Two new companies launch with aim to broadcast live theater performances

Jennifer Maloney, The Wall Street Journal, 2/13/12

The success of the Metropolitan Opera's HD broadcasts in cinemas around the world has some New York theater producers seeking similar returns. A new company, Broadway Near You, plans to produce 3-5 theater broadcasts this year, and to develop a subscription series for viewers across the country and abroad. And a Brooklyn-based company, BY Experience -- which distributes broadcasts for the Met and the National Theatre in London, and last year produced a broadcast for the Roundabout Theatre -- is working on three more U.S. theater productions this year. Boosters hope the broadcasts will expand audiences and generate more income for everyone involved in theater production, from playwright to stagehand. Some do fear that theater audiences will be cannibalized, but those concerns are subsiding, as producers and unions have begun to embrace the concept. Actor's Equity in December ratified a Broadway contract that for the first time includes terms for cinematic broadcasts. The first theater company to fully embrace the Met's model was the National. Subsidized with government funding, NT Live began in 2009. This season, six shows will reach 700 venues in 22 countries. The company decided to offer its theater audience a reduced price for filmed performances, giving the production team freedom to place cameras prominently. At a broadcast of a new play, "Travelling Light," presented [in] New York, close-ups of the actors showed the tears in their eyes and the sweat on their cheeks. At the play's end, many in the New York audience applauded. "This was amazing because it played like theater," Beverly Silberstang said afterward. "Did you feel that at moments...," her friend, Corinne Weinman, began. "That we were in the play!" Ms. Silberstang finished.


Commentary: Small arts companies can make live streaming work for them

Chris Mellor, The Guardian's [UK] Culture Professionals Network blog, 12/16/11

Small scale theatrical productions can make live video streaming work for them at the box office. It might seem a big ask right now when even producing a trailer is a triumph for many. But fringe producers and venue managers need to get their acts together. Do audiences want online theatre? Yes, on the evidence of a project conducted for the 2011 Camden Fringe Festival, run in partnership with technology provider Ipercast. The project involved the streaming of 18 performances from the festival -- plays, dance and comedy -- which pulled in an average audience of 500 viewers per show. What's more, research suggested between 5% and 7% of audiences were willing to pay for such content. Streamed theatre is still an underdeveloped (for some, unknown) tool and most producers are yet to grasp its full potential. But at a time when it can be difficult to fill venues, it represents a new way of helping the box office pull in additional revenue. There's more to successful streaming than merely producing and distributing theatrical content. Producers need to learn how to engage better with audiences online to get the full benefits of the medium. The fact that streamed theatre is in its infancy makes it particularly exciting. It can be full of raw elements producers can turn to their advantage. They certainly shouldn't worry too much about coming up with a slick programme - if they make content with passion, it will be watchable.


Commentary: To live-stream or not to live-stream, that is the question

Sheetal Lodhia,, 1/31/12

Hamlet Live is both a live performance of Hamlet and a live stream of the play for those who are unable to attend in person. I admire the ambition of this undertaking: to be the most watched Hamlet in history (on account of the delivery method). A live stream event is groundbreaking in and of itself for small-scale productions, the likes of which we only see at movie theatres. But my praise ends here. Although I saw an early version (and thus later versions will have technical glitches solved), I much preferred the in-person [version]. While the play purports to take place in 2080 in a post-apocalyptic world, little in the production conveys a sense of futurity, except for the pre-recorded portions of the play (interludes, the dumbshow, Hamlet's messages, ghosts and Fortinbras' entrance). In person, there is so much more available to the eye...features totally lost in the livestream. The budget for this production was tight, with Ryerson [University] providing the lion's share of support, both in-kind and monetary; all the actors are part of an equity co-op (each gets a share of the profits after costs are recovered). It's clear that most of the money went towards the very impressive and slick marketing of the production.


DSO says it set national webcast record with 'Live from Orchestra Hall' series

Associated Press, 2/11/12

The Detroit symphony has set what it believes is a record for the most viewers of a live, online performance by a U.S. symphonic group. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra said Saturday a Friday performance of Rachmaninoff's "Symphonic Dances" drew about 15,000 viewers. New York-based digital media expert Vince Ford told the orchestra live webcasts by other ensembles get about 10,000 viewers. Detroit symphony officials say about 50,000 people have listened to its webcasts since they started 10 months ago. They credit the recent increase in viewers to partnerships with Russian classical music platform ParaClassics and Detroit Public Television. The concert was simulcast on ParaClassics' website. The symphony's executive producer of digital media, Scott Harrison, says its goal is to be "the most accessible orchestra on the planet."


Streaming of Paul McCartney concert tests the waters on live Apple TV viewership

Jacqui Cheng,, 2/9/12

Apple may indeed be using the Apple TV to test the live broadcasting waters, as evidenced by its recent decision to stream Paul McCartney's live performance this [past] Thursday both on iTunes (for Mac and PC) as well as the Apple TV -- the first livestream of its kind for Apple's set-top box. This isn't the first time Apple has streamed live (usually music-related) content via iTunes, but it will be the highest-profile and the first available to Apple TV users. The company is not charging for the stream -- it will be free to help boost the profile of McCartney's recent album release, Kisses on the Bottom-and [is] viewable via the Apple TV's "Internet" menu under "iTunes Live." The reason this is significant is because of long-standing rumors that Apple is looking for ways to challenge traditional TV delivery methods, like cable and satellite. There has been buzz that Apple might try to launch its own TV subscription service, while others (myself included) believe Apple is more likely to begin allowing third-parties to create "apps" for the Apple TV that will let them stream their own live content with ads. Apple will undoubtedly be watching its viewer numbers during the McCartney concert, and if it sees anything encouraging coming from Apple TV viewers, it may be able to use those statistics to woo more content producers to give it a shot as well.

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