The Sound of Hashtags

Carrie Underwood in the Sound of Music Live (The awkward tree set - a missed opportunity)

Carrie Underwood in the Sound of Music Live
(The awkward tree set – a missed opportunity)

The proverbial hills are alive…with the sound of audience!

On the heels of the recent hand wringing over a continued decline in theater audiences, 18.5 million people tuned into to see The Sound of Music Live.  18.5 million! That’s 50% more people than bought a ticket to a broadway show in all of the 2011/2012 season.  And there is specifically 21st century twist to stats for this live television production, according to Neilson, almost 200 thousand audience members tweeted almost 450,000 messages during the show, tweets that were seen over 68 million times!


Whether you loved the show or hated it there are a few things you can’t deny…

It spoke to  what VATV has been saying for years,  our audiences aren’t in decline, they’re online (or in this case, behind their televisions and their computers)

Today’s audiences want to interact with their entertainment, even if it’s as simple as tweeting (hundreds of thousands of times) they want their voice to be a part of the conversation.

Live is incredibly exciting!

News, fashion, visual art, design, magazines, retail – all these industries have discovered that the key to survival is to follow your audience,  to cater to their viewing habits.  Where are today’s audiences?   They are at home behind their laptops and iPads and televisions, they are on Twitter , they are on Facebook and  they want to literally be a part of the entertainment that they are consuming.  But, despite 30 years of declining in-house audiences  for live-theater, along with the resulting declining revenues and employment, the theater community has done almost nothing to serve these huge, passionate, tech savvy at home audiences (although VATV is slowly but surely staking a future for streaming theater, dance and music to interactive audiences all over the world).

projected tweet

An online audience member’s message is projected onto the stage during the 2013 WiredArts Fest

So a million kudos to NBC and the producers of A Sound of Music Live.  You helped to locate millions of new audience members for live theater and made our industry take a good hard look at how we think about “selling tickets”.

And since live is our passion, specifically live performing arts, what would VirtualArtsTV have done differently?

  • First – live theater requires a live audience. It’s a visceral experience for the actors, for the in-house audience and for the at home audience  – without an in-house audience the show felt flat.
  • Shoot for the medium on which your live production will be shown.   Today’s TV audiences are used to very sophisticated sets, lights  and camera work.  There’s a fine line between “theatricality” and sophistication when it comes to a tv audience, but its a crucial line to walk. The show looked and felt like a soap opera, not a state of the art, twenty-first century live broadcast production. (As an example of how important it is to shoot for your final viewing source, note how The Met: Live in HD works great on the big screens they are shooting for, not so much when you watch them on smaller television screens.)
  • Give your broadcast audience a glimpse into a world the in-house audience isn’t privy to – whether that be an extreme close-up of an actor or a shot into the wings – make the broadcast experience specific to and special for your at home audience.
  • Personalize the experience for your at home audience.
  • Oh… the acting.  oh…the acting….

Hopefully our industry and our Unions will catch on to the fact that now our audiences are global and it is possible for even the smallest of productions to reach tens of thousands of audience members all over the world.  With the right contracts that make it possible for producers to stream and the right protections for actors  in place, we have the chance to build new audiences, sell more tickets and create more work.  While The Sound of Music cost 9 million dollars to produce, online options are affordable for even the smallest of companies.  A brave, new, global, artistic world is upon us!

  • Cheryl King December 17, 2013, 6:28 pm

    I am avidly following this stream – as a producer of live theatre, and a writer/actor, I have been struggling to populate the theatre for years. I dream of creating a theatre in northwest NM, and inviting a local audience to see all the shows free, and creating my revenue by live streaming the shows. I believe it is the way of the future. And it would certainly help me make my Stage Left West a reality.


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