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Shows that exist due to internet hype?

September 21, 2016

Back in August, when the next block of Potter tickets were released and sold in hours, I reminded younger readers on theatreboard.co.uk of the mid 1980s and early 1990s where we would wait a year or more to see “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Misérables” and “Cats.” Technology meant the tickets sold a little slower – you could only book by post, phone or in person back then – but the result was the same. As I was typing that reply, however, the thought suddenly struck me, “how did we know they were worth waiting for, and does the internet now play a part in keeping even mediocre shows busy now?”

Back then, a far greater audience read the same few newspapers and heard the same messages on TV and radio, concentrated into a very few stations. With less choice, I guess the hype could build and, rather like Patrick “American Psycho” Bateman, kudos was gained by being first in your social group to have tickets.

Now, the “official voices” are diluted by fan sites, many obsessive. I remember in the early 2000s being highly amused by one such “Les Misérables” site on which a teen girl, not even born when the original opened, painstakingly spelled out every abbreviation for characters that we needed to know, apparently, to be a fan.

It’s also obvious on discussion website theatreboard.co.uk that “Wicked” is by far the most discussed show – and the one I get most day seat reports from too.

These shows have a massive marketing spend, of course, but the fact new generations are finding new ways to spread the word has to play a part in keeping them open, doesn’t it. These fans generate repeat visits, sometimes obsessively, which fills seats even outside the main tourist season, and even hands the baton to yet another generation too.

My question, though, is if this obsession crowds out other shows? Far harder to find “fan sites” about “The Go-Between,” for example. Mr Crawford, of course, but not the show. Likewise “Bend It Like Beckham” in its day and others. I’m not saying that either would have run longer, necessarily, or had much of a future life after closure, but it is weird that few new shows seem to attract the same “critical mass” online as those of my own teenage times.

Are there ways of seeding the web that have not been explored – I don’t mean handing tickets to illiterate bloggers, nor fake or illegal websites being set up posing as fans. I’m talking about sustained campaigns to build awareness, and really involve the obsessive generation in a show. Maybe allow off-shoots from the official show website, letting fans post pages and share comments? Marketing campaigns where they will see them on the latest social media rather than common Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat?

I don’t know why one show “takes” online any more than why one runs or not, but it’s interesting, isn’t it.

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