In a significant business development, Playbill Magazine, the nation's leading purveyor of programs for theatrical and performing arts venues, has acquired the publishing rights to its longtime rival, Stagebill. The deal will take effect Sept. 1, 2002.
Neither publication released any details of the pact, which will have an impact in the worlds of Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional theatre, as well as dance, opera and classical music.
"This is great news for the venues, for all performing arts enthusiasts and, indeed, for advertisers who will be able to buy national and regional programs more efficiently and effectively," commented Gerry Byrne, CEO of Stagebill Media in a prepared statement. "We wish Phil Birsh and his team at Playbill much success."
"We’ve long admired the brands, and the unique position and audience of Stagebill and Performing Arts," said Phil Birsh, President and Publisher of Playbill Magazine. "We are thrilled to welcome these brands to the Playbill family."
Playbill and Stagebill have been, for many years, the two major names in program services, with the 118-year-old Playbill the leading publisher in Broadway and Off-Broadway houses and the much younger Stagebill concentrating on ballet, opera and symphony orchestras. Since the mid-70s however, the two enterprises have grown progressively more competitive, often crossing the line into each other's territories. In the past six or seven years, in particular, the titles have campaigned hard for prized properties.
In 1996, for instance, Stagebill won a contract to service the Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival. And when Disney reopened the restored New Amsterdam Theatre, it chose Stagebill as its program provider, giving the latter company its first Broadway house. Playbill, however, won the battle over Livent's new Ford Center for the Performing Arts, which sat opposite the Disney theatre on 42nd Street. A few years later, it reclaimed the New Amsterdam itself.
More recently, Playbill took over two of Stagebill's most high profile clients: the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall.
During this time, Stagebill went through many ownerships. Arthur Levitt and a group of investors purchased the title from Joe Barbieri. Levitt sold the company to the magazine group K-III (later Primedia) when he was appointed the head of the Security Exchange Commission. Primedia, in turn, sold the company to Fred B. Tarter and investors in 1998. Gerry Byrne was one of the many investors.
Playbill serves virtually all theatres on Broadway and Off-Broadway in New York City; the Metropolitan Opera House, Beaumont Theater and Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center; and major theaters in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, and Orlando.
Stagebill clients in New York include the Public Theater, the Roundabout Theatre Company and New York City Opera. Which of Stagebill's clients Playbill will eventually service will be decided in separate contract negotiations with each venue.
Stagebill Media, the current publisher of Stagebill and Performing Arts Magazines, will continue to publish Avenue Magazine, the New York based lifestyle publication.
Playbill On-Line is a subsidiary of Playbill Magazine.
—By Robert Simonson