Everything Old Is New Again

Proof that instead of adopting new methods acknowledging that emerging entertainment technology is drawing our audiences away, we should stick to the old, well-known ways!

Well, sort of.

I had to chuckle at the irony of a pay for TV shows proposal I came across on Slate today. It is so groundbreakingly…familiar.

MIT’s Henry Jenkins, for one, has already written extensively on potential business models for online, on-demand television. Jenkins outlines a subscription model where viewers pay in advance for an entire season of downloadable episodes, providing the startup capital needed to fund production. Episodes would also be available at a higher cost on a per-episode basis, providing a steady stream of additional funds.

Just goes to show while you are learning from technology, it is learning from you too. And there is still more to learn from technology for performance organizations. A year or so ago, Andrew Taylor suggested having snippets of music on iTunes to whet the appetites of subscribers. Why not have movie snippets of proposed performances as well?

Many theatres take pictures for their brochures of upcoming shows using actors who aren’t cast in the pieces dressed in costumes that won’t be worn in the production. Why not take an exciting section of the work and provide a two minute snippet on your website or on a DVD for people to peruse. (This sort of thing is becoming less and less expensive to do.)

Based on a bit of Henry Jenkins proposal, existing subscribers could be given an opportunity to help create an upcoming season that is more likely to sell both because they feel an investment and they are picking shows that most appeal to them.

Imagine a subscription based model where viewers commit to pay a monthly fee to watch a season of episodes delivered into their homes via broadband. A pilot could be produced to test the waters and if the response looks positive, they could sell subscription which company had gotten enough subscribers to defer the initial production costs.

One might argue that allowing people to voice their opinions, even if it were in specific categories (choose which of these period comedies you like, which of these American dramas, etc), will produce an undistinguished, bland season.

Except…1) Your organization ain’t a democracy, choose what you want but don’t be surprised if the option that got 30% of the votes only fills 30% of your seats. (Might be best to allow people to rank them rather than yes or no so that psychologically people don’t decide they aren’t interested in attending at all because the one they didn’t vote for won.)

2) Video actually provides you with an opportunity that text in a brochure doesn’t convince people to attend more cutting edge stuff by presenting it in an interesting way that lets people judge if it is something they may enjoy.

3) Probably some other benefits I haven’t thought of yet.

Now you just gotta negotiate with unionized performers about what section of their contracts you gotta pay them under.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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