LOS ANGELES — Wisteria drips from the arch as classical music plays over the speakers. Fluffy-wigged valets present champagne to guests who gaze at empire-waist dresses, peek into a room full of make-up and accessories, or head to a stage for a quick oil portrait (actually a digital photo with a Regency England-esque filter).
Introducing The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience, an immersive Instagram-ready confection held in the ballrooms of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles and tailor-made for die-hard fans of Netflix’s global hit. The 200 to 300 guests are unable to meet Regé-Jean Page, the star of the first season of “Bridgerton”, who refused to return to the drama of the 19th century. But they can bow to an actress doing her best Queen Charlotte impression (even haughty gaze), learn a dance to a string quartet version of Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams,” go on a treasure hunt Lady Whistledown and perhaps even be granted the coveted honor of being named the “diamond of the evening”.
The 90-minute experience — which opens to the public on Thursday and will run for at least two months before heading to Washington, Chicago and Montreal — is Netflix’s most ambitious live-action event yet. (A similar version opened in London this month.) The streaming giant hopes it will serve as a marketing tool for “Bridgerton,” whose second season premieres on Friday, and will appeal to the base of predominantly female fans of the show, which is often ignored. when it comes to fan culture.
It’s also an attempt to amp up the kind of water cooler buzz that’s been elusive for streaming shows. Since their episodes tend to air in one batch, the weekly anticipation familiar to fans of traditional network TV can be diluted.
“It’s really going in line with 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 City, before d reminisce about two of his popular ABCs. dramas, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal.” “People who watched ‘Grey’s’ weren’t just watching ‘Grey’s’ on Thursday nights – they were trying to find other ways to consume it. ‘Scandal’ wasn’t a show that people watched on Thursday nights and didn’t. just didn’t speak the rest of the week.
In its 18th season, “Grey’s Anatomy” is still the No. 1 TV show in the critical 18-49 demographic. “Scandal” ended in 2018 after seven seasons.
“Being at Netflix allows us to take that longing for fans and create something where you allow them to be part of the experience more than just one night a week or one hour a week,” Ms. Rhimes added. , which recently renewed its lucrative deal with Netflix for another five 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 partnered with Bloomingdale’s for a pop-up store both online and in the Manhattan flagship store ($995 lilac Malone Souliers floral pumps , somebody?). 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 made up of pop hits played by a string quartet; and a Netflix book club, whose March pick is “The Viscount Who Loved Me,” the second book in the series, by Julia Quinn, which serves as source material for the show.
Traditional Hollywood studios have been playing this game for a long time. For example, the second one of its shows or movies is a hit, Disney starts producing related merchandise. But this is a relatively new strategy for Netflix. (The streamer rolled out “Squid Game” tracksuits in partnership with South Korean brand Musinsa late last year, shortly after the series launched.)
Inside the world of ‘Bridgerton’
The Netflix series, whose second season will be released in March, infuses period escapist drama with modern sensibilities.
Over the past two years, Netflix has focused on live, out-of-home experiences. First there was a Covid-aware ‘Stranger Things’ drive-in event in 2020, then an event where attendees searched for a bank safe in a heist experience linked to the ‘La Casa de Papel’ series. . Recently, the company hosted a virtual reality event for Zack Snyder’s zombie movie “Army of the Dead.”
What does all of this do for Netflix’s bottom line? The company says more than a million people have attended its live events, a number it expects to increase significantly as long as Covid-19 remains in decline.
Netflix wouldn’t discuss the economics of the events, but Ted Sarandos, its co-chief executive, brought up the “Bridgerton” live experience during the company’s January earnings call as part of of its efforts to create franchises from “whole cloth”. He predicted that “fans will flock and flood their social media feeds with” pictures of the Queen’s Ball.
Bela Bajaria, Head of Global Television at Netflix, added in a recent interview, “I really love that we’re building these universes and making these consumer products that are so focused on female fandom.”
Organizers say demand for the Queen’s Ball in Los Angeles was as rampant as the anticipated reception of “Bridgerton”: 88% of tickets were purchased two weeks before it opened.
Longtime digital media consultant Michael Vorhaus said such events help prolong interest in content, which in the Netflix universe is consumed and discarded faster than a sparse dance card.
“It’s Harry Potter for adults,” he said of “Bridgerton.” “You have eight books. And if the consumption numbers hold up, then they’ll probably do all eight, and who knows beyond that? Every dollar they spend now building a community, every dollar that creates buzz for them, they get paid over eight seasons.
Additionally, with an audience comprised primarily of women between the ages of 18 and 45, Netflix is tapping into a group not traditionally courted as rabid consumers of pop culture.
“It’s a very underserved fan base,” said Greg Lombardo, head of experiences at Netflix. “In this space, there aren’t a lot of offerings that are really aimed at a female audience.”
Indeed, it was a milestone when the cast of the first “Twilight” movie showed up at Comic-Con in 2008, introducing a new demographic to the predominantly male fan convention. “Fifty Shades of Grey” followed suit with a wide range of merchandise. “Outlander” and “Downton Abbey” also proved the buying power of a predominantly female fanbase.
“It’s not that groundbreaking to suggest that women are huge product consumers, and when they’re fans of something, they’re die-hard fans of something,” Rhimes said. “I know that for twenty years, I have been doing my job. The difference here is that we are now in a time where the people creating these universes are not strictly male.
But more often than not, the big mainstream franchises are still primarily aimed at young men, with spaces reserved for others, said Katherine Morrissey, a professor at Arizona State University who studies fan culture.
“It seems like Netflix is very aware that ‘Bridgerton’ audiences aren’t necessarily going to think of themselves as fandom the way we stereotype fandoms,” she said. “They are very aware that their consumers are going to be interested in similar things, but will want to package them in a totally different way. They’re not necessarily going to identify as, ‘That’s the thing I did at Comic-Con.’
The soapy, sexy romance novels seem perfect for Ms. Rhimes’ streaming ambitions. Each book focuses on a child of the Bridgerton family and the efforts to marry the child successfully (i.e., for love) according to the customs of early 19th century England. Each presents a stand-alone story – a dream come true for Ms. Rhimes, who has had to continue producing twists for her long-running network shows. Now she can tell separate stories, as well as a spin-off season dedicated to Queen Charlotte, who was the wife of King George III and possibly England’s first black queen, a character Ms Rhimes has been obsessed with ever since. years.
Netflix has already greenlit seasons 3 and 4 of “Bridgerton” and the Queen Charlotte spin-off, which will go into production shortly.
“It’s an amazing gift,” said Betsy Beers, Ms. Rhimes’ longtime producing partner. “It really offers incredible storytelling fluidity and also, economically, it makes a lot of sense both practically and production-wise.”
It also allowed Netflix’s six-person live events team to adapt the “Bridgerton” experience for future seasons. (An anthropomorphized bumblebee makes an ominous entrance to the new live broadcast, which only fans who binged the entire second season will immediately understand.)
Back at the Biltmore, once guests have introduced themselves to the Queen and learned their dance moves, they are escorted to a larger ballroom for a dance performance between a handsome Duke and a flirtatious Duchess. With a string quartet playing pop songs, guests are then encouraged to join the party, as the Queen assesses them for their diamond potential. (With strategically placed bars throughout the experience, Netflix realizes that reduced inhibitions heighten the event. Sixteen dollars gets you one of many cocktails, including the Whistledown & Dirty, which features Absolut vodka, mint and San Pellegrino limonata.)
From above, above the quartet’s rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” bellows the voice of Lady Whistledown’s protege, Lady Heartell, who was created for the ball: “I don’t know not for all of you, but I have what I came for.
If Netflix planned it right, so did the audience.