The clock might be ticking for one of Broadway’s most powerful marketing tools.
Last week, the Trump administration announced that it might ban the popular video-sharing application TikTok in the United States over national security concerns. The Chinese company Bytedance owns the program, and lawmakers are worried that “China’s vague patchwork of intelligence, national security, and cybersecurity laws compel Chinese companies to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”
“There are a number of administration officials who are looking at the national security risk as it relates to TikTok, WeChat and other apps that have the potential for national security exposure, specifically as it relates to the gathering of information on American citizens by a foreign adversary,” confirmed Mark Meadows, the President’s Chief of Staff. “I think we are looking at [the government to make a decision within] weeks, not months,” he said.
If the government chooses to block TikTok in the United States, then it would close one of the most effective avenues for Broadway shows to reach new audiences.
“TikTok is fantastic for theatre,” commented Jim Glaub, the founder of the Broadway marketing firm Super Awesome Friends. The application allows users to share short videos of themselves lip-synching their favorite songs, and, once people stumble across and like a clip with Broadway content, its algorithm starts to show them more Broadway content. “Discovery is really happening in the world of TikTok, which is great for new musicals and new shows that are trying to organically reach audiences that might not have heard of them before,” he said.
After some cast members from the musical adaptation of Beetlejuice began posting clips with its songs on TikTok last year, the struggling show started to attract more attention and gain a massive following.
In fact, nearly one trillion videos relating to the show have been shared on the platform.
“TikTok was a game changer for Beetlejuice, because it allowed our original cast recording to reach millions more young people than Broadway marketing campaigns usually allow,” stated Jennifer Graessle, who managed the show’s social media accounts. The musical’s cast album has been streamed over 350 million times, “and its popularity, both on TikTok and beyond, has had a residual effect on the show’s social media presence and ticket sales,” she said.
The viral videos helped lure new and younger theatergoers to the Winter Garden Theatre. Over 54 percent of the audience members had never bought tickets through Telecharge before, and over 70 percent of the audience members were between the ages of 19 and 54, which is well above the usual benchmark of 49 percent at other Broadway shows. “It’s like we have a whole new fanbase from TikTok,” commented actress Presley Ryan, adding that “I think TikTok has definitely encouraged more kids and teens to come see our show since they are finding out about our show from hearing clips of the songs and seeing cosplay on TikTok.”
“[When] TikTok started to vibe with it, that’s when things got insane,” recalled its composer, Eddie Perfect. “I imagine that Broadway shows will now have incredibly annoying mandatory social media experts advising them on how to inject their shows into TikTok,” he said.
TikTok has also helped the British pop musical Six develop an audience before bowing on Broadway. With millions of videos with songs from the show spreading across the platform, producer Andy Barnes predicted that “[p]eople will be writing a dissertation on this topic one day.”
“Right before the shutdown, I think that a lot of shows were really shifting their strategies towards TikTok,” Glaub noticed. “I was working on six Broadway shows, and we were definitely playing heavily in the space,” he confirmed.
However, if TikTok is banned, then Broadway marketers will need to rethink how to get their shows in front of theatergoers, as “you cannot really get that type of discovery on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter right now,” Glaub said.
It is possible that the community of Broadway enthusiasts will gravitate as a group to one competitor like Triller, Dubsmash, or Instagram’s forthcoming service, Reels. When India’s government blocked TikTok earlier in the month, for example, Triller became the most-downloaded application in the country with 22 million downloads over two days.
But, according to marketing executives, none of TikTok’s competitors can match its algorithm in terms of fueling discovery, and it is likely that TikTok’s users would splinter across several applications or choose not to use another application at all, making it more difficult and expensive for marketers to reach the same group of customers.
“If there is a ban,” Glaub said, “then it would be pretty unfortunate, as I thought that we were starting to experience [what] TikTok could do for Broadway and musical theatre.”
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