Friday, January 2, 2015

Terrific Broadway Show, Terrible Signaling - Bloomberg View

Terrific Broadway Show, Terrible Signaling - Bloomberg View:

'via Blog this'

At the crossroads of Art and Commerce, things are deceptively simple.

In this article by Mohamed El-Erian, a leading economist in the world today, we find out that the reason Side Show, the Broadway musical about to close this weekend, failed in the marketplace was due to "poor signaling".

In other words, the producers couldn't sell their show to enough people.

That may be the understatement of the year, and clearly doesn't provide any of the deep insight one might have hoped to get from such an esteemed economist.

El-Erian discloses he is one of those many tourist types that sees several Broadway shows at this time of year, but he is in no way to be considered a frequent theatergoer.  His daughter chose Side Show, and he enjoyed it very much, in spite of it's imminent closing date. Why, he asks, would such a wonderful show fail so quickly? Ah yes, that "signaling" problem.

Academia is a wonderful world. Economic modeling, tweaking of theories, making pronouncements about the world at large, it must make for a fun but cloistered environment. Corporate boardrooms are much the same, so very removed from real life as they are.

On Broadway today, many people that are called "producers" are second career-ists, flush with hedge fund cash in many cases, or just bored one-percenters looking for a hobby. They are not "producers" in the way one may think of in the classic sense, like a David Merrick, but people with no deep knowledge of show business in general, or Broadway in particular. They are not showmen with an understanding of what the audience is looking for, what will sell, and maybe more importantly, how to sell a show.

Today, modern producers may be enthusiastic fans, but they lack all of these intangibles, but compensate for this by pouring vast sums into "marketing companies" that they believe will sell the show for them. What gives them this idea? Why the marketing companies themselves. Nice work if you can get it.

In spite of the inescapable fact that no marketing company has ever turned a flop into a hit, or made a hit into a mega-hit, the marketing infrastructure has grown like kudzu and is now as much a part of the Broadway landscape as opening nights are. And so are their lush fees, sapping shows of needed capital.

The producers of Side Show, showing their inexperience and misguided instincts, claimed to be ready and willing to pour additional money into the show to carry it through the worst months of the Broadway sales calendar. They were saved from themselves when the theater owner invoked the contractual stop clause, forcing the show to come to an end.

El-Erian lives in the world that Broadway producers live in. Everything is nice and tidy, and the reason a show didn't sell was because the show didn't have enough people purchasing tickets. There is no analysis of why. Terrific reviews didn't change the basic fact that this show, for the second time (an original version of Side Show flopped the same way in the nineties) was given a thumbs down by Broadway audiences eager for star names and Disney rehashes.

Someone should let the marketers know about this "signaling" thing.

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