You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tony Awards Dive Into the Digital Stream

Second-screen content includes backstage segs, trivia in bid to pique interest of younger auds

Think the Tony Awards and “The Walking Dead” don’t have anything in common? You must only be watching the first screen.

This year the Tonys will launch a second-screen digital destination, with interactive content set to stream during the annual live kudocast on CBS — a measure other TV skeins, such as the AMC zombie hit and HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” also have taken to cultivate fan enthusiasm beyond the TV screen.

Aimed at reaching younger auds on the mobile screens where they live, the Tonys’ digital push endeavors to combat a trend that has seen viewership for the kudocast decline in recent years, from 7.4 million viewers in 2009 to around 7 million in 2010 and 2011, and to 6 million last year. The 2013 edition, hosted again by Neil Patrick Harris, airs June 9.

But the digital initiative also takes into consideration an awards show that’s long been challenged by the tension between the kudocast’s nationwide footprint and the mostly local profile of the new productions being honored.

“One of the issues we have is that the Tonys are the beginning of a conversation with the national audience rather than the end of a conversation, which is what it is for all of us in the industry,”
says Heather A. Hitchens, exec director of the American Theater Wing, which co-presents the Tonys every year with the Broadway League.

Without the benefit of the multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns that movies get, legit titles usually require two things to achieve pop-culture prominence: longevity and a national touring production. A slew of Tony Awards doesn’t hurt, either.

But on the Tonycast itself, the nominated new shows of the season — this year including “Kinky Boots,” “Matilda” and “Pippin” — are, by necessity, being showcased before the general public outside of Gotham knows much about them.

That’s where the Tonys’ growing digital initiatives hope to come in. Earlier this year, the Tonys and IT partner IBM launched the Spotlight On series, which rounds up info and video spots about the season’s eligible shows in order to familiarize viewers with the titles in the running for the awards race prior to the Tonycast itself.

The second-screen content — developed with Echo, the platform behind such offerings for clients including NBC’s “Dateline” and the USA Network — will stream videos, photos, backstage segments, nominee trivia, polls and other tidbits as part of the awards-night conversation.

This year, too, the entire ceremony will be made available on iTunes alongside individual segs, for sale separately. There’ll also be a Google Hangout at the Tony dress rehearsal and a marketing campaign focused on the season’s family-friendly titles, supported by kid-oriented digital material, as well as the usual presences on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and GetGlue.

In the face of declining TV ratings, Tony organizers can console themselves with a recent study of the 2011-12 touring Broadway season that shows the Tonys are generating a broader reach in terms of ticket-buying habits, with 21% of patrons at road productions around the country reporting purchases influenced by Tony awards or noms — a stat that has grown from 7.8% in the 2005-06 season. And 11% of the study’s survey respondents added that a Tony performance seg contributed to the decision to buy.

That reflects a notable shift in Tony programming that showcases not just nominated productions but also the nationally recognized titles that auds can see concurrently on the road. Last year’s ceremony opener, for instance, was “The Book of Mormon,” which swept the Tonys the prior year and was just then heading out on tour.

“The Tony Awards (show) is our most important national outreach,” says Broadway League exec director Charlotte St. Martin. “If you look at the number of shows being recognized and publicized on the telecast, you see a greater brand building overall.”

The Tonys’ burgeoning digital initiatives aim to catch that growing awareness and expand on it further. The goal? To keep theater fans engaged throughout the year. Making theater trendy might be asking too much, but trending on Twitter is almost as good.

More Legit

  • Audra McDonald Frankie and Johnny

    Listen: How Audra McDonald Faced Her Fear in 'Frankie and Johnny'

    When producers offered Audra McDonald a role in “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” opposite Michael Shannon, she immediately said yes. Then she remembered the nude scene. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “Hell, yes, there was trepidation,” the Tony-winning actress said on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. “I was [...]

  • A Strange Loop review

    Off Broadway Review: 'A Strange Loop'

    “No one cares about a writer who is struggling to write,” sings the anxiety-ridden lead character in Michael R. Jackson’s sometimes exhilarating, sometimes exasperating new musical, “A Strange Loop,” at Playwrights Horizons. The abundantly talented Jackson takes the otherwise tired trope of the young, poor and sensitive artist trying to discover his true self and [...]

  • Richard E Grant Everybody's Talking About

    Richard E. Grant to Play Former Drag Queen in 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie'

    Oscar-nominated actor Richard E. Grant will portray a former drag queen and mentor in “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” the movie adaptation of the British stage musical. “Catastrophe” co-creator and star Sharon Horgan and “Happy Valley” star Sarah Lancashire have also joined the film. Max Harwood will play the titular role of Jamie, a role inspired [...]

  • The Secret Life of Bees review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Secret Life of Bees'

    There’s a sweet sense of sisterhood that’s simply divine in “The Secret Life of Bees,” the heartwarming new musical at the Atlantic Theater Company based on Sue Monk Kidd’s bestselling 2002 coming-of-age novel, set in South Carolina in 1964 amid Civil Rights struggles. (A 2008 film adaptation starred Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah.) The feeling [...]

  • 10 Comics to Watch

    Variety Announces 10 Comics to Watch for 2019

    Variety has chosen its 10 Comics to Watch for 2019. The honorees will be profiled in the July 18 issue of Variety and at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal at a cocktail party on Thursday, July 25, followed by a panel and showcase on Friday, July 26. The events are sponsored by Cohen & Gardner LLP. The [...]

  • Vanessa Hudgens So You Think You

    Vanessa Hudgens, Hailey Kilgore to Star in Reading of 'The Notebook' Musical

    Vanessa Hudgens and Tony-nominee Hailey Kilgore are joining an upcoming reading of Ingrid Michaelson’s stage adaptation of “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks. Tony nominee Michael Greif is set to direct the reading, which will open June 23 at Vassar College’s Martel Theater as part of their Powerhouse Theater season. Kilgore will star as the younger [...]

  • Moulin Rouge director Alex Timbers

    'Beetlejuice,' 'Moulin Rouge!' Director Alex Timbers on Creating Worlds on Broadway

    In the past year, Alex Timbers has directed the Tony-nominated “Beetlejuice” and the stage adaptation of “Moulin Rouge!” (which begins previews June 28 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre). Here, he reflects on his most recent projects and the challenges of bringing two iconic movie musicals to Broadway within a year.  Both your musicals live in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content