A New Owner And Expanded Mission For EncoreMichigan.com

One Era Ends As Another Begins

By Donald V. Calamia

It lasted far longer than it was supposed to.

When Pride Source Media Group and I launched http://EncoreMichigan.com in 2008, the website devoted exclusively to professional theater in Michigan was intended to be in use for no longer than about six months or so. Seven years later, however, the site was still up and running and attracting several thousand visitors per day - that is, until Aug. 28, when it was finally retired and replaced with a totally redesigned version with all the latest bells and whistles.

Long live http://EncoreMichigan.com!

What few people know is that the original site, designed and built by BTL technical genius Kevin Bryant, was launched quicker than originally planned, as rumors of a similar site surfaced - and as BTL owners Jan Stevenson, Susan Horowitz and I are a competitive bunch, we wanted to beat our competitors to the marketplace. (We did; the other site never materialized.) And so we launched with a "beta" test site - fully functional, but without all the products and services it was intended to have.

The plan, then, was to work on a "new and improved" http://EncoreMichigan.com and launch it in early 2009 or so. But before any of that could happen, the economy tanked, and funding dried up - and what was once deemed an amazing financial plan for the site went down in flames.

And so - just like the storybook "little engine that could" - the original, temporary EncoreMichigan.com continued to function, month after month, year after year. More importantly, its popularity continued to grow, gaining readers and respect as its coverage expanded throughout the state.

But change was inevitable.

With the Great Recession ravaging media companies all over the country - especially smaller ones like Pride Source - the decision was made to find new owners for the website or shut it down. (Paying an editor and a team of professional critics and journalists isn't cheap!)

Its future looked bleak until the Michigan Equity Theatre Alliance - an industry resource for theaters that operate under contracts with the Actors' Equity Association - stepped up and assumed ownership of the site in 2012 and managed it as an independent affiliate. Two years later, however, META was out of business, and http://EncoreMichigan.com found itself ownerless, budgetless and with yet another bleak future in front of it.

Never afraid to confront a crisis head on, the Encore team continued to produce quality work while searching for a solution. And the theater community rallied behind the site by forming a committee of visionaries to identify and implement a business plan for a standalone, financially viable nonprofit http://EncoreMichigan.com.

That was not to be, however; theaters were resistant to paying membership fees to help sustain the business. (That was a problem under the business plan established by META, as well.)

As the end was quickly approaching, an email was received from a reader and fan of the site. "(A)s I understand it, Encore Michigan is for sale. Can you direct me to the right people to talk to about a meeting to discuss?" wrote journalist David Kiley of Ann Arbor-based New Roads Media. Three months later - in March 2015 - http://EncoreMichigan.com had a new owner. And five months after that, the new website was launched.

But that's not all. Under Kiley's leadership, http://EncoreMichigan.com - now part of a new company called Encore Media LLC - is about to see its potential unleashed, as new products and services are about to be launched that will benefit both the theater industry and the theater-loving public.

It's an exciting time at http://EncoreMichigan.com. And for the first time in a couple of years, its future looks bright. Although one era has ended - the Calamia era - the Kiley era has begun. And I hope you'll join us for what looks to be an incredible journey!

Donald V. Calamia is a freelance writer and editor who served as theater and arts editor of Between The Lines from August 2001 until his retirement in December 2014. He also served as co-founder and editorial director of EncoreMichigan.com from its inception until December 2014. In March 2015, he was named editor-at-large of http://EncoreMichigan.com.

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