Dreaming About The Future Of Streaming (thanks to Hamilton).

Oh, if all of my shows could be like Hamilton.

Sure, sure, I’d like the Pulitzer and the Tonys and the billion bucks.

But what I’m talking about now is the giant treasure they had tucked in a vault . . . that they pulled out in the midst of this pandemic.

Yep, I’m talking about the movie they released on Disney+ last week that increased downloads of the D+ app by 74%!

And what I’m dreaming about and proposing for Broadway’s future is that every single play and musical on Broadway films performances of their original cast in the week after opening (just like we record a cast album at about the same time).

And we tuck that sucker away in a vault.

Sounds easy, and I bet you’re nodding your head right now in agreement.

But it’s not that easy.

It’s expensive.

See, Hamilton could afford it. Not only did they have cash to burn, but they also knew there would be a market for their product in the future. (Little did they know what role the movie would play in keeping their brand and Broadway’s brand alive.)

Most plays and musicals do NOT have cash to burn when they open. In fact, most new shows are losing money when they open and therefore can’t afford to invest in a risky insurance policy like spending millions on a shoot.

Never mind that the shoot would have had to be planned months before. (We could try to build this cost into the capitalization, but that might increase the budget by 10-20%, and it’s not like raising previous budgets were a piece of cake.)

So what to do?

In order to capture all of the new shows for posterity and for future revenue opportunities for everyone, including the actors, musicians, and stagehands, we must lower the costs of the capture themselves.

I mean, I’m kicking myself for not having ALL of my shows in a vault right now. I could roll them out and everyone involved would get a check.

But it was too pricey to record Spring Awakening, Once on This Island, Gettin’ the Band Back Together, etc. (And I know that for a fact because I budgeted them all.)

We must reinvent this model in how the labor is paid for video capture (especially since a capture doesn’t require any additional work on behalf of the labor) and then give the labor MORE if/when the capture is distributed.

Think about it this way . . .

It costs a few hundred thousand dollars to record a cast album. And the cast/musicians have to spend a day in a studio, on their day off, recording it. It’s a lot of work. (And most cast albums aren’t making any money, btw).

It can cost 10x as much to capture a show on video. And the labor is paid more than they get for a cast album. . . even though no additional work is required.  For video shoots, the show could be recorded during a regularly scheduled performance (or several).  (If any additional work was required for the shoot – additional rehearsals, etc, then the labor should be paid).

If we lower the cost of capture (please note that I’m saying lower, not eliminate), then every show could put their product in a vault. And then, if the show is a hit and Disney+ or Netflix comes around, then EVERYONE gets paid.

Or give the Producer the option . . . pay the Hamilton model, or pay the bonus-back-end model.

We’re going to need a lot of new models post-pandemic. This is one that could provide an all-important revenue stream for everyone in the future.

Call it COVID-insurance.

And I just kicked myself again for not having it.

– – – –

Want to hear more about streaming from people who know more about it than me?  Sign up now for our 3 part video series about the 3 subjects most on your mind, including streaming . . . featuring the heads of BroadwayWorld and BroadayOnDemand.  See here.

[Update] What You Told Us Were Your Top 3 Concerns About TheaterMaking.

A few blogs ago I announced that we’d be taking our Fall conference virtual this year and asked you for a favor – to tell us what two burning questions you had about creating theater in the new world.

We got hundreds and hundreds of very passionate responses (I’m not surprised).  And there were three subjects that were far and away the most important to you TheaterMakers out there right now.

And I was also not surprised to see what they were.

Can you guess?

(I’ll wait while you do . . . go on, guess, and then scroll down.)

– – – – –

– – – – –

– – – – –

– – – – –

– – – – –

– – – – –

– – – – –

– – – – –

The three issues about TheaterMaking in the new world that are top of your mind are:

1. SAFETY. How can we ensure the safety of audiences, actors, and creators going back into theaters?

2. EQUALITY. How do we raise the voices of people of color and other underrepresented minorities not only on stage, but behind the table and in the offices where decisions are made?

3. STREAMING. How can we create a sustainable business model to be able to stream shows worldwide?

 

How’d you do?  Guess them all?

I can’t thank you enough for filling out that survey and for helping us understand what is on your minds so we can make sure that we curate our conference accordingly and feature these three issues (and many more) in our content line-up.

But it was also clear to me from the overwhelming majority of people who mentioned the three subjects above that we shouldn’t wait until November to start conversations about these important issues now.

So, I asked my staffers at The TheaterMakers Studio to develop a 3-part video interview series with an expert on each of the subjects above.

If you’d like access to this special (and free) video series, click here to sign up.

The videos will be released starting on July 7th and will only be available to those who request access – because I don’t want to send you more emails than we already do.  🙂

I look forward to jumpstarting these conversations now, so we can jumpstart the action to improve TheaterMaking for all of us.

Sign up here.

 

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!

– – – – –









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.

[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.

 

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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