The marketing upside of streaming theatre & virtual museums (Cybercultural 6-10-2019)

BroadwayHD, a Netflix-like streaming service that offers over 300 Broadway shows on-demand, went on a PR offensive over the weekend. It was timed to coincide with the 73rd annual Tony Awards, which took place last night at Radio City Music Hall in NYC. Articles in The Washington Post, USA Today and CNET all talked up the marketing and audience development potential of streaming Broadway shows.

It reminded me of the ongoing experiments around virtual museums, where exhibitions are made available either as a 3D online experience or a full-on Virtual Reality experience on a device like the Oculus Rift.

In both cases, an event that is undoubtedly best experienced live and in person – such as a theatre show or an art exhibition – is made available as a digital experience too.

In this edition of Cybercultural, I’ll discuss both digital theatre and virtual museums; and draw some parallels from a marketing and audience perspective.

‘Netflix for theatre’ & additive experiences

From the consumer point of view, there’s no question that traveling to NYC to see a Broadway show is the optimal way to experience theatre. A digital version of a Broadway show is clearly not an equal experience. But it can be complementary.

It’s also a nice additive experience. If you’re a Broadway fan who doesn’t live in NYC, you might only get to see one or two shows a year. But on BroadwayHD, you have access to over 300 shows. Granted, BroadwayHD doesn’t yet offer streaming of current Broadway shows – other than some classic shows that have been running for years (like Phantom of the Opera).

However, the number of shows available for streaming is only going to grow. The two founders of BroadwayHD, Bonnie Comley and Stewart Lane, are Broadway producers who have won multiple Tony awards in the past. According to The Washington Post:

“After creating the service six years ago, Comley and Lane have recently been ramping it up. For a monthly price of $8.99, BroadwayHD now offers more than 300 shows and 750 hours of programming, available on a variety of digital platforms including Roku and Google Play. As many as 10 new shows are being added each month.”

From the point of view of theatre companies, digital versions of their shows are an excellent marketing tool and a way to expand audience.

The founders of BroadwayHD told the Post that their company “is a godsend for a terrestrial industry — both a marketing tool for faraway audiences and a viable business.”

Not to mention a good way to target younger, digital-native audiences, such as millennials.

Broadway producer Ken Davenport compared streaming to the cast album, another complementary (and increasingly digital) product that helps promote a show. He told the Post that the “marketing upside” to streaming is too high to ignore:

“The math, he says, is simple. In an age when video flies around the globe with the speed of a Road Runner GIF, limiting your business to a few blocks in midtown Manhattan is folly.”

Following up on that point, co-founder Bonnie Comley told USA Today that streaming will become “standard procedure in the marketing toolkit for a show, just like the audio cast recording of a musical.”

Although for it to be effective as marketing, the production quality needs to be top notch. According to CNET, BroadwayHD has that covered too:

“These aren’t the out-of-focus iPhone recordings of your nephew’s fifth-grade talent show. BroadwayHD specializes in live captures of high-end theatrical productions with HD or 4K cameras and the same audio that feeds into a theater’s soundboard.”

Marketing + archiving for virtual museums

Let’s now look at another “terrestrial industry” – museums and galleries.

A recent article in The Irish Times asked the following question:

“Could virtual reality be the future of art exhibitions?”

The article focuses on a Silicon Valley company called Cappasity, a startup that claims it’s “on a mission to make 3D, AR & VR experiences accessible for everyone, everywhere.”

Cappasity has initially partnered with the New York Academy of Art to make a sculpture exhibition available online and as a VR experience. The latter is currently only available as a “basic demo” on Steam, a VR developer platform.

But if you visit the NYAA’s website, you can view a group of sculptures as 3D images – which you can turn around for a 360 degree view.

Cappasity’s founder, Kosta Popov, told The Irish Times:

“The partnership between Cappasity and the New York Academy of Art began with a shared conviction that fast and qualitative production of virtual museums, galleries, and exhibitions is possible. The experience was meant to help convert online visitors into physical ones.”

So once again, it seems, the main goal is marketing and audience development.

Although perhaps just as important for museums and galleries is archiving. The article notes that Cappasity’s technology could enable museums and galleries to create digital archives of their exhibitions. Said Popov:

“We provide a platform that allows an owner/organiser of an exhibition to create a digital copy and embed it into websites, mobile applications, and AR/VR. If they want to showcase the digitised versions of past shows, they can certainly do that.”

Virtual museums have been a promising development ever since the latest wave of VR hype started (around when Facebook bought Oculus in March 2014, more than five years ago). But, in large part because VR itself has been slow to take off, virtual museums have been just a technological curiosity up till now. It remains to be seen whether Cappasity can change that.


Obviously for both theatre and art exhibitions, you can’t beat being there and experiencing it in person. Even the Silicon Valley startup, Cappasity, acknowledges this (in the recent past, there was a tendency for such startups to claim to offer a superior experience – but to its credit, Cappasity doesn’t do that).

The reality is though, it’s not always possible or affordable to travel to the cultural capitals of our world. That’s where digital technology comes in. Although it’s clear from the above two stories that streaming is a more mature consumer technology than VR, since BroadwayHD is much more advanced in its market than Cappasity.

Either way, both examples show that digital versions of theatre and art experiences are a compelling marketing tool and can help expand audience.

Tracking 👀

  • Barnes & Noble sold to hedge fund that also owns UK’s Waterstones; interesting because in recent years Waterstones has had success with its strategy of “allowing individual Waterstones booksellers to tailor each store to the needs and interests of its community.” i.e. just like independent bookstores. 📚

  • Details emerge of a new and much-hyped short-form video company called Quibi: “Each series is expected to be two to four hours in length, with each one divided into segments that will be no longer than 10 minutes each.” 📹

  • Popular podcaster Tim Ferris ditches sponsorship for subscriptions; “Subscription options range from $9.95/month to $1,000/month.” 🎧

  • Buzzfeed Studios making changes to its strategy; “CEO Jonah Peretti said the company will harness its digital acumen with shows that highlight interactivity, social media, and livestreaming.” 📱

  • From Licensing Expo 2019: “publishers continue to look for new types of properties beyond films and traditional TV shows—notably streaming content and content produced by YouTubers.” 📚

Data Points 📊

  • PwC 2019-2023 forecast: SVOD revenue to rise 64% to $24B annually, revenue for cable/satellite TV will fall 16% to $84B, TV advertising to stay flat at $72B 📺

  • Entertainment and Tech Attorney Karl Fowlkes provides an excellent breakdown of streaming revenues for musicians. Guess who provides the least? Yes, YouTube. 🎹

  • In 2019 US consumers will, for the first time, spend more time using their mobile devices than watching TV. 📱

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