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Lincoln Center Preparing Digital ‘Major Breakthrough’

Reynold Levy
Reynold Levy, president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Lincoln Center is working on a "major breakthrough" in broadcasting performances digitally. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is working on a “major breakthrough” in broadcasting performances digitally, President Reynold Levy said in an interview.

“We are going to take what’s inside Lincoln Center and transmit it through the Internet to mobile devices,” Levy said in an interview to be broadcast on Bloomberg Radio’s “A Closer Look With Arthur Levitt.”

“We have some work to do on artistic clearances and rights clearances.”

Levy described the initiative in part as an expansion of “Live From Lincoln Center,” which broadcasts half a dozen performances a year on public television. The New York nonprofit complex is exploring how to make money from the digital effort.

“It’s the challenge we face and the challenge many other industries face,” he said. “How do you monetize that product, how do you make it a source for recurring income?”

He provided few specifics. The Berlin Philharmonic, for example, streams 30 high-definition concerts a season to online subscribers.


The Metropolitan Opera in 2010-11 earned about $11 million profit from high-definition broadcasts to movie theaters worldwide, or $17 million when including sponsorships, according to Peter Clark, a spokesman.

Its tax return shows profit from all media of about $500,000, however, in part because only the costs of its radio broadcasts are used in calculating total profit from media, under a reporting requirement for nonprofits.

Clark said contributors, primarily Toll Brothers Inc., the lead sponsor, fund the radio broadcasts.

“Saturday radio is our second-largest media activity (after HD), but we do not get earned revenue for it -- it’s free,” Clark said in an e-mail. “Therefore, the net income from HD is being masked by the net loss from radio.”

Digital distribution is a central issue for performing arts companies as they try to broaden their audiences, said Michael Mauskapf, a co-founder of the boutique consultant Symphony Bros.

“It’s not viewed as a replacement to the traditional concert experience, but something that augments that,” he said. “It’s not a short-term money-maker.”

China Consulting

In October 2011, Elizabeth Scott, previously with Major League Baseball Properties Inc., was named Lincoln Center’s Chief Media & Digital Officer to oversee “digital initiatives across all of its departments.”

Spokesman Betsy Vorce said yesterday: “It’s very premature to discuss these really exciting explorations.”

Levy said Lincoln Center’s year-old consulting project in China is thriving. It’s an adviser in the development of a performing arts complex in Tianjin, a northern Chinese city.

“It’s part of our effort to create a new economic model for Lincoln Center, one that isn’t entirely dependent on earned and contributed income,” he said. “That is going very well.”

Levy defended renaming the New York State Theater after David Koch, the billionaire Tea Party activist and industrialist who pledged $100 million toward renovating it in 2008.

Koch Theater

“We don’t have a political litmus test for service on Lincoln Center’s board or for philanthropy. I frequently point out that if we did, I’m not sure we’d enjoy the public libraries of Andrew Carnegie or the philanthropy of many industrialists of 100 years ago who at the time were themselves controversial actors.”

Levy, who became president in 2002 and presided over an extensive redevelopment, is the author of “Yours for the Asking.”

“I honestly believe I am doing a donor a tremendous favor,” he told Levitt. “I’m fond of saying we promise three things: a better night’s sleep, a longer life and an unobstructed pathway to heaven.”

His pay and benefits were listed on Lincoln Center’s 2010-11 tax return at $1.8 million, $133,333 of which was reported a year earlier. His current contract expires at the end of 2013.

“We are very serious at Lincoln Center about succession planning, both at the trustee level and at the CEO level,” Levy said. “The board has flattered me several times by asking me to extend my length of stay at Lincoln Center and I’m continuing to do that. In due course we will announce our plans.”

Levitt is a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a board member of Bloomberg LP, a senior adviser to the Carlyle Group LP and policy adviser to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Muse highlights include Lewis Lapham’s podcast and NYC Weekend Best.

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