To Livestream or To Die

June 20, 2016 AudienceView Staff


via Joan Marcus

The first Broadway performance to ever get the livestream treatment was recently revealed to be the Roundabout Theater Company’s revival of “She Loves Me,” which will be streamed exclusively via BroadwayHD. This is a historical move for the industry, as it moves into a Netflix model with its older shows. Could the future of theater be positively impacted by the introduction of live-streaming, or does this mark the beginning of the end for performing arts?

Now that going out to see a show at the theater no longer emphasizes the “going out” aspect, critics are worried that this new model will remove important aspects from the theater experience. After all, why would fans of a performance bother to dress up and go out to see a play when they can enjoy it from the comfort of their couch? However, it is only by adapting to this new technology that the world of performing arts can hope to cultivate a new and younger audience for future years.

“She Loves Me” may be the first Broadway show to receive digital distribution, but the play itself has been around since 1963. Making it available digitally 50 years after it was first performed means that there’s little risk in cannibalizing the audience. In fact, this could serve as a way to introduce a new crowd to an important piece in the canon of theater. Making this performance available digitally is a low barrier way for a viewer to become a new fan of a play, which could potentially lead to them becoming a fan of the theater for years to come.

Regardless of how widely available a theater performance becomes, there’s no substitute for seeing it live, in a theater, surrounded by like-minded individuals. Blockbuster successes in recent years, both with fresh plays like “Hamilton” and with adaptations like “Harry Potter And The Cursed Child,” show that the public’s thirst for theater is still very much alive. Leaving something to the imagination and not livestreaming every little thing is a surefire way to build mystique around your event, not unlike the way Los Angeles music festival Coachella does it by online streaming one weekend of their two weekend long party. Similarly, live streaming can be a way to democratize information that could be widely useful while still keeping it gated, like how Canada’s broadcasting company plans to livestream the last concert from the nationally beloved The Tragically Hip after the concert was sold out in seconds.

The playing field for how theater can take advantage of technology is untested and full of potential lessons. But the only way to find out all of the ways your organization can thrive in the space is to experiment, and the only way you can do that is by shedding fear. 

Take-Away:

  • Livestreaming old shows could be a way to attract new fans
  • Pick the right shows to not cannibalize your guests
  • Leave something to the imagination to build mystique
  • Treat live streaming like a public service
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