Video Takes Center Stage in Broadway Social-Media Campaigns


The play may be the thing, but when it comes to Broadway social-media campaigns, video is increasingly taking center stage.

This season, theater producers are strategically sharing more dance numbers, songs and backstage antics via video, giving fans new and early access, often with a personal touch by the stars or creators.

Producers are allocating more resources for video, said Adam Cunningham, chief executive of 87AM, a digital agency focusing on entertainment, arts and culture. “You have to extend the spectacle.”

Who’s up, who’s down and where the money is flowing in New York’s $1.3 billion theater industry

Video content heightens productions’ ability to reach potential ticket buyers, say industry leaders—especially since June, when Facebookchanged its algorithm to boost user engagement with videos in their news feeds.

“Facebook is rewarding video content. It’s getting views, shares and commented on,” saidJim Glaub, creative director of content and community at Serino/Coyne, a Broadway-focused advertising firm.

While information about the impact of social-media campaigns, including videos, on ticket sales is proprietary, content generators say the effect can be strong and direct. Impact ranges dramatically due to the type of show, its needs and demographic.

The runaway hit “Hamilton” has already engaged a broad and theater-savvy audience on social media, after transferring from off-Broadway with rave reviews and $30 million in advance sales. But keeping a successful show in the digital conversation is key, said Mr. Cunningham.

“You are not trying to convert theater audiences,” he said. “You’re trying to get people who…don’t know about the reviews, but are looking for something to do in New York City.”

Videos posted for “Hamilton” reiterate its popularity: Before most shows, creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and a rotating cast appear outside the theater during lotteries where fans can win $10 tickets. The videos capture informal rap battles and other brief performances. They are posted with the hashtag #Ham4Ham, a reference to the fact thatAlexander Hamilton appears on the $10 bill.

Mr. Miranda has been uniquely successful in generating hashtags that stick on Twitter, a move that keeps his more than 98,000 followers watching a steady stream of creativity.

For the new musical “Allegiance,” backstage and rehearsal videos play a major marketing role. The dramatic story, partially set in a World War II Japanese-American internment camp, was inspired by the childhood experiences of former “Star Trek” actor George Takei, who also stars in the show.

Lead producer Lorenzo Thione, a tech entrepreneur, joined with Facebook earlier this year to launch a 10-part documentary series introducing viewers to the cast and creative team as they undergo sweaty rehearsals, multiple rewrites and cuts to the show.

Five of the 10 episodes are available on the show’s website and Mr. Takei’s Facebook page, which has 9 million likes. Mr. Thione said he directed Mr. Takei to establish a social-media presence, using everything from cat videos to social commentary, expressly for the purpose of building the show’s following.

The videos, which have between about 300,000 and 600,000 views apiece, respond to a demand audiences are making clear. “They want to see backstage life,” said Mr. Glaub. “There is drama onstage and off. They want to be a part of it.”

While producers are generally loath to share video snippets of a valuable production as it appears onstage, they have become increasingly comfortable posting bits of their product via performance videos, often shot outside the theater.

“They’re moving to the idea that the content is the advertising,” said Damian Bazadona,president of Situation Interactive, a digital agency that represents several Broadway shows.

To promote the Broadway debut of singer and actress Jennifer Hudson, who is starring in the coming revival of “The Color Purple,” Mr. Bazadona’s agency created two new music videos featuring her performing material from the show.

One was launched exclusively on the websites of People and Entertainment Weekly; the other on BuzzFeed. Both were then promoted on Facebook, where Ms. Hudson’s personal page has 7.8 million likes.

Together, the videos have been viewed more than 100,000 times, according to YouTube’s tally, and earned more than 1 million views across multiple platforms, according to Mr. Bazadona.

“We are introducing her fan base to the show though music,” he said.

“School of Rock—The Musical,” based on the 2003 movie, features several new songs by seven-time Tony Award-winning composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. As of late last week, the high-energy number “You’re in the Band” became viewable online as an interactive 360-degree music video.

At a news conference, Mr. Lloyd Webber said he wanted to experiment with the technology after his son showed him a 360 video of a rock band. “I wondered what would happen if one staged something specifically for it,” said Mr. Lloyd Webber. “It’s inherently theatrical. You can’t edit it.”

In its first three days online, the video was viewed more than 1 million times on YouTube and Facebook, where it has about 8,000 likes for a production that opens on Dec. 6.

Consistent through it all is the belief that social media is simply the 21st-century version of word-of-mouth—and sharing a little video increases the likelihood of turning talk into a ticket.

As Mr. Glaub puts it: “You give them the sizzle, they come to the show for the steak.”