BROADWAY’S RECOVERY PART II: 3 Reasons Broadway Will Bounce Back . . . FAST.

Yesterday, I postulated that Broadway will come back fast and strong . . . whenever the @#$% we actually come back.

If that sounds like I’m frustrated, it’s because I @#$%ing am.

I mean, Broadway was booming like never before when COVID reared her ugly invisible head.  And not only will the theater be one of the last industries to return to full operation, but it has more hurdles than many of the other industries struggling to get back on their feet.  (I’ve actually said to myself a few times, “Why couldn’t I have fallen in love with making movies instead?”  FYI, right after I said that, I made my wife punch me in the face, so I’m fine now.)

All that said, I not only believe we’ll bounce back . . . but as I said (and drew!) yesterday, I believe we’re going to have a very swift comeback story . . . a story so good that it might be worthy of a musical itself.

Why am I so bullish?

Well, just like you, I’m pretty damn frustrated with how long we’ve been down.

But the fact is . . . the longer we are out, the stronger we’ll be when we return.

That’s right . . . #LongerIsStronger.

Here are three reasons why I believe we’re gonna bounce back fast:

1. We can watch the rest of the world.

As NYC remains on lockdown, other cities, states, and countries are loosening their lockdowns.  And we’ve got a front-row seat for their “opening night.”  We’re able to watch what works.  We’ll see what doesn’t.  We’ll learn from shows in Seoul, churches in Texas, and other gatherings all over the world.  It’s like a movie, where there’s a group of people staring into a dark cave . . . and we get to insist everyone else goes first.

Not only will this education assist us in making our shows the safest they can possibly be for audiences and for our employees, but as people gather around the world, they’ll start to become more comfortable with the thought . . . so seeing a show won’t be the first time they are in a group with others who they don’t know.

2. Making our audience wait, makes them hungrier.

While I’m concerned that we’ve got a “habit-problem” to address with our avids, our delayed return is also creating pent up demand for live entertainment.  Streaming can only go so far to satisfy our craving.

Scarcity of a product can make people want it even more (provided you stoke that scarcity with marketing – which the smart folks at the Broadway League are already doing with great skill, and they’ve only just begun).

How many of you have been drooling for a Starbucks?  Or just to sit in a Starbucks?  Same thing . . . but oh so much better.  Or remember how frustrating it was to wait for Game of Thrones to return?  People were legit angry . . . and they tuned in anyway.  When we return, Theater Fans are going to want to be at that first night of theatergoing more than any other place in the country world.

Which that brings me to . . .

3. We’re a word of mouth industry.

This is the big one.  See, by waiting longer, whether that’s September or later, we’re making sure that we can come back when we can fill our theaters, and ensure everyone the communal captivating experience that they want from a Broadway show. And that first night back is going to be one of the most thrilling in the theater’s history.

Can you imagine it?  Think for a moment . . . the curtain going up for the first time . . . and Rob McClure from Mrs. Doubtfire stepping on stage . . . or the wives from Six . . . or Evan from DEH or the ensemble from Hamilton . . . you can hear the ovation now, can’t you?

Now think about that . . . for fifteen minutes.  Because it will still be going on that long.

There will be tears.  And cheers.  And standing.  And many an actor breaking the fourth wall in the best way, and probably breaking down.

Have the chills yet?

It’s going to be magical.

And remember, we’re a word of mouth industry.

And everyone who is in a theater that night is going to tell EVERYONE they know they were there.  And that it was sensational.  And they felt safe.  And that they are healthy.

And that word will spread faster than a virus can.   (And imagine the press attention!)

And those people will want to be in a theater too.  They’ll want to experience that same joy.  That same thrill.

And they will.  We may not sell premium tickets like we did.  But we sell lots of tickets.

 

And that’s why the industry will bounce back and fast.

Because it’s a primal need to gather in groups and hear a great story told from master storytellers.

And by staying out longer, we’re guaranteeing our fans that we’ll be able to get back to the Broadway they know and love, rather than a streamin’ substitution.

So as much as I am drooling to get in a theater tomorrow, I can wait as long as it takes, because I know . . .

#LongerIsStronger

And I just can’t stop thinking about that first night.  I wonder what show I’ll see.  What show will you want to see that night?

Kind of makes you want to buy tickets now, doesn’t it?

🙂


TONIGHT ON THE LIVESTREAM: I’m sitting down with Playwright and Bookwriter Lisa Kron (Fun Home & Well) at 8pm EDT. We also invited Youtube Sensations Mat and Savanna Shaw to be the Special Guests. You can now watch on my Facebook page or Twitter, on Broadway Podcast Network’s Youtube channel, or Broadway On Demand.

BROADWAY’S RECOVERY PART I: What Will It Look Like?

Since the pandemic began, Economists have been obsessing about how quickly the economy is going to bounce back after this sucker is over (or . . . over “enough.”)

Will we have a “V” shaped recovery?  Or a “U” shaped?  Or my favorite . . . a Nike Swoosh shape?

Since the pandemic began, Broadway Producers (including the one composing this hypothesis right now) have been obsessing about how quickly Broadway is going to bounce back.

My prediction . . .

Broadway is going to bounce back . . . and fast.

What’s unique about our industry is that it doesn’t follow any of the typical shapes of recovery because we went from 100 mph to zero in NO seconds flat.  We were grossing $30 million a week on Broadway alone . . . and then we were zero dollars the next week.  We slammed into a COVID-19 wall.

Even restaurants have take-out options.  Bands that can’t give concerts can sell albums.  Broadway shows?  We got nothing.  (Hint for next time – and there will be a next time, as I’ll talk about next week  –  all shows should be captured for potential streaming opportunities.)

So if I had to give our recovery a shape, I guess it would look something like this . . .

(FYI, I spent about an hour trying to figure out what to call that shape.  I tried everything from “Deformed Bucket Recovery” to “The Fishing Hook Recovery” . . . what would you call it?)

You can see that we had that immediate wall-smacking drop off on 3/12 . . . and of course, an immediate and completely 90% vertical BLAST OFF when(ever) our curtains go back up.

Now, the more interesting part . . . what happens AFTER that straight-into-the-sky return.  Well, you’ll see that I’m not predicting we’re going to start grossing $30mm a week like we were when we shut down.  For one, there will probably be fewer shows, which means less of a gross potential, never mind fewer tourists to see those shows.  (PS – That diagram above is definitely NOT to scale)

So we’re going to start off earning less than when we were.

How much less?

That depends on what I call The Three Ts:

  1. Testing
  2. Treatment
  3. TIME (How many weeks/months do we have from knowing when we can come back to the actual day we come back.)

Nevertheless, I do believe we will see a quick upward trajectory after we return.  (The stock market is having that sort of bounce – and believe it or not, we do tend to follow the dow’s chart, as I showed here.)

But my belief in a quick Broadway bounce back is not some hunch.  I have THREE reasons why I think we’re in store for a quick recovery.

What are they?

I’ll tell you tomorrow in PART II!

– – – – –

(Can’t wait to read PART II?  Want it now?  I already wrote it.  Click here to get it to emailed to you NOW.)









Tonight on the Livestream: I’m sitting down with Lynn Ahrens (Lyricist of Once On This Island, Ragtime, Anastasia) at 8pm EDT. You can now watch on my Facebook pageTwitter, Broadway Podcast Network’s Youtube channel, or Broadway On Demand.

Forget Broadway shows, what about Broadway readings, workshops, and more?

Over the last several months (!), the #1 question for the professionals working on Broadway and the avid fans of the best spectator art on the planet has been . . . “When can we see a show in a theater again?”

But there is another important question to be asked and it isn’t about what will be on Broadway when the lights go back on . . . rather what might fill Broadway theaters in the months and years after!

The best business people I know don’t focus only on what’s happening today . . . but they think about what is going to happen tomorrow.  That’s their job.  This is why stocks of companies that are losing millions of dollars can have exceptionally high values, because investors are betting on what WILL happen, not what is going to happen.

That’s why a company or industry’s health isn’t only measured on what product is being “produced” today (whether that’s diapers, drugs, or Broadway musicals), but what new product(s) are in the pipeline.

Broadway has had a pipeline so full over the last few years that it has been clogged with product.  I heard a rumor that before this whole corona-bologna happened, there were more than 30 (!) plays and musicals looking for a theater on Broadway this spring alone!

Will there be the same log jam now?  Will more theaters be available?

And if there are . . . my question is . . . will there be new plays and musicals ready to fill them?

See, Broadway shows aren’t the only things that are shut down.  So are readings, workshops, labs, and all the development work that goes into the creation of a new piece of theater.  I had four musicals that were set to debut in the next 18 months in February.  I still have four musicals set to debut . . . but they’ve all been pushed back. Not only because we can’t produce theater right now . . . but also because we can’t develop theater.

So the question so many Producers have been asking is . . . where will readings and workshops fit in the phased-reopening of New York City?

I keep thinking that a rehearsal of a reasonably sized musical would be similar to a medium-sized office reopening.  So will we be able to come back when mid-sized companies do?  Then again, there’s often singing involved in our readings.  And also . . . what if we wanted to bring in an audience?  That seems like a no-no.  I guess we could socially distance a reading.  Or work with smaller cast sizes (just work with principals, etc.).

Zoom readings and online development work can only go so far in a medium like the theater.  So while we certainly can’t commence this work tomorrow, I’m hoping that development can find a safe way to come back before our productions do.

Otherwise, we might have an empty pipeline . . . which would mean empty theaters.

– – – – –

Want to hear about what’s in our pipeline?  Click here to learn about the shows we’re developing.

P.S. And if you’re looking to hear directly from people in our industry share what they’re doing to keep creating during this time, tune into my Facebook page every night at 8pm EDT. Tonight, I’m going LIVE with Tony Award-winning Director, Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys, Ain’t Too Proud).

 

 

[Rant Alert] We’d be better off right now if we had only done this.

WARNING:  What follows is somewhat of a rant.

But please know this rant is directed at me too.  For I believe the things that we don’t get in our lives are no one’s fault but our own.  Blame the person in the mirror.  Because that is the only person you can control.

So here’s the thing . . .

Right now there are thousands of Actors, Stagehands, Writers, Designers, and all disciplines of TheaterMakers out of work.  They’ve got no money coming in.  Zero.

And with yesterday’s announcement that Broadway is out for another . . . well . . .  several months at the very least . . . things are going to get tough for a lot of those artists and fast.  My biggest fear is that many will have to give up on their careers in the theater.  It’s already hard enough to get a job . . . but what if there are fewer jobs?

I’ve got the same worry about our TheaterGoers too . . . just in a different way.  As I wrote last week (in what has become one of my most read posts EVER), the theatergoing “habit” for our audience has been broken . . . so we run the risk of our audience retiring as well.

Scary times, right?

But it could have been less scary.

See, the challenge for the economic model on Broadway is that its revenue streams are limited.  We’re all about getting butts in seats and the best price.  And that’s just about it.  And shoot, even when we can get audiences to show up, there are few ancillary forms of revenue (we don’t get any of that bar revenue, or ticketing fees, etc.).

The most successful businesses have multiple streams of income . . . not only does this generate higher profits when things are good, but when there is a crisis, you’re not solely reliant on one source of revenue.

Like we are now.

Ok, here comes the rant part.

One of the biggest, ‘virtually’ untapped resource for an additional revenue stream for Actors, Designers, Investors, Stagehands, and everyone who works on a show . . . is, well, a literal revenue stream.

Streaming.

This is a big “duh,” now . . . since there are bazillion Broadway streaming events going on every single night during the crisis.  We’ve got livestreams like mine, virtual Mother’s Day concerts, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shows, and so many more a whole website was created to curate them!

But no one is paying their rent or their groceries because of ’em.

When Broadway was shut down I got about 147 emails from folks saying, “Ken!  What can we do to stream Broadway shows?!?!?”

That’s when I knew we @#$%ed up.  And big time.

This is when I really point this rant at myself.  Because I should have known that streaming wasn’t only important to our industry, but that one day it would become necessary.

See, I livestreamed Daddy Long Legs, back in 2015 and got over 150k people from 135 countries to tune in . . . with zero marketing . . . and NOT during a pandemic.  (You can see it now, here, by the way.)

But streaming that show was expensive and contractually cumbersome.  And every time I investigated doing the same things on other shows . . . especially big Broadway shows . . . the numbers just didn’t add up.  Producers were forced to spend way too much money upfront to have a realistic shot at recouping that cash.

And it’s hard for a show that’s struggling to build a NY audience to invest additional money in something that could be years away.  (It’s easy for Hamilton to do . . . . which obviously paid off.)

So I stopped pushing a new video-capture model for running shows.  And other folks in the biz stopped pushing it as well.  There were a few shows that popped up on a screen here or there, and there is, of course, BroadwayHD.  (But if you’ll notice – the majority of their titles are NOT Broadway titles – but London titles – where the rules and economics make more sense, or Off-Broadway, non-profits, or “others.”)

And the fact is . . . if I had pushed harder for a new model . . . had we all pushed harder . . . there could be dollars being earned by EVERYONE involved with Broadway shows over the past decade RIGHT NOW.

Shame on us.

See, you can’t wait for a crisis to come to have an epiphany.  You don’t start eating better when you have a heart attack.  You do it years before.

Instead, we just never thought we’d need this content.

So we didn’t do anything serious about it.

Bad on us.

Maybe we can now.

And it’s easy.

See, the problem with the model right now is that we pay an extraordinary amount of money to capture a production on video. . . even though filming that production may not require any additional work from everyone involved (they just do their usual show), and even though that content may never be monetized.  We’re paying a ton of money for an option to monetize it . . . and that monetization model is also extraordinarily high risk.

Why not allow all shows to be shot, and archived, for a minimum amount of money (if any), and then have the payments made if/when the shows are released.

Imagine what we could be giving to our TheaterGoers and our Artists right now.  (Hamilton is about to keep their buzz going big time when they release their movie on Disney+ in July.)

I call this the “Save The Stream For A Rainy Day” concept.

If the capture is used, the Producer pays.  If not, the Producer doesn’t.

And then . . . to fix the monetization of the content model, why not cut all the artists involved in a much bigger portion of profits rather than getting a flat payment, which would allow the unions and Authors to get “Bonanza Insurance” in case something really blows up online.  (Or give the Producer a choice – pay a high upfront fee on release or a bigger royalty cut.)

There is a way to figure it out and provide for another revenue stream that everyone in our industry desperately needed before all this happened.

And now?  Scheez.  I’m literally kicking myself.  K-I-C-K-I-N-G M-Y-S-E-L-F!

Ok, rant over . . . no more talking about what happened.

Now we just need to make something new happen.

– – – – –

You can see Daddy Long Legs for free here now, AND get this . . . I’m reuniting that cast on my livestream at 8 PM on May 21st!  Click here for more.

 

Broadway’s return isn’t about marketing. It’s about habit-ing.

While we don’t exactly know when we’ll be able to ‘light the lights’ on Broadway just yet . . . there’s already been a lot of discussion about how to get our audiences’ butts back in our non-socially-distanced seats.

“What do we say to our audiences?”  “When and where do we say it?”  “What incentive or offer do we need to provide?”

These are all classic marketing questions whenever you bring a product to market . . . but no one on Broadway could ever have imagined we’d have to ask them to figure out how we bring our product back to market.

All of these questions need answers, and I have it on very good authority (cuz I’ve seen the plans myself) that some of the brightest advertising and marketing minds on Broadway EVER are working on this challenge just as hard as the scientists all over the world are working on a vaccine.

And they’re going to crack it.  And I’m sure we’ll see a fantastic return to Broadway campaign . . . as soon as we know when Broadway is going to return.

That said, to return to the record breakin’ levels Broadway was pre-Covid, and to grow beyond them, we’re going to be required to be more than marketers . . . we’re going to need to be habit-makers.

Stick with me here . . .

If you’ve ever tried to make a change in your life . . . exercise more, eat healthily, stop smoking, etc., then you know, that kind of change is haaaaard.

That’s because what you’re doing is trying to create a brand new habit in your life.

And that’s like trying to turn the Titanic.

You’re set in your ways.  You are “at rest.”  And just like Newton taught us, “an object at rest tends to stay at rest.”

Of course, it’s not impossible.  You can get to the gym, change your diet, drop your golf handicap, whatever you want . . . it just takes a lot of effort . . . and time.

How much time?

Well, there are all sorts of theories on how long it takes to create a habit. Some say 21 days.  Some say 30 days.  Some say months . . .

One of the best books I’ve read that had a huge habit-making impact on my personal and professional life is Atomic Habits by James Clear.  In it, James suggests it takes about two months to create an automatic habit (like getting up early, writing every day, etc.).

And here’s the problem that is related to theatergoing . . . the moment you skip a workout, binge on some Oreos instead of almonds, etc., the harder it is to get back on track.  Especially if that habit is expensive and time-consuming.  You’ve probably experienced this yourself, right?

Now, what does this have to do with the price of a Broadway ticket in a pandemic?

For the core Broadway theatergoer . . . going to Broadway is a habit.   Some have a once once a month habit.   Others 4x a year.  But however often they go . . . it’s a habit.

And that habit was just broken.  Big time.

To put it in terms we can all understand . . . We’re not just skipping going to the gym.  The gym was shut down entirely.

Pretty easy to just sit on your couch and not sweat, am I right?

And, when this sort of thing happens, it’s not only that old habits are broken.  It’s that new ones are created.  And those new habits are usually whatever is readily available and easy (enter the couch and the Oreos).  And right now, that might be, oh, I don’t know, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime . . . YouTube!  (Don’t get me started on why theater and Broadway isn’t more available on streaming platforms . . . actually DO get me started! I’ll just save it for a blog next week.)

If all this wasn’t enough, the longer that time goes by before we try to restore a broken habit, the harder it is to get it back again.

An object at rest tends to stay at rest.

So, to sum up . . .

For the average theatergoer, the habit of going to the theater is broken.  And new habits are taking its place.  And these new habits grow stronger every day, as the old habit of going to the theater grow weaker.

We’re not the only industry that this is happening to, of course.  People are creating new habits of cooking, and breaking habits of going out (this survey says half of the people who are cooking more will continue that habit.)  People can’t go to the gym, so they’re exercising at home, or not.

And these new habits will affect the rebound of the restaurant industry and the gym.

In any business, making your product a habit with the most amount of people possible is what makes your product a smash hit.  Checking your Facebook page, your morning Starbucks, Googling something every time you need an answer . . . habits are why these companies are billion-dollar empires.

Our job now is not just to market Broadway, but we must come up with ways to restore the theatergoing habit to the people who have lost it.

How do we do it?  Good question.

Good news/bad news?  We probably have a bit of time to figure it out.

So tell me, how would you put the habit of going to the theater back into the lifestyle of our audience?

Throw some ideas in the comments below and I’ll do a follow-up blog with some ideas in the next few weeks.

(Oh, and I meant it about that streaming blog . . . expect a rant coming soon to this space.)

 

———————–
P.S. Join me and my guest tonight as we go LIVE on my Facebook page. I’m thrilled to be sitting down with Julie Halston (Tootsie, On The Town, Hairspray) at 8pm EDT here.

 

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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