Ok, it’ll work.
 
But it won’t be as exciting. And, well, that’s also what film and TV does.  And you’ll NEVER be as good as all the streamed events on Netflix. So why try?  
You’re much better off to stand out, rather than “stream” in.
 
If your pre-pandemic platform is LIVE and in front of an audience, then I encourage you to perform your stuff LIVE and in front of an e-audience.
 
The irony is, when an audience knows that something is live they are more forgiving about what they see on their screen. Taped events have higher expectations and less excitement.
 
And by NOT going live, you’re losing out on one of the most important USPs of streaming theater. (See next.)
 
3. Let ’em eat cake . . . and chat.
 
You’re streaming something into people’s homes. This is NOT the theater. People can unwrap candies as loud as they want to – and you should ENCOURAGE IT.
 
And most importantly, if they want to talk during the performance, don’t just let them . . . chat with them!!!
 
Chat features are what make online events unique. Don’t shut them down. Fire them up! Get people talking! When people talk about your event, it means they are more engaged. And, well, here’s a BIG TIP. . . watching chatter about your show will put a spotlight on who your biggest fans (aka future ticket buyers or even investors?) are.  On each of my events, we were able to identify our super fans and make sure they got the treatment they deserve (so they’d come back!).
 
Afraid that some people may not WANT to see chatter as they stream your show.  Good point. Not everyone will.  Remember, on most platforms, users can CHOOSE to turn off or hide the chat. Another idea?  Put the chat in a “second-screen room” for those who want to gab.
 
You can’t stop it. So don’t try. Use all the advantages of the platform you’re on, or don’t bother.
 
 
4. What else have you got?
 
In the traditional business world, the first thing a new company does once its first product is successful . . . is launch a second product. It’s business school 101 – anyone that has bought something from is more likely to buy something else from you.
 
Streaming can be successful on its own, for sure. But it works best when it is also marketing something else. And even if it isn’t financially successful on its own, it could STILL be worth doing because of the marketing power of the platform. Got a cast album? A live-streamed concert that gets a global audience will be more inclined to buy AFTER that event. Or join your Patreon group. Got a reading coming up? Do a live-streamed concert to get people to show up! Want to encourage licensing of your show. You get the streamed-picture.
 
Don’t stream in vacuum. Try to make it stand-on-its-own-successful, but also define your secondary goal.
(PS – an “On Demand” version sort-of counts – but what makes it different?  Stay tuned to see how we’re going to make The Shaws on-demand experience so special people who saw the first will want to buy a ticket to see it again!)
 
5. Follow the leader.
 
Here’s a typical conversation at a Broadway ad meeting.
 
“Hey! Look at how many followers we have! We’re going to have a big hit!”
 
WRONG. Just because a show has a bajillion followers doesn’t mean those folks will buy tickets. For one, only a small percent may be close enough to New York City to buy a ticket!
 
Online? There IS a correlation between a show or artist’s following and the number of tickets they will sell.
 
Does that mean if you don’t have a following yet that you shouldn’t stream?
 
No. It’s my belief that EVERY THEATERMAKER SHOULD STREAM SOMETHING.
 
It does mean that your initial audience may be smaller, so . . .
 
1 – Don’t spend as much (or anything).
2 – Develop a plan to BUILD YOUR FOLLOWING.
 
An online tribe is one of the most powerful tools a TheaterMaker can have in the new theatrical economy.  If you haven’t started building your tribe already, you must start now.
 
 
That’s five things I learned about streaming theater . . .but wait, ONE MORE!
 
BONUS #6: Tickets should be cheaper, but ALSO more expensive.
 
Because of the scarcity issue I mentioned above, it’s harder to command a higher price. The sweet spot of these events seem to be in the $20s and $30s. (When Josh Groban prices his events in that ballpark, it’s hard to push beyond.)
 
But do NOT think that this lower price is because people don’t have money, or don’t want to spend it on streamed events.
 
On all THREE of my events, we had much higher VIP package prices that included more value, from meet & greets to merch sent to their homes (I love the tactile connection for streamed events.
 
And here’s the thing, we sold a MUCH higher % of those higher priced tickets that I do on my in-person events.
 
People will pay. As long as you show them the value.  
 
Takeaway? Build 2-3 prices for your show, and give ’em something special that makes your event unique.
 
 
So there are SIX things I learned about streaming over the past three months.
 
My biggest takeaway?
 
Streaming is a successful way to monetize and market the art of a TheaterMaker.
 
And I’ll be doing a bunch more of it.
 
So stay tuned.
 
– – – – –
 
Want to learn more about streaming theater from people who know a LOT more about it than I do? Click here, and you can be up and successfully streaming your reading, concert or show in so much less time and for less money than trying to figure it out on your own
 
 
 
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Comments
  • To your first observation: I thought Actors Equity contracts limit the number of “seats” that can be sold to streaming events based on the number of seats in the (now shut down) theater building of the producer.

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