Theatre.com & Buy Broadway.com
“Toby is the man pushing theatre, kicking and screaming, into cyberspace”
“A Marketing Powerhouse”
I was Founder and CEO for over a decade of my New York-based “800 pound gorilla” theatrical marketing company focussed on putting butts on seats. I was as an evangelist, fortune teller, advisor, educator and negotiator.
I personally envisioned, initiated, designed and oversaw the development the first ever web ticket sales system for Ticketmaster in 1995, I envisioned and produced the 1st theatrical live streaming events, established an online news network with global correspondents called BroadwayNow, sold the 1st theatrical souvenir and props online, and produced, designed, deployed and marketed over 100 Broadway, West End, touring and international websites and theatrical organizations online.
Founded as ShowCall turning on service on June 4, 1989 (to coincide with that years Tony Awards), evolved to the Worldwide Entertainment Network on October 19, 1992 to officially launch in April 1993 shortly after the release of the first public web browser, Mosaic, under “Fleethouse.com/ShowCall” and “wen.com” (Worldwide Entertainment) and “hqe.com” (Headquarters Entertainment) URL’s. Later consolidated and rebranded as BuyBroadway.com. The websites showcased currently running shows in NY and major tours, photos of newspaper clipping, official press photos and had theatre information for industry touring staff an early version of what would become ‘Stage Specs‘ In late 1993, BuyBroadway started maintaining forums on Prodigy / AOL and Compuserve services. BuyBroadway focussed on shows themselves, with press releases, photographs, cast lists and educational study guides.
I then formally established a New York based company BuyBroadway Online Inc. (www.BuyBroadway.com; AOL keyword: Broadway; MSN keyword: Broadway; DigitalCities keyword Broadway; Compuserve keyword: Broadway) in December 1996 and re-branded to Theatre.com Inc. (www.theatre.com) in October 1999 (formally launched at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway with members of various Broadway casts on the 7th anniversary of wen.com).
In these early days yahoo was a single page listing (my website was about the 25th listed). Google did not exist. Facebook, Instagram, etc.. were years away from imagination. Mobile phones had no apps. I built the 8th online shopping service on the internet licensing (for $85k) a Netscape e-commerce server. Microsoft and I streamed the 1st ever video. I developed cross-site single click logins. I created an affiliate sharing program for ticket and souvenir sales. I built a large (180k) community of theatre lovers. I developed marketing campaigns and cross promotions for all Broadway. I was giving speeches about Broadway and technology convergence at major events such as COMDEX, World Trade Center, Digital Hollywood and WindowWorld.
Described by Variety Magazine as a “marketing powerhouse“, theatre.com was the single largest theatre community in the world.
From buying official Broadway tickets integrated with Telecharge and Ticketmaster along with purchasing souvenirs through all 100+ member sites, providing detailed global show listings, interactive show study & educational guides, live streaming shows and events, including many Broadway & West End Opening Nights, general public and exclusive industry news from major theatre journalists along with features from InTheater Magazine, official photographers photos and videos, many from backstage, games and quizzes and contests, providing a messaging system directly to Broadway show cast’s backstage or even licensing a musical, theatre.com offered it all in a single, easy-to-use interface to theatregoers across North America and globally.
Major components of my marketing company were:
I personally designed and executed online websites and associated marketing campaigns for the vast majority (over 95%) of Broadway shows, theatrical events, individuals & theatre companies…
VICTOR/VICTORIA was the FIRST show, 1st musical and 1st Broadway show to come onto the internet in early 1995. I was one of the producers. I was initially CEO of HQE, but later worked directly for lead producer Tony Adams at the Victor/Victoria company.
My website initially came from a desire to sell tickets to overseas tourists (particular the Japanese who loved Julie, traveled extensively, and adored Broadway), at a time when Ticketmaster did not have any online presence, and no ability to handle foreign credit card transactions.
The site additionally included the first ever theatre-related video clip streaming over the internet with Julie Andrews performing the film version of “Le Jazz Hot“, produced in conjunction with Microsoft Netshow (precursor to Windows Media Player) thanks to my contacts at Microsoft (one of whom was one of my investors in the show) — albeit the size of a postage stamp, but at the time, shockingly exciting on the internet.
The website was so successful within the Broadway industry, that my vision for online marketing became the catalyst for the majority of the Broadway industry to join me in establishing BuyBroadway in New York in January 1997 (I had previously operated ShowCall and BuyBroadway out of Canada)
Affectionately dubbed the “Macy’s of Theatre Souvenirs” by The Mining Co — with over 4,000 theatrical products (souvenirs, props and VIP experiences) for sale, it was the “Super Site of Broadway“. The very first Broadway souvenir sold was an ANNIE Coffee Mug to a buyer in Brazil within days of turning on the expensive Netscape Commerce Server.
The culmination of a year of planning and the centralization of a number of key BuyBroadway consumer resources, BroadwayNow, my integrated consumer news service headed by Managing Editor, Robert Viagas, launched on February 1, 1999 and included daily reader opinion polls, quizzes and columns from renowned theatre writers, including Ken Mandelbaum, Peter Filichia and Mark Shenton.
Along with features from InTheater Magazine; kids’ news, written by kids for kids in conjunction with Camp Broadway; Ask Jessica, the very popular and unique Broadway spin off Dear Abby style questions and answers led by the 1997 Drama Desk Awards Challenge winner Jessica Browner; schedules of upcoming Opening Nights; weekly box office tally’s of all Broadway shows; listings of forthcoming CDs; official photographers photos and videos, many from backstage. Dedicated regional staff based in dozens of regions, from London to LaJolla, Munich to Miami, Sydney to Sacramento and everywhere in between supplied local news and theatre listings to over 137 global cities.
At time of sale in 2000, BroadwayNow had filed 4,832 news stories, plus 162 InTheater Magazine features, along with a photo archive of just over 7,000 images.
My companies 182,530 “Broadway Circle Club” members received late-breaking news, special deep discount secret ticket offers, discounted merchandise, contests to win trips to NY or London, receive special event invitations directly from shows producers to visit backstage, attend cast events, obtain tickets for TV show tapings, or obtain VIP section standing room at various Times Square events.
I produced the first ever live streaming video webcast from a Broadway opening night (PLAY ON in 1997), and followed up with a series of additional online broadcast’s sponsored by Microsoft, including, ANNIE Opening Night, The Tony Awards red carpet and winners room, DAMN YANKEES opening night and backstage with Jerry Lewis in London, The Drama Desk Awards (multiple years full show), KISS ME, KATE opening night, THE SOUND OF MUSIC cast recording, RENT (Broadway anniversary & London opening night), THE CIVIL WAR opening night, THE MUSIC MAN opening night, the 10th anniversary of LES MISERABLES and TITANIC opening night.
A personal thrill for me occurred on the opening night of ANNIE at the Martin Beck Theatre (now renamed Al Hirschfeld Theatre) on March 26, 1997, where I was interviewing invited stars and dignitaries on the red carpet under the theatre marquee for live video streaming. Legendary CBS anchor Walter Cronkite arrived, and I took the opportunity to interview him live, to which he responded on camera “Son, it is not you that should be interviewing me, it is I that should be interviewing you, since you and this new medium are the future”. At that very moment, I was finally aware I was part of history in the making.
I also produced many live chats on AOL, Compuserve, MSN and theatre.com, beginning with Chita Rivera on December 10, 1997, and then later with icons such as Julie Andrews, Liza Minnelli, Hal Prince, Stephen Sondheim, Carol Channing and Jerry Lewis. My favorite being with Arthur Miller and Brian Dennehy during the opening week of the Tony Award winning DEATH OF A SALESMAN, in conjunction with AOL which drew a record-breaking 8,000 concurrent users.
A single consolidated login across all Broadway, West End, Off-Broadway show websites and other member sites that I created, via a ‘Broadway Passport‘ that I established (a pre-curser to the AppleID concept), greatly benefitting theatre goers with quick and easy secure access to over 200 theatre websites, with just one single login.
My companies were host of the TOBY AWARDS, initially established in 1997 to grant peoples choice awards to the best shows, performers, crew, designers, managers or any other theatrical role based on member polling (Theatre Online Best of the Year). The first was awarded to Stephanie Lawrence in 1997 in London for her spectacular performance in USA, Canada & UK in BLOOD BROTHERS and CATS in the West End. After 2001, this evolved as a direct award from me for practitioners from any entertainment discipline recognizing excellence in their contribution to global entertainment which continues ad-hoc to this day.
Select content along with comprehensive Broadway, Off-Broadway, national touring and regional content was also available through America Online (AOL Keyword: Broadway), Digital City network, MSN (MSN keyword: Broadway) and CompuServe’s Arts & Entertainment Channel, including include show synopsis, performance schedules & times, production photographs, seating charts and facility information.
Together with AvantGo, Theatre.com’s full site offerings were also available to handheld PC and Palm Pilot users worldwide (the pre-cursor to smartphones).
In addition, I developed and implemented launch campaign site for Disney on Broadway for THE LION KING, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and Elton John & Tim Rice’s AIDA featuring around-the-world contests and extensive guerrilla marketing.
I also created the world’s first video email, from Elton John to promote Elton John & Tim Rice’s AIDA with a prize of a trip to the Tony Awards courtesy of American Express…
Operated by Toby Simkin, later creating New York-based BuyBroadway Online, Inc, and later again re-branded to Theatre.com Inc at the Minskoff Theatre on October 19, 1999, the 7th anniversary of my first theatrical website, the Worldwide Entertainment Network.
As I grew the business, over the years, it took a team to enhance. These were the pioneers that embraced my vision:
- Toby Simkin, Founder, President & CEO
- Robert Viagas, Managing Editor
- Jill Pattton, Director, Client Services
- Mary Jane Brennan, Marketing Manager
- David Balsom, Senior Press Representative
- Andrew McGibbon, Director, Special Projects
- Karl Fritz, Senior Designer
- Jeffrey Bowen, Designer
- Jeff Prout, Designer
- Joe Giegel, Advanced Development Programming
- Paul Urfi, Design Specialist
- Stuart Levy, Client Services
- Benjamin Mogil, Administrator
- Paula Mallino, Retail Manager
- Norma Grossman, Listing Manager
- Ken Mandelbaum, Features Reporter
- Randy Gener, Senior Reporter
- Peter Filichia, Senior Reporter & Theatregoers Diary
- Michael Farkash, Reporter – Southern California
- Sean McGrath, Reporter – Chicago
- Dave Brand, Reporter – Denver
- Mark Shenton, Reporter – London
- Erin Hart, Reporter – Minneapolis/St. Paul
- Jessica Browner, Reporter – New England, and “Ask Jessica“
- Elizabeth Ahlfors, Reporter – Philadelphia
- Richard Dodds, Reporter – San Francisco
- Mitchell Uscher, Reporter – Southern Florida
- Peter Szatmary, Reporter – Texas
- Brad Hathaway, Reporter – Washington DC
- Jose Campos, South American Liasion
- DJ Wizniak, Creative Services
- Jerome Watts, Webmaster
- Terry Willey, Systems Engineer
- Kevin Kwan, Technical Coordination
- Gerry Liu, Programmer
- Xinyang Shen, Programmer
- Rajshree Ojha, Technical Support
- Peter Cromarty, Press Representative
- Ed Shapiro, Chief Financial Officer
- Tim Gamble, Investor Relations
- John Angelo, Investor Communications
- Robert Henry, Assistant to the President
A member of the League of American Theatres and Producers, Toby had been leading the industry into cyberspace since its establishment in 1989 by designing, hosting and promoting the official web sites for the vast majority of Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, national tours and regional shows and theatrical industry organizations.
I was embracing technology. I saw the future.
Others didn’t. Eventually theatre.com turned into a publicly traded company in 1999 (VSX: EmNet) and thanks to an idiotic short-sighted public company board decision who chose to ignore my belief in the internet / tech future for Broadway and global theatre, forced a sale to the Broadway Television Network in 2000 for a little over $10m — a pittance in those days. And so began my distrust of money people. (Crowd-funding, Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank did not exist back then).
More about marketing theatrical companies and individuals.
他于1995年创立的旗舰式企业Theatre.com （起初叫作BuyBroadway）刚开始纯属个人业余爱好，1998年变成上市公司，一直到2000年该公司被出售. 在此期间，他个人成功的为超过百老汇和伦敦西区的100个舞台剧和50多个公司设计了网站和在线营销策略。
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