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NYCB and live cinema


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#1 California

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Posted 04 September 2013 - 07:38 AM

In this lengthy article about opera and ballet companies using live cinema, I was stunned to read this excuse from NYCB as to why they don't do this:

 

 

 

“We would love to be able to do the live films and there is media capability built into the theater, but it’s just too expensive,” said Katherine E. Brown, executive director of the New York City Ballet. “And we would need to negotiate an arrangement with the union. So we have to come up with other things. We think this whole area is really important — the way people are consuming culture is very much about being online.”

 

I see two excuses: (1) the unions: but, obviously, the other organizations have figured out how to negotiate this. The Met says they share net revenues with the artists and organizations, so presumably that could be done at NYCB, too. (2) The expense: I'm sure there are start-up expenses, but the article also says that the Metropolitan Opera is making $20 million a year in net profits. I suppose the ballet might earn less, but the Met shows it can be done.

 

It's also interesting that ABT is not even mentioned. I wonder if someone there was interviewed?

 

http://www.nytimes.c...?pagewanted=all

 

The paucity of broadcasts and DVDs from the current iterations of NYCB and ABT is a continuing complaint on this board. I wonder what others think of the NYCB excuses?



#2 sandik

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Posted 04 September 2013 - 07:57 AM

Without knowing much about their budgets and the terms of their union contracts, I wouldn't want to assume that Ms Brown's statement, that it's just too expensive, is off the mark.  The Met Opera has a different relationship with its performing artists, and a different fundraising pool -- it's really not a straight 'apples to apples' comparison.

 

But I think that the administrations of ABT and NYCB should certainly be working towards including live broadcast/DVDs in their future negotiations with all their artistic staff.  The landscape has changed significantly and they need to move along with it.



#3 Helene

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Posted 04 September 2013 - 08:40 AM

If the Met has technology and the satellite in Lincoln Center's backyard, plus the experience and expertise, I would approach the Met if I were NYCB, ABT, the New York Philharmonic, Juilliard, the theater and jazz groups in the complex, etc. to see if there are any opportunities to co-produce with them.

Yes, they's have to negotiate with the unions. They would have one place to go for dancers, though, instead of working with multiple artists, and dancers are the right age to embrace new technologies. The arguments for audience-building and fundraising apply to ballet dancers: the more funds that come into the company, the better off the dancers are, one step removed. There are also so few opportunities for dancers to be known through recordings, outside a few places where high-ish quality videos make their way regularly to YouTube, where we can compare not only three Mariinsky ballerinas' Nikiyas, for example, but multiple performances of one ballerina. Most NYCB dancers are known solely from promotional clips and written descriptions. HD broadcasts, which can then be monetized through streaming, downloads, and DVD's, would allow more than locals and visitors to see these dancers, especially when the Balanchine and Robbins Trusts have control over what can be seen of the best of their rep.

The Philharmonic, I'd guess, would try to feature guest artists and would be in negotiation with the orchestra's union and the YoYo Ma's.

The Met made itself a "National" company long ago with its radio broadcasts and has made a huge splash with the Met in HD series. In Vancouver, an hour after sales opened, the pickings were slim in the big theater except for the first five rows for this season's operas (except, predictably, for "The Nose). Especially where there are no local sports teams, fans grab onto some team for which to root. (You can see NY Yankees hats and Manchester United jerseys everywhere.) Ted Turner broadcast Atlanta Braves games on his national cable station and grabbed a lot of non-affiliated fans. I haven't seen any stats to indicate that Met in HD has caused big drops in local attendance and support, although especially as people age, staying local and going to a movie theater on a Saturday during the day will become a more viable option, but this demographic stops attending live performances anyway. The ticket prices, not much more than most club cover charges, are a low barrier to entry for young people, and for older people on a fixed income, they are affordable.

There's a big opportunity for the first dance company out in this media to become "America's Company" and capture the loyalties especially of those in ballet-deprived areas of the country -- there are more local orchestras and opera groups/companies than ballet companies, hence fewer local affiliations in ballet -- but also where there is a ballet company. Porn, on average, doesn't stop people from wanting sex: it makes them want to have more of the live experience, and I don't see why this wouldn't be true of ballet on HD vs. live performances (where available).

#4 volcanohunter

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Posted 04 September 2013 - 09:05 AM

I would also like to hear what ABT has to say about this. I have always been baffled its failure to take advantage of the Met's HD facilities, not to mention an audience with a built-in habit of going to the cinema on Saturday afternoons. I think of my aunt, a fanatical standee in her college years, who so loved going to the Met that when the opera season ended, she would keep right on going to see the visiting ballet companies.



#5 abatt

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Posted 04 September 2013 - 09:08 AM

I think that Katherine Brown is a hypocrite.  She was the architect of the NYCB policy of closing down the third and fourth rings, thereby eliminating large numbers of affordable seats. (Even when the fourth ring is open, the seat prices are so overpriced that they frequently don't sell, except for Nutcracker and SL.) The fact that she is now paying lip service to the idea of broadening the NYCB audience through live film is comical under the circumstances.  If NYCB wants to broaden the audience,  they should open up the higher rings for every show and price them reasonably.  Then more people could afford to come see the show live and in person at the theater. Unlike the Bolshoi, which the article tells us is always sold out, NYCB is often less than half full, in part due to the pricing policies and ring closures used by NYCB.



#6 kfw

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Posted 04 September 2013 - 09:49 AM

Clearly NYCB thinks it makes more money by forcing people to buy higher priced seats or not buy seats at all than by letting them choose lower-priced seats. I don't like their closing of the upper rings either, but their doing so doesn't mean Brown wouldn't sincerely love to broaden the audience. It just means she's looking at the bottom line.



#7 Jayne

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Posted 04 September 2013 - 09:55 AM

I think you're all missing a crucial part of the NYT article.  It is not specific about how the costs work, but you can use some analysis to understand how the MET made this work.  They negotiated their contracts before anyone was making any money on this, so the unions, distributors, etc all signed up for a reasonable expense.  Now that it is known that the MET makes good money, the unions and distributors are playing hard ball to make money from anyone who is new to this market.  

 

Just look at the Time Warner / CBS kerfuffle to see how greed disrupts the distribution of entertainment in the US.  The distribution of movie screens is absolutely no different.  Entertainment is controlled by people who are hired to be essentially jerks and to push for the highest fees possible, and stonewall if they can't get it. 

 

As I understand it, the MET productions cost about $3 million each to produce.   If the Bolshoi produced an Opera, do you think people around the world would pay $18 to go see it in a movie theatre?  Probably not.  But they would pay to go see the MET.   That's a big difference.  I'm not sure that NYCB or ABT have the international (or even national) drawing power of the MET.  It has an annual budget of $325 million.  NYCB is under $62 million and ABT is under $40 million.  

 

I'm not sure either company is in a position to risk $3 million on a live broadcast this year.  It's a much bigger financial risk for them than for the MET. 

 

But for the moment, the Met is the only organization whose initiatives are profitable.

 

That is mostly because the organization, thanks to Mr. Gelb’s negotiations with the unions, got out of the starting blocks quickly. From the outset, the Met owned the technology and employed the highly skilled, in-house production team that operates it.

 

“We literally control the distribution because the satellite is sitting outside the Met in a van,” Mr. Gelb said. “It’s incredibly complicated because we have separate contracts with every licensee in every country, but it’s all us. We are producing and distributing the program — the screening, and every additional release in whichever medium — with no middleman. That broad distribution is why we are able to make money.”

 

Without those systems in place, some major companies clearly consider the investment too great. 



#8 abatt

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Posted 04 September 2013 - 09:56 AM

I understand your point, KFW.  However, if Brown wanted to broaden the audience, NYCB wouldn't be playing this game of controlling the supply of tickets.  The way she has approached reaching financial goals has diminished the audience, rather than broadened it, in my opinion. 



#9 Helene

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Posted 04 September 2013 - 11:45 AM

Broadening the audience does not just mean putting butts in seats in the theater.  HD broadcasts wouldn't be targeted to NYC.  They'd be broadening the audience nation- and world-wide to a market that sees Balanchine through the POB's, Bolshoi's, and Mariinsky's take instead of NYCB's.  It would also re-engage the interest of former NYers who were company folliwers/supporters back in the day.  Southern Florida theaters should be able to thrive on this.

 

 

 

I think you're all missing a crucial part of the NYT article.  It is not specific about how the costs work, but you can use some analysis to understand how the MET made this work.  They negotiated their contracts before anyone was making any money on this, so the unions, distributors, etc all signed up for a reasonable expense.  Now that it is known that the MET makes good money, the unions and distributors are playing hard ball to make money from anyone who is new to this market.  

I think it's clear from the article why the Met's model is different than anyone else's would be.  When it boils down to it, unions and distributors, who took a big beating on SFB's "Nutcracker," for example, had the choice then and have one now to accept this as a break-even at best.  They might have a valid argument that the risk is too great and a failure would impact them greatly, because NYCB transmissions wouldn't net over 5% of the operating budget.
 

 

Just look at the Time Warner / CBS kerfuffle to see how greed disrupts the distribution of entertainment in the US.  The distribution of movie screens is absolutely no different.  Entertainment is controlled by people who are hired to be essentially jerks and to push for the highest fees possible, and stonewall if they can't get it.

a number of theaters out west who show Met in HD are arthouse cinemas, and this hasn't been their pattern.  I think it would be a bigger issue to get distributors to take the product.
 

 

If the Bolshoi produced an Opera, do you think people around the world would pay $18 to go see it in a movie theatre?

Yes, in fact people around the world pay $18 (or $20-25) in Canada to see productions from La Scala and the Royal Opera House, and the Bolshoi Opera has long been one of the world's great companies. The collaboration with French production teams is already in place for the ballet, and the Bolshoi Opera has stars that worldwide audiences clamor to see.  They'd also have the advantage of packaging it together with the Bolshoi Ballet in terms of distribution.



#10 volcanohunter

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Posted 04 September 2013 - 12:13 PM

Yes, in fact people around the world pay $18 (or $20-25) in Canada to see productions from La Scala and the Royal Opera House, and the Bolshoi Opera has long been one of the world's great companies..  They'd also have the advantage of packaging it together with the Bolshoi Ballet in terms of distribution.

 

I think it has been discussed elsewhere on the board that the Met stipulates that cinemas that show its HD performances cannot show the broadcasts of other opera companies. Since the Met got out of the gate early and established successful ties with many U.S. chains, it is exceedingly difficult for any other opera company to elbow its way in.

 

Canada has only two movie chains with nationwide reach, and both of them have been showing the Met since the outset, though at present Empire Cinemas shows the Met only in Atlantic Canada, while Cineplex shows it everywhere else. The Cineplex dance series, when it finally got going, was built around the Bolshoi, and was later augmented by the Royal Ballet. But apparently the Royal Opera is off limits because of existing contracts with the Met, and presumably the Canadian market would be equally inaccessible to the Bolshoi Opera. No doubt contracts with the Met would make the bundling of the Bolshoi Ballet and Opera difficult in other countries as well. For example, Pathé Live, the Bolshoi Ballet's primary distributor, is also the French distributor for the Met.

 

Distribution continues to be a problem for the Royal Opera House in the U.S. When Emerging Pictures announced its fall season, the lineup included the Bolshoi Ballet and La Scala, but the Royal Ballet and Opera, which had been included in more than one preceding season, were conspicuously absent. http://www.emergingp...ason-announced/ For now, at least, it appears that U.S. audiences will not get to see the Royal Ballet's forthcoming cinecasts.



#11 DanielBenton

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Posted 04 September 2013 - 01:33 PM

I believe Helene's point about audiences learning about Balanchine from companies other than NYCB is the most telling. Doesn't NYCB want to maintain a semblance of leadership as the custodian of the Balanchine legacy? And shouldn't they have a mindset to do whatever it takes to accomplish this?

#12 meunier fan

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Posted 04 September 2013 - 02:20 PM

If distribution is such an expensive concern for companies like NYCB, I wonder why they simply don't organise an on-line subscription situation themselves - a la 'Met on Demand'.  In that way they (e.g., NYCB) could control matters and not depend on the almighty (outside) middlemen (at least in terms of the marketing/distribution).  I'm sure there are a world of people out there who in time will be eager to view their product and for whom an opportunity to experience such live at the Koch Theatre (no matter how many levels are closed - READ 'SHOCKING: I GREW UP IN THE FOURTH CIRCLE' - and regardless how astute the almighty social media interface may be) is an all-too-rare luxury.  Surely NYCB simply have to start somewhere* in this regard ... and time does, after all, wait for no man (nor ballet company for that matter).  

 

 

(*NYCB did a few years ago do a live cinema broadcast of Balanchine's The Nutcracker I believe [e.g., other than the commercial cinema release shot some years previous].  I know I saw a screening of the live performance in London and was deeply appreciative ... or am I dreaming .... and merely old ??) 



#13 Helene

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Posted 04 September 2013 - 02:58 PM

Thank you, volcanohunter.  I remember seeing the Royal Opera "La Traviata" with Fleming and Hampson in Vancouver, but the years have flown by so quickly, maybe it was before the Met in HD. I'm visualizing that it was shown at the big multi-plex on Granville, former main venue of the Vancouver International Film Festival, that is no more.  (It's being developed.)  Granville 7 was part of the Empire Cinemas chain.



#14 kfw

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Posted 04 September 2013 - 03:54 PM

(*NYCB did a few years ago do a live cinema broadcast of Balanchine's The Nutcracker I believe [e.g., other than the commercial cinema release shot some years previous].  I know I saw a screening of the live performance in London and was deeply appreciative ... or am I dreaming .... and merely old ??) 

 

You could be dreaming, but they did do a live Nutcracker broadcast in 2011. wink1.gif



#15 Swanilda8

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Posted 04 September 2013 - 04:54 PM

I have no idea what has to happen to make NYCB broadcast or record its ballets, but I would cry with joy if it happened.  There is so much Balanchine and Robbins repertoire that needs good recording.

 

The article itself, though, makes a bigger deal out of social media attracting audiences. So, congrats BalletAlert for being part of the revolution!




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