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Will a Hybrid Theater Model Thrive in the New Normal?

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Read the complete transcript of this video:

Chris Pfaff: I want to talk about the hybrid model ,given the fact that we do have fans coming back now, and we've talked about some venues. Bonnie, you're occupying a really interesting space in a fascinating point in time, which is, of course, streaming and even shooting shows or even broadcasting has been done on a very limited basis on Broadway or in other major venues. And as you mentioned, you were working a lot--particularly with the West End--which made us all jealous. Andrew Lloyd Webber opened that during the lockdown period. But do you see that way forward for--whether it's production companies, theater associations, whether they're Broadway or the West End or regional theaters? Building the expectation for that kind of package is something that's not even niche anymore. It might just be a different ticketing tier. Do you see that turning point now in theater?

Bonnie Comley: It's definitely on its way in. To be specific about the hybrid piece, there's the 41 Broadway theaters in Times Square; that's a different ecosystem than the 200 touring Broadway theaters that take the shows from those 41 theaters and then tour them around the country. And that takes about a year, or sometimes two, So there's a couple of different ecosystems here that we're talking about. Are we talking about live streaming from those 41 Broadway theaters every night for eight shows a week? I don't think so. I think we're a ways from that. And so that hybrid in New York City doesn't work, but the tours are usually something that originates from those 41 Broadway theaters and is later.

Really, I think what we're looking at--and what we're learning, and we're still trying to figure out as a technology in the streaming and entertainment industry--is windowing. We saw this with Scarlett Johannson saying. "You damaged my box office by going stream. So those conversations are being had. And I think that fits into the Broadway arena as well: No Broadway producer is ever against doing a beautiful digital capture of their show. What they're against, what they fear--and rightly so--is that you if have a $20 million musical and you put that exact same version online for somebody to stream on a BroadwayHD, that's $100 a year for everything, versus a $125 for one seat in the theater. So it's more about the geoblocking that's possible, about the windowing that's possible, about the other sort of distribution outlets that are possible.

So I think that the Broadway community is now seeing that, and they're seeing that hybrid is different touchpoints for the same brand. And again, there's two different brands going here. There's the Broadway brand, which is the industry. When you think of Broadway, you think of those big 50 people in the cast musicals. That's what most people around the world think of when they think of Broadway. And then there's the individual brands. There's the Hamilton, there's Wicked, there's The Lion King, there's those sorts of things. So there's the brand kinds of things that are working. And I think that producers are realizing that there are multiple touchpoints for the show as a brand. The live ticket to go into the theater for $125 is one touchpoint for that.

Another is a digital capture. To be clear, the difference between the digital capture and a Hollywood adaptation is Hamilton. I'm going to guess everybody saw Hamilton already. It was "go in while the audience is there and shoot what's going on, on that stage. A Hollywood adaptation was to use Lin-Manuel Miranda as the composer and the mastermind behind the show in the Heights, which is a Hollywood movie. So there's those two different things that are very different. And I think that we can see that you can do the live in-person, you can do a digital capture, you can do the Hollywood adaptation. That's different than both of those other two. And you can do other shorter forms, or you can do what we're seeing now with Wicked as a concert. It's giving you the songs, but it's not giving you the entire costume sets and the the story that goes along with it. It's sort of the highlights.

So there's multiple touch points for the same brand. And I think that everybody's seeing that, and it's really clear in this season because, out of the 30 shows in those 41 theaters that have been announced so far, 20 of them have the full-out story streaming someplace. So you've got Come From Away coming out as a digital capture. Hamilton's already out as a digital capture. David Byrne's American Utopia, Bruce Springsteen's. Pass Over is out. The Lion King is an animated movie. West Side Story is an upcoming Spielberg movie, but it's also an older movie from 1950. Moulin Rouge is a movie that's out there. You recognize the brand and you can say, "I love that." You can get the cast recording now before the show even comes out, and that propels you to go buy the tickets of the live show, because, as an audience, you get that those are different things. So it's the windowing and the different touchpoints within a certain brand of a show.

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