Over-the-Top Network Looks to Take Theater to Fans

WHY THIS MATTERS: Stage is trying to mix the traditions of theater with new streaming technology that is making more programming available to viewers.

Proving what Shakespeare said about “all the world’s a stage,” a new outfit is creating an over-the-top subscription network dedicated to the theater.

Stage plans to launch in two phases. First, it will raise the curtain on a free platform in August that will be ad-supported. In October, a subscription service that will cost $4.99 per month, or $49.99 a year, will make its debut.

The service is being launched by a privately owned group led by people with backgrounds in theater and on Broadway, Rich Affannato, co-founder and CEO of Stage, said.

“We’ve raised a good portion of our total capitalization toward our goal of $10 million,” Affannato said. “There is ongoing interest from private investors as we continue to produce original programming and licensed content.”

Programming will include original scripted, variety and reality series, documentaries, acquired shows and live theater.

Stage is looking to buy a ticket for the over-the-top world, which is both growing and becoming increasingly competitive.

A new report by Convergence Research says U.S. OTT access revenue grew 41% in 2017 to $11.9 billion, and predicts that figure will grow to $16.6 billion in 2018. Convergence Research says that independents generated about 64% of that revenue.

Stage’s goal is to attract 50,000 users for the free platform this summer and 100,000 paid subscribers by the end of the year.

Another Opening

There have been efforts to put Broadway shows on TV before, including BroadwayHD, which launched in 2016.

Affannato, a former actor who became a producer, said that while Stage would like to someday stream Broadway productions, it is less about Broadway and more about the theater lifestyle. Part of its business model is to form partnerships with regional theaters and college theater departments. Both will provide likely subscribers, as well as a potential source of content for the platform.

Instead of building its own software, Edward Lidvigsen, who is acting as an adviser to Stage, suggested using an out-of-the-box technology solution powered by Vimeo.

“We’re not only saving money on building any software, but we’re also able to look at our analytics in a way that allows us to shift our programming so we’re giving our viewers what they want to watch when they want it,” Affannato said.

In terms of programming, Affanato said Stage has about 70 projects in development. About 25 of them have been green-lit and will be rolling out over the next year and a half. They include:

Studio Sessions, a show shot in front of a live audience at The Power Station in New York where many Broadway cast albums are recorded. Each episode features a composer’s work for a musical sung by stars including Chita Rivera, Heidi Blickenstaff and Mandy Gonzalez.
CrossOvers, a half-hour talk show in front of a live studio audience featuring a performer who crossed over from theater to another media, or vice versa.
The Next Great American Musical, a reality competition show in which new musicals are judged. The winner gets produced on Broadway.

Acquired programming will include Broadway Idiot, How I Got Over, The Standbys, EMO the Musical and Showing Up.

Stage is looking to build a level of trust with people in the Broadway and regional theater community as well as with audiences.

“Our free platform, along with our robust social-media campaign, will give theater-curious fans a clear picture of who we are and what we’re working so hard to do,” said Bobby Traversa, executive vice president and co-founder of Stage. “Once we complete this ‘dress rehearsal’ phase and launch the full platform, or as we’ve been calling it, ‘opening night,’ users will be part of our performance, celebrating the tradition of theater in a new, modern way.”

Stage has established the website watchstage.com, along with handles on Facebook (@watchstage), Twitter (@watchstage) and Instagram (@watchstage).

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.