Broadway’s Not Throwing Away Its Shot

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).

references musical

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Here he tweets his email exchange between famous composer Andrew Lloyd Webber:

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And his response to a fan’s tweet on this same post:

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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!

9 comments

  1. Nice post. When I first arrived to the U.S. for my undergraduate studies, watching a Broadway show was on my bucket list. I went to Phantom of the Opera two year ago, and it was everything I imagined and even more. Your post was very informative – I have never heard of the Broadway HD before, and I would love to try it out. I still think that there is a lot to experience by going to the live shows, and simply the atmosphere there is worth the travel and money, but tickets are definitely expensive and so Broadway HD can be a great alternative from time to time. Also, the fact that you can listen to these songs on Spotify is also amazing in how things have changed with time. I remember going to regular shows when I was young and had to purchase a CD to listen to the music afterwards, but things are so much more simple today. Thanks for sharing!

  2. joeking5445 · ·

    Awesome post! I have been able to see a couple broadway shows and have been a fan of musicals since I was young. I think it started with Newsies.

    Anyways, I did not know that the Hamilton rap at the White House is what led to the musical. I feel like Hamilton has been extremely successful creating a culture surrounding their musical. I was surprised to see that Lin Miranda responds so frequently to fans on Twitter, but this would add to the “Hamilton Effect”. Do other shows engage in social media as mush as Hamilton? I am wondering if we will see similar strategies going forward.

  3. CarbNatalie · ·

    This was an interesting post! Extremely informative and shines a different spotlight (pun intended) on what is an American staple, Broadway. I think that you made a good point, having the songs to these musicals available for one to access so easily on Spotify is a game changer for the industry. It makes you think about all the money people spend (and how that has /hasn’t changed) on the CD’s after the show like Danna mentioned.

  4. ghakimeh · ·

    Very informative post! While I can’t say that I’m a huge musical fan, I can certainly appreciate the occasional performance and I’m very interested to see where Broadway goes in the future. Movie theaters have problems combating Netflix and HBO, Live sports have to sometimes compete with themselves in regards to ESPN, but I think Broadway will always have an audience willing to watch authentic and live performances. The challenge now is how to build a following for new performances and it looks like Hamilton has laid out the groundwork for that. I myself have not seen Hamilton but I am quite familiar with its message and theme. It’s incredible just how much of a following its rightfully earned. I hope similar Broadway shows can build on this!

  5. fayehubregsen · ·

    Young, Scrappy, And Hungry — a solid description for the mindset digital business leaders should embrace! I had never heard about the “Hamilton Effect” or how Lin-Manuel when viral following his White House performance, but it speaks to how social media is turning the entertainment industry on its head in countless ways. This blog was fascinating on so many levels, and not just because I tried to loop Lin-Manuel into the Twitter #IS6621 discussions last week. I even downloaded the ICYMI playlist right away. The Twitter engagement that Lin-Manuel drives is impressive and now that I know he responds directly to fans on 65% of Twitter posts, I’m feeling a little salty my tweet went unacknowledged. Maybe you will have more success Nicole!

  6. alexisteixeiraa · ·

    What an awesome and engaging post. Broadway has certain been revived with Hamilton. Oddly enough my dad took me to see it in previews and I had very little interest because I, unlike him, am not interested in history and frankly am not rap’s number one fan. Plus, the combination seemed slightly outrageous. After seeing it, I understood the hype; however, had no idea it would turn into a phenomenon, one that would make Broadway cool and very relevant again. Incredibly enough, this show has surpassed just the theater industry, it won a noble peace prize, it is at the forefront of many social justice movement, and like you said, Lin Manuel and the show itself is interacting an engaging with generations in a way that theater never has before. Thank you for this awesome post!

  7. Great post! I’m lucky enough to say that I’ll be seeing Hamilton on Broadway next month, but I am slightly disappointed that there are no original cast members left. Still, I’m very excited about it and have been listening to the album a lot the last several months (via Prime Music, no less).

    I think the success of Hamilton was almost a perfect storm of an excellent musical that appealed to a slightly younger and social media friendly demographic (hip-hop influences), an engaging social media presence, an almost ridiculous amount of media coverage (what comes to mind first are the countless late night jokes about the difficulty of getting Hamilton tickets), an extremely likable and extroverted leading man in Lin Manuel, and lastly the success of ticket buying robots keeping demand for tickets much higher than the supply. I’m not sure if other Broadway musicals will be able to replicate the all-around success of Hamilton, but I bet a lot of them have taken notes.

  8. Fabulous post. It would have been a good presentation too!

  9. katherinelgold · ·

    Awesome! Wow! (but less sarcastic.) This is a great homage to the theatre industry’s revitalization. By engaging more on social media, they are reaching a younger audience. Hearing the songs on Spotify only makes you want to see the show live even more–just like your sports analogy said.

    Another cool application is social media raffling off tickets. For traveling shows, it can be hard to fill empty seats last minute when there’s not a culture of last-minute tickets like on Broadway. The Book of Mormon traveling cast had a contest to give away tickets to people who followed and retweeted them, and I won last-minute, first row tickets to Book of Mormon in Rochester. They followed back, too, so I haven’t unfollowed them almost 3 years later. Creative way to make loyal fans.

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