A new digital venture is betting old-school Broadway is the key to a lucrative new-media audience.
Stage 17, launching a public beta next month ahead of a wider rollout later in the spring, targets a mostly female demographic of tech-savvy, cultured 25-to-54-year-olds, an audience segment its founders believe are underserved for digital video content — and one that matches up neatly with the influential demo that has long been responsible for the majority of Broadway ticket sales.
With that overlap in mind, the team behind Stage 17 has created a roster of digital programming that uses Broadway as a jumping off point for a larger selection of video content that would appeal to the same demo. Initial offerings range from “FanFare,” an unscripted series that reunites the original casts of famous productions around a table at Sardi’s, to short-episode comedy series like “Middle (St)age,” about a fortysomething actress still on the hunt for her big break.
Venture has been launched by founder and chair David Stoller, chairman and CEO of Reach 4 Entertainment (r4e), the company whose portfolio also includes Brit legit advertising giant Dewynters and Broadway big dog SpotCo. Ondine Landa Abramson, an exec with experience in both arts presenting and digital media, serves as president and exec producer.
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Stage 17 will follow a “freemium” revenue model, which makes ad-supported content accessible free of charge to all visitors, allowing increased functionality, both on the website (www.Stage17.tv) and on the soon-to-launch mobile app, with a login. Premium content, for which users will have to pay, will eventually be introduced; there’s also a shopping cart function on the site to allow for retail opportunities.
Channel aims to curate pre-existing content — highlighting (and in some cases licensing) web fare including the Neil Patrick Harris-Jim Henson Company skein “Neil’s Puppet Dream” — while also producing new offerings that draw, in many cases, on the talents of those in the Broadway community.
“Middle (St)age,” for instance, is the brainchild of two “Mamma Mia!” performers, and new series “Ian,” about a nerdy 25-year-old’s active imagination, is created by an associate director on the musical “Beautiful.” With an eye to the channel’s target demo, Stage 17 also signed on as executive producer for the second seasons of web series that had already launched, including “Terrible Babysitters” (from Upright Citizens Brigade alums) and “It’s Complicated,” about a mom’s travails in parenthood and suburbia.
Broadway ticketbuyers have long been predominantly female with an average age in the early to mid 40s, with a significant chunk of Main Stem purchasing decisions for an entire family made by the mother in the household. Backers of Stage 17 wager that the Rialto’s prime demo of well-educated, well-off women are the same who frequent popular blog sites such as CafeMom or SheKnows but don’t yet have a dedicated digital video channel along the lines of male-skewing platforms such as Vice or Funny or Die.
Stage 17 also wants to target the Broadway-loving LGBT demo as well as those relatively rare straight guys who like theater as much as (or more than) football.
Platform’s launch timeline will see its website go into public beta in mid-February, with the mobile apps hitting in late spring. After an initial development investment, Stage 17 is now drumming up seed funding of between $1 million and $1.5 million, with current backers including some Broadway producers.
Execs plan to launch the site with more than 100 hours of programming, including eight to ten new shows available alongside six to eight licensed series. Another four to six new shows are poised to be added in the summer.