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Didn’t work

0 Robert Levine

The Los Angeles Philharmonic has pulled the plug on its attempt to emulate the Metropolitan Opera’s successful series of live broadcasts to movie theaters:

When the Los Angeles Philharmonic launched its series of live broadcasts to cinemas in 2011, the organization touted it as an innovative program intended to broaden the popular reach of the orchestra and its star conductor, Gustavo Dudamel.

But two seasons later, the orchestra has had to pull the plug on the series due to a difficult economic environment.

Deborah Borda, president of the orchestra, said in a statement that the L.A. Phil Live series “was not able to garner the sponsorship required to move forward,” despite corporate support from Rolex, the luxury watchmaker that was the official sponsor of the cinema series.

Borda said that the broadcasts required “intensive financial and staff resources” and that the orchestra was considering “future presentations on a one-off basis.”

…A company spokeswoman said the L.A. Phil Live series reached as many as 460 movie theaters in the U.S. (The Metropolitan Opera is broadcasting to about 750 cinemas nationwide this season.) In Canada, the orchestra reached approximately 47 cinemas, according to a spokeswoman for Cineplex Entertainment, a Canadian exhibitor.

Both the L.A. Philharmonic and Fathom declined to provide U.S. attendance figures. Cineplex could not provide attendance figures for Canada, but the spokeswoman said, “We didn’t get the attendance in our locations that we had hoped for with these events.”

I was skeptical about this venture when it first appeared on the radar screen, but I’m glad it was tried. It may be that a different version of it will be attempted, either in LA or somewhere else, with more success, and the lessons learned in LA will be useful to that attempt.

The problem with innovation is that innovations often don’t pan out. One major problem with our industry is that there is neither the money to try experiments like this nor the mindset that is willing to take the risk even when the resources are available. As I wrote in the earlier post, the LA Phil deserves a great deal of credit for taking the risk; learning what doesn’t work is every bit as valuable for learning what does. It’s hypocritical to praise innovation while reserving the right to criticize innovators for failure; frequent failure is the fate of the smartest and most savvy pioneers. Arrows in the back should not be.

LA also deserve credit for pulling the plug and not stubbornly continuing to pour money into something that isn’t working out instead of pretending that it really is working, or should work, or is morally or spiritually entitled to do so, or some other excuse for not facing facts. That’s another bad habit that our industry has, although we’re hardly alone in that.


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