Pre-pandemic the rules for streaming local school or community musical productions were very clear: no filming allowed! Although it was sometimes possible for these groups to buy additional licenses to film the show for archival purposes or purchase a license to sell show DVDs to friends and family at cost.
The pandemic saw a seismic shift in permissions for streaming. It took much negotiating with playwrights, composers, and music publishing houses, but it is now easier than ever for schools and amateur theatre groups to stream their productions so that non-local relatives, friends, people restricted by geography, physical ability, or global pandemics, can tune into their productions.
Due to the complex negotiations required for streaming, it’s not surprising that licensing companies themselves are behind new specialized platforms for streaming theatre. After purchasing a license for a show, schools and community groups can use platforms such ShowTix4U and ShowShare to stream their productions. One fee takes care of royalties and streaming rights, and the ticket sales or donations are all through the one platform. The platforms also provide tech and streaming support, resulting in higher quality streams than using Zoom, YouTube, or Facebook Live.
The first platform to go live was ShowTix4U, which launched in mid-June 2020. A partnership between musical licensing company Music Theatre International (MTI), streaming platform Digital Theatre, and tech experts Broadway Media, ShowTix4U provides a platform for both ticket sales and streams. Tickets can be sold to both in-person and streamed events, and shows can be streamed live or on demand. Another benefit of using the platform, is that licensing fees and royalties for MTI shows are automatically part of the fee.
MTI titles are available with 4 different types of streaming rights: Live-Streaming (streamed in real-time), Scheduled Content (stream pre-recorded productions), Video on Demand (pre-recorded video or previous productions), or Remote Content (produced virtually). There are currently 97 titles available including Annie, Billy Elliot the Musical, Daddy Long Legs, Spring Awakening, Urinetown, and Working. There are also 35 Disney titles available, including Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Descendants, and The Little Mermaid, and Newsies, with most only available using Scheduled Content Streaming. According to Playbill, the top three streamed MTI titles throughout the pandemic were Songs for a New World, Disney’s High School Musical, and Annie.
An initiative of Broadway on Demand, ShowShare launched in September 2020. Its current licensing partners include Broadway Licensing, Playscripts, Stage Rights, Concord Theatricals, and Youth Plays. Musicals with streaming rights include After Midnight, BRKLYN the Musical, Emma: A Pop Musical, and Polkadots. According to Broadway on Demand Vice President Tralen Doler, 1466 schools streamed their musical productions via ShowShare throughout the pandemic. The most produced musicals were Emma, Disenchanted, and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
A third platform is BookTix, which as its name suggests, started as a digital ticket booking platform. Founders Tim DiVito and Jason Goldstein increasingly saw a need to also provide streaming services, and expanded. As of May 2020, BookTix is partnered with Theatrical Rights Worldwide, whose entire catalog, including Monty Python’s Spamalot, Bright Star, The Prom, and The Color Purple, includes free streaming rights. According Director of Operations Cassie Balint, the most produced musical “by far” throughout the pandemic was The Addams Family. Other popular shows included You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, We Will Rock You, and Spamalot.
It will be great to see these streaming rights extended to professional productions, though this will need a significant shift from Equity and SAG/AFTRA, who have long battled over how to negotiate who gets paid what for live theatre broadcasts.
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