With the premiere broadcast from the Broadway Television Network now a done deal, Broadway interests-—both the traditional and the new breed of media pioneers-—are searching for some hint of the pay-per-view results of the Sept. 10 airing of Smokey Joe's Cafe. Such news may be a while in coming.
Thought to provide some insight to the prospects for BTN, these numbers could also offer an objective snapshot of the market for theatre content on cable.
Earlier this week, BTN sources said the figures were not ready but would be available in 7-10 days. On Sept. 14, BTN president Bruce Brandwen told Playbill On-Line that hard numbers on the Smokey Joe's broadcast are still not available, and may be kept confidential for some time.
"I'm not quite sanguine about those figures being available in a few days," Brandwen said. "It may take a few months, and we still have other broadcasts to do around the world. Europe won't hit until winter, South America is this weekend, and I'm not sure when Australia will be. We have a sequence of exhibitions planned in various territories."
BTN's president also said he would not break out the domestic U.S. figures for the PPV show. "There are issues that have to do with the rights holders," Brandwen said, "so we are waiting until we have a total result. Now, if I were a competitor I would not want anyone to find out either, so these figures will be closely guarded and very confidential. In general terms, Brandwen predicted, "we are going to be doing more of these."
At the Eastern Cable [trade] show yesterday, Brandwen said he spoke to every single cable provider and that most of them do not know the results of the Sept. 10 broadcast. Brandwen said most of the cable providers praised the campaign leading up to the show, including ads, as well as the production itself.
"We had some problems," Brandwen allowed, "involved with not knowing that certain cable providers do not run pre shows in the clear. That's a problem for them as well as for us." Brandwen said he has had conversations with several of the cable providers and that they believe the problems can be overcome.
Brandwen said that the importance of a clear pre-show was tied to the fact that much of the PPV business is "walk up and last minute." The BTN chief also said that he is dedicated to the live event aspect of BTN's model, and the fact that other, major PPV shows like HBO's Garth Brooks' concert in Central Park prove that up to 80 percent of the ratings for a big PPV show are generated in the first broadcast.
A source outside BTN suggests that while the statistical rating for the first-time airing of Smokey Joe's Cafe may not be spectacular, the rating could be used as a base figure for projections on subsequent, consecutive replays for theatre broadcasts. Thus, if widely popular PPV programs like wrestling can generate 1-3 points for a very successful show, a more modest result, perhaps under a point or even a half point could be good news, especially for broadcast models that employ consecutive replays.
Brandwen disagreed saying, "That's tantamount to saying that if a Brad Pitt movie does "x," then that statistic is somehow going to be equated to a Dustin Hoffman movie. Hollywood has great instincts, but they haven't figured it out, and the same with Broadway. They have great instincts but at the end of the day they don't know either. We are fortunate in that we know if a show lasts for six months or more on Broadway it's good, but we don't really know if that means it'll do well.
"There is clearly an energy to doing something live," Brandwen said. "Why do you think George Clooney did 'Failsafe?'"
Statistics notwithstanding, Brandwen said, "many cable operators have asked us for another airing of Smokey Joe's Cafe. Brandwen said cable operators felt the show suffered against the Emmys, which were being broadcast simultaneously, and that "everybody wanted a second run."
While BTN might consider additional runs of Smokey Joe's Cafe, the network tried to avoid a conflicting precedent of consecutive plays because there will be situations in the future when shows will be broadcast for "one night only."
In addition to BTN, theatre content is expected to be broadcast by separate companies including Broadway Digital Entertainment's subscription-based "Broadway Tonight" and a PBS broadcast in Oct. of Roundabout's revival of The Man Who Came to Dinner. Last weekend, WNBC earned a 3.3 rating/8 share (508,000 viewers) for its debut broadcast of the Broadway on Broadway season preview in Times Square.
As earlier reported, BTN's "On the Aisle At..." series, a free pre-show scheduled 30 minutes ahead of BTN's pay-per view premiere of Smokey Joe's Cafe, was not unscrambled for some viewers in the New York City area. Though publicized as "free of charge to all viewers," the pre show was never intended to be descrambled, according to a Time Warner source.
-- By Murdoch McBride