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.
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.
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