Growing up, I have always been a fan of the theater even though I have no acting or singing talent of my own. But coming from a theater family background (fun fact: my grandma was Sandra Bullock’s high school drama teacher), I have enjoyed going to shows with my family at least once a year.
That being said, my favorite shows are Broadway musicals, and you can find multiple playlists on my Spotify account dedicated to show tunes. Now I understand that show tunes and musicals are not for everybody, but the Broadway musical industry is actually a highly grossing industry. I mean, no Hollywood film has ever surpassed $1 billion in sales, whereas 3 Broadway musicals have (Shoutout to Phantom making over $6 billion).
Aside from jazz hands and long musical numbers that last for 2+ hours, what might surprise you is actually how the Broadway musical industry has been influenced and adapted to digital innovations. And Hamilton, which I have dedicated my examples to below, is a great example of Broadway successfully transforming with the digital age.
Young, Scrappy, & Hungry
Young, scrappy, and hungry is anything but the Broadway musical industry, at least the young part. The first Broadway musical occurred over 150 years ago…However, it seems that Hamilton changed the game of Broadway by yes, bringing a hip-hop element to the theater, but also creating such a strong fan base and high engagement on social media. So much so that people have even named it the “Hamilton Effect.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of Hamilton, developed the musical after performing one of the songs at the White House in 2009. His performance was videotaped, uploaded, and then went viral, providing another example of how going viral can gain momentum, transforming what was going to just be an album to the creation of an entire Broadway musical.
You Don’t Need to be in the Room Where It Happens
You don’t need to be in the room where it happens to watch Broadway shows thanks to social media. Even I consider myself a Hamilton fan who understands the plot, characters, and know all the words to the songs without having actually seen it in person. A big reason has to do with the entire musical soundtrack’s availability on music streaming services like Spotify, Amazon Music, and SoundCloud. In fact, the musical also released a playlist on Spotify that lists Lin-Manuel Miranda’s favorite songs that inspired him when composing Hamilton’s songs, giving even more content to people (see image below). The widespread availability of music is just one change in how Broadway musics are no longer limited to a certain number of seats in a city or to those who have the money to pay to see them.
To further keep up with the streaming age, broadway producers also released an online streaming service for musicals called BroadwayHD. Similar to Netflix, users pay a monthly subscription of $14.99 in order to stream and watch shows filmed on the stage. This provides more widespread access for viewers to watch theater the way it was meant to be seen on stage, and currently includes over 150 shows.
And finally some of you might be familiar with television cable companies getting on board. FOX and NBC, for example, have aired live musicals for viewers to watch from home, including Sound of Music Live!, Grease Live!, and Hairspray Live!
While you might think these new digital channels to engage with content might prevent people from purchasing tickets to see the shows live in person, I would argue the opposite. Many producers actually prefer providing high quality content available online rather than having low-quality, hidden videos taken and uploaded during performances. And they tend to see a much higher engagement and enthusiasm for musicals when all this content is available, as in the case with Hamilton. Instead of only a select number of traditional theater enthusiasts, now a larger, and much younger fan base is interested in Broadway. In fact, social media users are 92% more likely to want to learn about a musical if a friend purchased a ticket and 66% more likely to buy a ticket. To me, it seems not much different than being able to watch sports games on television. People still love buying tickets to watch sports games in person even when they have access to watch on cable or social media.
You Want a Revolution, I Want a Revelation
Social media reveals what’s happening on stage to fans who can’t make it inside a theater. For example, musical productions, including Hamilton, have started to use Periscope to reveal to fans and viewers what’s happening live (similar to Facebook live), such as lines on opening night to backstage action occurring in between performances. Twitter purchased Periscope, so both Twitter and Facebook are two examples of Broadway being able to bring live action to social media. Showing behind-the-scenes action, regardless of what industry you’re in, can give companies a personal aspect and make customers feel apart of the action.
To provide even more access to Hamilton content, the show created #Ham4Ham segments where members of the cast perform free 5-minute segments outside the Richard Rogers theater before each show for those people waiting to buy (or who couldn’t buy) tickets. These segments are added online and shared via social media allowing people like me to feel even more part of the drama. My favorite #Ham4Ham YouTube video below, for example, has received over 1M views.
Man, the Man is Nonstop
Lin-Manual Miranda tweets like he’s running out of time, posting up to 20 times a day on Twitter. What businesses can learn from him is the marketing power of having an influencer on the inside. Hamilton’s producers initially invited outside influencers from Mashable and Amazon to the preview showing for digital marketing purposes. But Miranda’s engagement on social media has been the most effective, giving fans an inside scoop to what’s happening on set. Miranda’s consistent posts and responses on social media play a huge part in growing a strong fanbase for Hamilton and the musical industry as a whole. So much so that Hamilton went from having around 100K followers prior to Hamilton to now over 1.35 million followers, twice as many as the official Hamilton Twitter page. And to top it off, he engages and responds directly to fans on 65% of Twitter posts. Miranda uses a mix of promotional content with funny, personal posts fans can relate to.
Here he tweets his email exchange between famous composer Andrew Lloyd Webber:
And his response to a fan’s tweet on this same post:
There’s a Million Things I Haven’t Done, Just You Wait
There’s even more to say about digital business and social media changing the Broadway musical industry. Stay tuned!