Netflix lures ‘Bridgerton’ fans with Live Event: The Queen’s Ball

LOS ANGELES – Wisteria drips from the archway, while classical music plays over the speakers. Powdered officers hand out champagne to guests looking at Empire-waisted dresses, looking into a room full of makeup and accessories or going to a scene for a quick oil portrait (actually a digital photo with a Regency England-like filter) .

This is The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience, an immersive, Instagram-ready confectionery held in ballrooms at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles and tailored to the die-hard fans of the global Netflix hit. The 200 to 300 guests are unable to meet Regé-Jean Page, the breakout star of the first season of “Bridgerton,” who refused to return to 19th-century drama. But they can bow to an actress who makes her best impression of Queen Charlotte (right down to the haughty glare), learn a dance set to a string quartet version of Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams,” participate in a Lady Whistledown scavenger hunt, and possibly be awarded the coveted honor of being named “the diamond of the evening”.

The 90-minute experience – which opens to the public on Thursday and runs for at least two months before traveling to Washington, Chicago and Montreal – is Netflix’s most ambitious real-world event to date. (A similar version opened in London this month.) The streaming giant hopes it serves as a marketing tool for “Bridgerton,” whose second season becomes available on Friday, and appeals to the show’s primarily female fans, who are often ignored when it comes to fan culture. .

It’s also an attempt to amplify the kind of water-cooling buzz that has been elusive for streaming shows. Since their episodes tend to be released in one batch, the week-to-week expectation known to fans of traditional network TV can be diluted.

“This really goes in the direction of my vision of what I’ve always wanted us to be able to do,” “Bridgerton” executive producer Shonda Rhimes said in a Zoom interview from her home in New York before bringing two of her popular ABC up. dramas, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal. “ “People who watched ‘Grey’s’ did not just see ‘Grey’s’ on Thursday night – they were trying to find other ways to consume it. ‘Scandal’ was not a program that people saw on Thursday night and just did not talk about it the rest of the week. “

In its 18th season, “Grey’s Anatomy” is still airing on TV’s No. 1 show in the critical 18- to 49-year-old demographic. “Scandal” ended in 2018 after seven seasons.

“Being at Netflix allows us to take this desire of the fans and create a thing where you allow them to be a part of the experience more than just one night a week or one hour a week,” Ms. added. Rhimes, which recently renewed its lucrative Netflix deal for five more years, adding additional revenue streams like podcasts and video games.

In addition to The Queen’s Ball, which costs between $ 49 and $ 99 to attend, Netflix has teamed up with Bloomingdale’s for a pop-up store both online and in the flagship store in Manhattan ($ 995 purple Malone Soulier’s flower-applied pumps, anyone?). There is also a line of cosmetics from Pat McGrath, a British makeup artist whose makeup was used in the production of “Bridgerton”; a soundtrack featuring pop hits played by a string quartet; and a Netflix book club whose choice in March is “The Viscount Who Loved Me,” the second book in the series, by Julia Quinn, which serves as the program’s source material.

Traditional Hollywood studios have been playing this game for a long time. For example, Disney starts pumping out related products as soon as one of its shows or movies is a hit. But it’s a relatively new strategy for Netflix. (The streamer launched “Squid Game” tracksuits in collaboration with South Korean brand Musinsa late last year, shortly after the series started.)

For the past few years, Netflix has focused on live experiences outside the home. First there was a Covid-conscious “Stranger Things” drive-through event in 2020, then an event where participants searched for a safe deposit box in a robbery experience linked to the series “La Casa de Papel.” Recently, the company hosted a virtual reality event for Zack Snyder’s zombie movie “Army of the Dead”.

What does all this do for Netflix’s bottom line? The company says over a million people have attended its live events, a number that it expects will increase significantly as long as Covid-19 is on the decline.

Netflix would not discuss the economics of the events, but Ted Sarandos, its co-CEO, referred to the “Bridgerton” live experience on the company’s earnings call in January as part of its efforts to create “whole fabric” franchises. He predicted that “fans will flock to and flood their social media feeds with” images from The Queen’s Ball.

Bela Bajaria, Netflix’s head of global television, added in a recent interview: “I really love that we build these universes and make these consumer products that are completely so much about female fandom.”

Organizers say demand for The Queen’s Ball in Los Angeles has been as manic as the early receipt of “Bridgerton”: 88 percent of tickets had been purchased two weeks before opening.

Michael Vorhaus, a longtime digital media consultant, said such events helped extend interest in content that in the Netflix universe is consumed and discarded faster than a sparsely filled dance card.

“It’s Harry Potter for adults,” he said of “Bridgerton.” “You have eight books. And if the spending figures hold, then they’ll probably handle all eight, and who knows beyond that? Every dollar they now spend on building a community, every dollar that creates buzz for them, they get paid of over eight seasons. ”

Plus, with an audience primarily women aged 18 to 45, Netflix is ​​appealing to a group traditionally not cured as rabid pop culture consumers.

“It’s a very underserved fanbase,” said Greg Lombardo, Netflix’s chief executive. “In this space, there are not many offerings out there that are really aimed at a female audience.”

It was actually a milestone when the cast of the first “Twilight” movie appeared on Comic-Con in 2008 and introduced a new demographic to the predominantly male skewed fan convention. “Fifty Shades of Gray” followed suit with an extensive line of merchandising. “Outlander” and “Downton Abbey” have also proven the purchasing power of a predominantly female fan base.

“It’s not so revolutionary to suggest that women are huge consumers of products, and when they’re a fan of something, they’re hard fans of something,” Mrs Rhimes said. “I have known that in the 20-something years I have done my job. The difference here is that we are now in an era where the people who create these universes are not strictly men. “

But more often than not, large mainstream franchises are still primarily aimed at young men, with seats cut out for others to attend, said Katherine Morrissey, a professor at Arizona State University who studies fan culture.

“It seems that Netflix is ​​very aware that the audience for ‘Bridgerton’ will not necessarily perceive itself as a fandom in the way that we stereotypes of fandoms,” she said. “They are very aware that their consumers will be interested in similar things, but will have them packaged in completely different ways. They will not necessarily be self-identified as, ‘This is what I did at Comic-Con’.”

The soapy, sexy romance novels seem perfect for Mrs. Rhimes’ streaming ambitions. Each book focuses on a child of the Bridgerton family and the efforts to marry off the child successfully (i.e., out of love) according to the customs of early 19th century England. Each of them has an independent storyline – a dream for Mrs. Rhimes, who has had to keep coming up with plot twists for her lengthy network shows. Now she can tell distinctive stories, plus a spinoff season dedicated to Queen Charlotte, who was the wife of King George III and perhaps was England’s first black queen, a character Mrs Rhimes has been obsessed with for years.

Netflix has already given the green light to seasons 3 and 4 of “Bridgerton” and the Queen Charlotte spin-off, which will soon go into production.

“It’s an incredible gift,” said Betsy Beers, Ms. Rhime’s longtime production partner. “It really provides an incredibly fluid storytelling and is also financially very sensible both in the practical and production end.”

It has also allowed Netflix’s six-person live event team to adapt the “Bridgerton” experience to future seasons. (An anthropomorphized bumble bee makes a convincing entrance into the new live show, something only fans who have binged the entire second season will immediately understand.)

Back at the Biltmore, once guests have pulled up to an introduction to the Queen and learned their dance steps, they are escorted into a larger ballroom for a dance performance between a beautiful duke and a coquetted duchess. With a string quartet playing pop songs, guests are encouraged to join in the fun while the queen rates them for their diamond potential. (With bars strategically placed throughout the experience, Netflix realizes that lowered inhibitions increase the event. Sixteen dollars gives you one of a variety of cocktails, including Whistledown & Dirty, which features Absolute vodka, mint and San Pellegrino limonata.)

From the heights, over the quartet’s performance of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, the voice of Lady Whistledown’s protégé, Lady Heartell, created for the ball, reads: “I do not know with you all, but I got what I came for.”

If Netflix planned it correctly, so did the audience.

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