Jim McCarthy, Stellar CEO and Co-founder, shares more about why he wrote the book and the ideas he shares with readers.
The pandemic hit live entertainment harder than any other industry—but also revealed tantalizing new possibilities. Online, streaming, and hybrid events opened the door to bigger audiences, better finances, and more innovative content for live producers.
Beyond the Back Row breaks down the why, how, and what of online, streaming, and hybrid live events. It helps readers understand the opportunities, avoid the pitfalls, and learn what they need to master.
In a few years, digital capabilities for live producers will be a given. Until then, Beyond the Back Row will give readers a major head start. In this exclusive interview, author Jim McCarthy, Stellar CEO and Co-founder, shares more about why he wrote the book and the ideas he shares with readers.
When COVID-19 hit, I was the co-founder and then-CEO of Goldstar. We’ve been in the business of selling tickets to live-entertainment events since 2002. We’re an online business, but the end product is not online. COVID-19 seemed almost purpose-built to shut us—and the rest of the industry—down. We needed to fight hard to survive.
In May of 2020, we greenlit Stellar, now the gold standard for people serious about online events and digital live entertainment. By August, we had a beta product, paying audiences, and real shows. By December, Stellar had hosted hundreds of events. This story, though, isn’t about us, and it isn’t about the past. It’s about the future of live entertainment. The possibilities of this new medium are endless, and I want to share what I’ve learned.
I wrote this book for those who want to succeed with online events—everyone responsible for producing or marketing live entertainment and arts—including music promoters, executive directors of theatre or arts nonprofits, theatre producers, venue owners, artists or artists’ managers, heads of marketing for organizations big and small, and live-entertainment entrepreneurs.
Online events can be more than a stopgap solution to a temporary problem. They can be a supercharger to the business of live events. They can create new opportunities to reach audiences, develop great work, and make more money. It’s the one big win coming from a time of too much loss, and it’s too important to miss.
Online events aren’t just in-person events with a camera pointed at them. They’re a new medium, with strengths and limitations. When creators forget that, they fall prey to one of the main pitfalls of online events. It’s what I call “radio on TV.”
Some early TV shows were holdovers from the age of radio. Gunsmoke, Superman, Ozzy and Harriet, Dragnet, and I Love Lucy succeeded on the screen. Others didn’t make the leap because, unlike the shows I just mentioned, they were doing radio on TV. They didn’t adapt. Producers didn’t play to the new medium’s strengths, instead transplanting what they did on radio to television.
By contrast, watch the famous “chocolate factory” scene from a 1952 episode of I Love Lucy. It’s very early in the history of TV, and you can see Lucille Ball taking full advantage of the new medium. This scene wouldn’t even make sense on radio, but it’s a scream on TV.
Lucy and Ethel are working in a chocolate factory and sitting at a conveyor belt. Their job is to wrap each chocolate and replace it on the belt. At first, all is well, but the belt keeps speeding up. Lucy and Ethel go from confident to frantic. They resort to all kinds of idiotic “solutions” to their problems. They eat some. They hide them in their hats and stuff them down their shirts. It’s hysterical.
By the way, a written explanation of the scene, like the one I just wrote, is akin to radio on TV too. It’s an accurate description of the scene but completely lifeless. You may understand what happened, and maybe it made you want to see the actual scene. But compared to seeing it on video, it’s totally lame. That’s how it feels when the medium and communication style are not aligned.
Don’t be radio on TV. To make online events work, you must commit to learning what’s effective in this medium.
Once you’ve got the knack for successful online events, you’ve really got something. That’s because you can achieve a lot of different goals through this new medium.
If you just want to make money and do a great show, that’s possible. You can contain costs, and if you get the content right, you can sell an unlimited number of tickets and make real money. But there are other, more specific ways to put these events to use.
As a development platform, online events are great. Early in the life of a new show, the online format is a relatively cheap way to get a real audience’s response. It’s easier to survey an online audience, and you can get a lot of data. When did people stop watching? When did they get excited in chat or with the reaction emojis?
Online events can also be a great marketing tool. You can create an audience you can use again or for something else. Online events can also be an excellent way of fundraising for a nonprofit or cause.
You can use online events for subscriber retention or rewards too. You can run a special online event that only donors and supporters can see or join, giving them a good reason to keep the donations coming in.
Beyond the Back Row is a primer to enable you to understand what online events are, how to get everything you can out of them, and where to start in this new space. The new medium offers a bigger stage on which to do the work you want to do. An artist or an organization can take control. There’s a worldwide platform with unlimited scale at your fingertips if you can figure out how to use it. And if you do, you can be a huge success.
A discussion on the limitless possibilities streaming offers theatre professionals.