Broadway…at the Movies?

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Movie Camera cartoonBroadway theatre in New York City, like other segments of the U.S. performing arts industry, competes for audiences against an increasing variety of at-home, on-demand entertainment options. How well Broadway adapts to these challenges will influence its future success.

More Shows, Less Audience. According to Broadway League statistics, the 2012-13 season saw the highest number of productions opening (46) in the past 29 Broadway seasons, dating back to 1984-85. However, those productions entertained the smallest audience (11.57 million) since 2002-03.

Younger Crowds. The 16th annual audience demographics report by the Broadway League found that theatregoers in the 18-24 age group represented 14 percent of all admissions, the highest percentage in the history of its analysis. Overall, the average Broadway attendee was 42.5 years old, slightly younger than the past few seasons.

Shorter Attention Spans = Shorter Shows? A hallmark of today’s younger generation is an affection for multi-tasking and shorter attention spans. (Wait! Is that my ringtone?) Of course, this characterization describes both the theatre audience and the folks creating theatre. (Hold on while I answer this text!) Last month the New York Times described a growing number of “short-burst [cultural] offerings that slip smoothly into even the tightest leisure-hour schedule.”

Freeing Up Time. The NYT reporter, William Grimes, sampled numerous performances across New York City – theatre, music and dance – all spanning 90 minutes or less. He wrote: “Short art frees up precious time…Scheduling becomes easier, and the workweek less of a barrier, if you can make it home by 10.”

Going to the Movies? Greater variety and shorter shows are just two ways Broadway productions continue to fight for audience attention. Perhaps Broadway should follow the lead of The Metropolitan Opera, which started its successful “Live in HD” program in 2006. Met operas now stream to 1,900 movie theaters in 64 countries – from Albania to Uruguay – and reach an estimated 3 million people.

Broadening Audience. By broadcasting some of its shows via movie theatres, Broadway could expand its audience within NYC and across the world. Tourists accounted for two-thirds of all Broadway tickets sold last season; international visitors comprised 23 percent. The lower prices for remote broadcasts would also attract folks who might have “sticker shock” from expensive Broadway tickets, which averaged $98 last season. But is there an audience? Look to NBC for an answer – their live “Sound of Music” last December attracted 18.6 million viewers, the network’s largest (non-football) Thursday night audience since 2004. NBC’s next live musical – “Peter Pan” – takes flight later this year.

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