In January, we were bought by Time Out Group, opening up a whole new era for our company. So, while I’m looking back in this article, I also can’t help but look forward – and with great excitement – about the future of these two great brands. The questions are simple but big: Where are we going? How do we fit together? But let’s start with where we’ve got to so far – and do please forgive me if I blind you with numbers, but the numbers tell a compelling story.
As Whatsonstage.com’s first and longest-serving staff member, it usually falls to me to do the summing up of the history of the business, which I was last tasked with when we celebrated our tenth birthday. I recalled then how, after being hired initially to oversee what was little more than an online listings database, I posted my first review, in July 1997, of Ben Elton’s Popcorn and my first news story, on Ian Ricksons appointment as artistic director of the Royal Court, a month later.
From those humble beginnings, we managed to add to the site over the subsequent decade another 4,445 news stories and 2,153 reviews – as well as 1,292 gossip items, 290 interviews, 240 other features and 2,000 ticket offers.
Another five years on, as of writing this for our magazine deadline last week, we’ve upped that output to: 9,913 news stories, 7,641 reviews, 2,825 gossip items, 1,549 interviews, 1,112 features and 5,365 ticket offers. That represents between 119% and 434% growth on a content type basis, an average 244% growth across the board.
Or, in other words, we’ve produced more in the past five years – in fact nearly two and a half times more – than we did in our first ten. No wonder we’re so exhausted all the time! But the effort is rewarded with a similar rise (217%) in our readership: our most recent Hitwise Top 10 Award, which now ranks Whatsonstage.com as No.2 for market share across all of the UK’s performing arts websites, proves the point.
Apart from the public’s appetite for theatre and a lot of hard work, Whatsonstage.com’s growth is undoubtedly fuelled by the changing nature of the internet and the way that content is created, consumed and shared. I’m not sure when exactly our policy changed, but at some point in the past five years, as one by one myself and my editorial colleagues acquired smartphones, deadlines became constant and in no way limited to office hours.
Twitter has become central to our 24/7 coverage. Though Twitter itself recently celebrated its sixth birthday, five years ago it still wasn’t on our radar. We launched our Whatsonstage.com account on Twitter just over three years ago – on 10 February 2009, to be exact – and since then have broadcast more than 12,000 Tweets and gathered more than 24,000 followers. (If you’re not already following us, please do @Whatsonstage!)
The Whatsonstage.com Awards too have seen phenomenal growth since our tenth birthday. In terms of voting turnout, we’ve achieved 483% growth – from 12,000 voters in 2007 to over 70,000 this year. We introduced the Awards Concert for the 2008 prize-giving. That inaugural event was co-hosted at the 960-seat Lyric Theatre by Sheridan Smith and James Corden, who memorably gave that year’s newcomer winner Daniel Radcliffe a lusty onstage snog that went YouTube crazy.
At the 2012 Awards, held for the fourth sell-out time at the 1100-seat Prince of Wales Theatre, Sheridan was back co-hosting, this time with Alan Davies, and she and Corden shared a congratulatory canoodle of their own when he picked up the Best Actor gong for One Man, Two Guvnors. And an additional 17,000 tuned in to watch our first live webcast, which has also proved a YouTube hit.
So I’d say Time Out made a pretty good acquisition in Whatsonstage.com. And we’re now working together on a joint plan to leverage all the possibilities of these two highly complementary brands. Both brands take theatre seriously, have a long history of doing so and will continue to do so; the key difference is in how we approach it. In essence, Time Out covers theatre as one of a range of entertainment options for a culturally savvy audience who want to decide what to do with their weekend, while Whatsonstage.com reports on everything that’s happening in theatre for an audience who want to immerse themselves in theatregoing.
Whatsonstage.com believes in the concept of theatre as a community, and performance as a shared communal experience between audiences and artists that is enhanced through greater insight and interaction. We believe in celebrating theatre across the board, from Shakespeare, Chekhov and Ibsen to We Will Rock You and Mamma Mia! and everything in between. We believe in bums on seats as much as beard-scratching. We see ourselves as the unofficial club house for the theatre community, bringing all members of that community closer together and catering for members’ theatregoing needs and interests wherever they fall on the spectrum.
Put most simply, Whatsonstage.com is passionate about theatre. And 15 years on, that passion is undimmed. Here’s to the next five, ten, 15 years in partnership with Time Out.