Why You Are Streaming Broadway Shows Produced In London

I have been following Diep Tran on social media for years so I got a minor thrill when she announced she was named editor-in-chief of Playbill last October.  Last week she posted an explainer about why it is so difficult to stream Broadway shows resulting in most content on Broadway HD being filmed in London.

A lot of it has to do with the upfront costs. It isn’t easy or cheap to create a high quality recording of a Broadway show. Tran reports that the production of Hamilton paid close to $10 million to record the show and then sat on it for years until Disney+ offered $75 million to stream it. Most productions aren’t so successful as Hamilton that they were able to front that amount and then wait for a good offer.

Contributing to those costs is the fact that unlike film productions, theatrical productions involve people who are members of dozens of disparate unions with whom a streaming contract has to be negotiated. Tran notes that during the pandemic Actors’ Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA created a contract that allows livestreaming of productions, but the number of streamed views is tied to the live attendance of the production. Other than that, there are no standard contracts associated with recording or livestreaming a production so every negotiation of terms basically starts from scratch.

So while it may be easiest to assume its the producers wanting you to see the show live that limits streaming, there are actually many more people either invested or contributing to that situation.

All this is much easier in England as Tran writes:

But wait, you might be asking, the National Theatre in London has figured out how to stream its shows, why can’t Broadway producers? Well for one, the National Theatre receives subsidies from the UK government, which helps fund their livestreams. And union rules in the UK are different than the U.S., and the payout for residuals is much less for U.K. productions.

I suspect, however, that there may be increasing pressure toward a standard set of terms that will enable US based shows to be more easily streamed in coming years. I wouldn’t be surprised to find this being accomplished by moving shows out of NYC to places with robust production resources, but fewer unions involved.

Non-Profit Arts Workers, What Are You Tired Of?

For the APAP conference this past weekend, one of the primary plenaries was “A Brutally Honest Conversation about Nonprofit, For-Profits, Government, Philanthropy, and the Arts.” (panel discussion starts about 14 min in) If you are familiar with Non Profit AF blogger Vu Le, you won’t be surprised to learn he was one of the panelists since this is ground he has staked out for years. Joining him was Producer, Artist, Strategist Sharifa Johka, and Keri Mesropov, Chief Talent Officer at TRG Arts.

The conversation started right in on issues of burn out and bad funding practices. Le said arts people are so kind and nice, they can tend to be taken advantage of, but also that when you are burnt out even if you are the most well-intentioned, you can end up perpetuating many of the injustices you hope to eliminate in the world. Le warned the audience there might be difficult language and some cussing and then the panel went straight to a survey asking attendees “What are you F***ing Tired Of?” The word cloud that was generated was enormous.

Le also brought up the problematic choices funders make about what they will support. He said non-profits have been in this situation for so long there is a degree of learned helplessness. He grumbles at foundations that say they need to reserve funding for a rainy day and asks how hard it needs to rain if the latest pandemic didn’t qualify? At one point a gentleman got up and talked about artists starting donor advised funds (DAF) so that they could make the funding decisions. Le commented that while DAFs can be a viable tool, the way the laws governing them are structured is ripe for abuse.

Lest you think from the title of the session that it was full of gripes and complaints, there was that but both panelists and audience members talked about how they were energized by the discussion and the decisions non-profits made during Covid. Le used the examples of non-profit orgs in Seattle that refused grants and asked funders to give it to colleague organizations that needed it more. Johka referenced the “We See You White American Theater” and the conversations and changes that resulted from that challenge to entrenched practices. Even as people complained and stated “we need to stop that shit,” there was a sense that conditions existed where that could realistically happen.

Of course, Vu Le brings a lot of humor to topics in need of serious consideration. Commenters picked up on that energy. One gentleman complained that black and brown people had to dramatize their trauma to be considered relevant whereas “non-black and brown folks can say I just wanna do a work about sounds and color, and its the most brilliant thing.”

Panelists advocated for more cooperative and collective action for non-profits to get what they need to operate. Le cited a group of 180 organizations in WA state got together and told funders they needed to double their funding and make multi-year, general operating grants. He said about a dozen foundations signed the pledge to do so.

I encourage people to watch the video of the session if you have a few moments:

IRS 990 Backlog Hampering Non-Profit Giving and Transparency

ProPublica recently reported that the IRS has yet to release nearly a half million non-profit tax records. You may be wondering why that is something you should be concerned about. In fact, the lack of records release has some pretty significant implications for transparency and charitable giving. Drew McManus has been painstakingly combing through records since 2005 to assemble his annual Orchestra Compensation Reports.  I believe among the reasons why he didn’t have a 2022 edition examining the impact of the pandemic during the 2019-2020 fiscal year was partially due to the lack of 990 filings available for review.

Additionally, many individuals, corporations and foundations use the filing data to make giving decisions.

“This is having an impact on nonprofits, fundraising, donors … and charity regulators,” said Cinthia Schuman Ottinger of the Aspen Institute, who coordinates a group of practitioners who work with nonprofit tax data (ProPublica is a part of this group). “The whole ecosystem suffers when there are delays of this kind.”

Michael Thatcher, the CEO of Charity Navigator, said the end of the year is a crucial time for charitable giving.

[…]

And, he said, “it’s not just the donors that are upset by this.” Many organizations want their latest information out there as well, especially if their finances have improved or they’ve done significant work in recent years. “They want to show that to the world, and guess what, when you go to Charity Navigator, you’re seeing two-year-old information.”

Many of the missing filings could help shed light on how organizations — and the nonprofit sector as a whole — have fared during tumultuous years marked by a pandemic, economic upheaval and large infusions of federal relief dollars.

Courtney Aladro, a charity regulator for the Massachusetts attorney general and NASCO board member, said that regulators across the country use the IRS repository of documents to confirm or corroborate the information that charities submit to their states….

“Those are some pretty important years because of some of the difficulties over the last few years,” Aladro said. “The use and expenditure of COVID relief funds, for example. It’s pretty important for charity regulators and law enforcement to monitor that, and not having that information will make it more difficult.”

The IRS has been hampered by underfunding and understaffing which has lead to both delays in release and embarrassing release of tax information that was not supposed to be released. A recent bill passed by Congress will seek to modernize systems and hire more staffing, but it could be years before the problems are ironed out.

Have Things Changed Since 2008?

I am going to be traveling and preparing to take up a new position so I am dipping back into the archives to help provide some content while I am busy elsewhere.  One of the first entries I came across in my review of old posts seemed to be well-suited for re-examination. Back in 2009 Andrew Taylor made a post about survey work his students had done at the 2008 National Performing Arts Convention (NPAC) in Denver. Happily the links to his original post and survey results I included in my post reflecting on the survey results still work if you want to see them.

The conference was a meeting by members of different arts disciplines, including service organizations like Theatre Communications Group, Opera America, Chorus America, Dance/USA and League of American Orchestras. One of the observations made in the surveying was the different cultures of each discipline. I wonder if people feel things have changed since 2008/2009 or if this still generally describes things:

The dress and demeanor of the different service organization membership was a continual point of discussion in our evening debriefing sessions, and were often heard used as shorthand by one discipline to describe another (“take time to talk to the suits,” said one theater leader to a TCG convening, when referring to symphony professionals). Some of the difference was in rites and rituals: from the morning sing-alongs of Chorus America to the jackets and ties of League members, to the frequent and genuine hugs among Dance/USA members, to the casual and collegial atmosphere of TCG sessions.

Other differences, which manifested in more subtle ways, shed light on the deep underlying assumptions and values held by the respective disciplines. The team noticed, for example, that the word “professional” was perceived in a variety of ways in mixed-discipline caucus sessions. For many participants, “professional” staff and leadership was an indicator of high-quality arts organizations, and an obvious goal for any arts institutions. Several members of Chorus America, however, bristled at the presumption that professional staff was a metric of artistic quality, as they held deep pride in their organizations, which were run by volunteers.

Other topics I covered in my post had to do with degree of trust between arts administrators, community engagement practices, government relations, knowledge sharing throughout disciplines, as well as lack of sleep and succession planning.

While the status quo feels like it has remained in place on all these fronts, the one area covered in the survey which seems like it is finally being addressed seriously these last few years is diversity. Some of the summarized responses are a little cringe-worthy.

“Diversity was the most polarizing priority in the AmericaSpeaks process, and the issue for which there is the most disconnect in language and priorities….Some flatly stated that they did not think diversity was a priority, and others noted that people in their organizations may claim to support diversity, but don’t really mean it. Many noted ambiguity in defining diversity: that diversity “means different things to different people—there is no common agenda for inclusion.”

This was revealed in the stark differences in responses ranging from the claim that minority arts groups don’t have to make any efforts at white inclusion (“Why is it that primarily Caucasian-based groups look to ‘diversify’ their audiences while minority-based groups do not?”), to people who thought diversity meant “Getting minorities to see the importance of what we do.” Still others rejected the audience development perspective and saw the need for more systemic change. Said one respondent, “most of our organizations are not ready—we want to talk about it, but we are not prepared to become ‘diverse’ and accept the changes that may follow.” Some acknowledged that there were challenges in terms of comfort zones. Some noted that tying funding to diversity or pursuing diversity and losing money on such efforts might be counterproductive…

Respondents were more concerned with what they saw as others’ failure to address or understand diversity than with their own ability to effectively address the issue. As such, many did not envision opportunities for progress although they agreed that progress is needed.”

Here is the original survey report if you want to take a deeper dive.