Broadway Needs a Swift Kick in the App

You’ve checked into a Broadway theatre on Foursquare. Perhaps you’ve unlocked a $1 off drink special. Now what? Before arriving at the theatre, you may have been sent an email with links to a podcast or program to discover more about a production. Consider yourself prepped. Does that mean the interactive digital experience ends at the concessions stand? Today, yes. Tomorrow, hopefully not.

It’s time for arts-related mobile apps to get micro, right down to the seat you’re sitting in, and extend the storytelling experience through second screens. Mobile app developers have pushed the boundaries of ways users can extend their experience with entertainment content.

Disney’s latest iPad app is a stunning achievement in building tools for fans of all interest levels to explore animated content. touted the app as “magical and truly amazing to play with. It’s something you’ll have a hard time putting down.”

Surely, Broadway’s creative minds can dream as big as the animators at Disney. As producer Ken Davenport posited last month, “Could you be watching a musical that has interactive components sent to a screen in your hand? What if you heard a character’s innermost thoughts on a phone while they spoke something else from the stage?”

As I wrote in early 2011, one rich asset live theatre could easily mine for a digital app is the Playbill–programs suffice for those not involved with the actual Playbill publishing company. And yet, these assets have not been converted into anything substantial for theatregoers to explore–carbon-copy version of the printed material no longer passes muster.

In a mobile study conducted by MDG Advertising, it was found that users prefer apps for connecting with other people, navigation, and the ability to inform while mobile websites are mostly used for shopping and searching. Essentially, apps are for engagement and mobile sites are for making purchase decisions. To put these findings into marketing speak, if a user has downloaded your organization’s app, they’re already sold on the product. They know want to engage and learn more.

How can patrons engage with the arts once they’ve already purchased a ticket? Imagine being able to send a seat-to-seat message–during intermission, of course–to the person a balcony away from you at the theatre. Better yet, why not surprise them by buying a drink for them and having it sent to their seat, just before the curtain rises. With Microsoft and American Express vying for an equity stake in Foursquare (Bloomberg) and social gifting apps thriving (, buying drinks for friends, or that cute single patron you spotted across the aisle, should be the norm.

As the drink arrives, their app alerts them that “Best Friend X” says to meet at intermission. Wait, where is “Best Friend X” sitting? I’ve never actually been to this theatre before. Where the heck is Loge Row B, Seat 14? If Foursquare’s API integration went down to the seat level, I could quickly bring it up on my phone. After all, when I purchased tickets online, I pinned my Facebook profile to a seat. I should be able to see that same seating map, with friends’ locations, from my seat.

Designing an app simply to have an app is a conversation from 2010. Strong one-trick apps were a conversation for 2011. We’re nearly in 2014. It’s time for the powerful triple threat of an app–one app to rule them all.