Smokey Joes Brings Broadway to PPV

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The "Great White Way" could finally debut on pay-per-view cable in September.

Broadway Television Network cut a three-event distribution deal with In Demand LLC to debut a taped version of Smokey Joe's Café: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller Sept. 10.

The agreement will lead to the first widely distributed Broadway show on PPV, providing the industry with a high-profile event beyond wrestling and boxing, according to industry executives.

The marketing-based rate card also allows operators to keep as much as 55 percent of PPV revenues from the event, which retails at a suggested price of $24.95.

Smokey Joe's Café, while no longer running on Broadway, is the first Broadway-originated show to get wide distribution on PPV.

In 1982, the Black Tie Network, helmed by Broadway Television founder Bruce Brandwen, distributed Sophisticated Ladies to several systems, generating around 95,000 buys.

In 1992, plans to show Jelly's Last Jam live fell through after event distributor PolyGram Diversified Entertainment failed to reach agreements with the actors' union.

Seeking to avoid such a mishap, Broadway Television-the chairman of which is former USA Networks Inc. chief Kay Koplovitz-has structured long-term collective-bargaining agreements with Broadway unions, including the Actors' Equity Association.

The distributor also struck alliances with the four biggest New York theater operators: The Shubert Organization, The Nederlander Organization, Jujamcyn Theatres and SFX Entertainment Inc.

Although the initial PPV deal was with In Demand, Brandwen said, Smokey Joe's would eventually be distributed "through all PPV platforms."

"Smokey Joe's Café is ideal family programming, particularly for the PPV category," he said. "We will make this high-quality family entertainment available to a wide viewership at a price every family can afford, which we believe will ultimately bring new audiences to PPV television."

In Demand senior vice president of programming development and event acquisition Dan York said the show-the first of 12 Broadway Television will eventually produce for PPV-features a sliding, marketing-based rate card that could generate as much as 55 percent of event revenue for operators.

Systems running 200 spots plus three tactics can earn 50-50 splits, but York said if operators "do a heavier amount of marketing, they could earn as much as 55 percent." He would not provide more specifics.

"It's important to continue to broaden the content offering for PPV, and we're optimistic that over time, Broadway stage productions on PPV will develop a significant following," York added.

York and Brandwen would not disclose buy-rate projections, but both were optimistic the event would draw both heavy and non-PPV users. "We believe this is a long-term proposition, but we believe the audience will come to it," Brandwen said.

In the event that the show performs well below expectations, sources said, In Demand could terminate carriage of the remaining two shows.

Operators with knowledge of the deal were enthusiastic about offering differentiated PPV-event programming to subscribers.

Insight Communications Co. Inc. senior vice president of programming and marketing Pam Euler Helling said incorporating Broadway events into current PPV offerings would only help the struggling event business.

"I think having a diverse pay-per-view event offering has to improve the category overall," she added.

Neither Brandwen nor York would speculate on what the other two Broadway shows would be. Nor would they provide specific dates for the events.

Brandwen said the shows would come from currently running Broadway productions, and he ruled out nonmusical efforts. "For the foreseeable future, we'll remain with musicals," he added.

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