Theatre's first global television subscription service, Broadway Tonight (BT), announced on Feb. 16 that it would launch its worldwide services in the fall of 2001. Once underway, BT will offer four Broadway shows to television viewers around the world for an annual subscription fee of $79.95.
On Feb. 17, BT co-founder Basil Hero talked with Playbill On-Line and elaborated on the new subscription television service, likening his model to HBO's.
"Broadway Tonight is an original programming series," Hero told Playbill On-Line. "We're a subscription business the same way HBO is. You don't call HBO pay-per-view, do you? Ours is a subscription business, which is a much bigger business. It's a cash flow, cash cow, like Cinemax or HBO where people are ordering on an annual basis. Pay-per-view is different. It's one-off, one-time and it's not branded as any particular series. "
Hero said the BT idea is to identify properties that are exciting and fresh and to mount them both for television and for theatre.
"We would be identifying and co-producing the properties instead of going to producers with existing content and properties," Hero explained. "We're starting fresh with our own material. We think it's important to control the copyrights and subsequent distribution." As reported earlier, the strategy for BT includes hiring film and television stars for a new play, on the premise that established talent in film and television will generate marketing support for the show. Using a television studio, BT will then record the original cast in performance -- before they ever perform in front of an audience. The tape of that performance is then put on hold. Next, the show is sent for out-of-town tryouts. Following the tryouts, the show comes to New York for its Broadway opening at a Nederlander theatre. Once the show closes its stage run, the taped version of the original cast becomes part of BT's global television subscription package. Eventually, BT's shows will go to its Broadway Theatre Archive for syndication and video distribution.
"The other exciting thing," Hero said, "is that by taping in a television studio we can immediately take clips and put that on the broadwaytonight.com website. That way, theatre enthusiasts are able to go to the web site, look at clips, order tickets for a theatrical run and, if they want a gift, they can order a subscription series on television for someone, or they can order it for themselves and get a second bite at the apple. So, by taping first at the studio it allows people to preview and sign up for the series."
While the BT service will eventually make it easy for New York area residents to order tickets and come to the theatre, Hero said the internet aspect of the service it will benefit those not in New York City.
"For the person sitting out in Tokyo or Memphis who does not have the ability to get to NY," Hero said, "they can preview the clips of the shows and pre-order them for broadcast. That's what makes this so exciting from an economic or financial perspective. The web has given us a unique way of really reinventing the marketing and economics of a Broadway show. And it would not have been possible without the internet and satellites.
"Anyone who looks at our system carefully and understands it will understand the genius of this distribution model," Hero added. "By pre taping and having clips available on our website, audiences get the opportunity to order both their tickets for the theatrical run and for the broadcast. Those people in NY or close enough to the tri-state area to get to a Broadway theatre will happily be able to see previews on our website."
Hero cited the importance of establishing a relationship with theatre owners and said the ability to pre-sell broadcast rights has minimized the financial risk of mounting a show because there will already be an audience for the broadcast piece.
"We would never have launched Broadway Tonight without the guarantee of the theatre from one of the theatre organizations," Hero said. "The fact that the Nederlanders are guaranteeing the theatre means that we don't have to worry like other producers, meaning whether or not we have a house to put our show in.
"The Nederlanders, as equity owners in Broadway Digital Entertainment and as co-producers of the theatrical run itself, have a vested interest in picking the best material so that those houses stay lit. "
Aimed at developing dramas using "stars interested in appearing in plays by America's greatest playwrights," BT is one of two operating divisions of Broadway Digital Entertainment (BDE). The other is the Broadway Theatre Archive. BDE's investor group comprises founding investor (and former HBO executive) Michael Fuchs, WaterView Advisors' Frank Biondi, The Nederlander Theatre Group, Bear Stearns/Constellation Ventures, Psilos Venture Capital Group, The New York City Investment Fund and Broadway producers Chase Mishkin and Anita Waxman.
-- By Murdoch McBride