Netflix led the way in the digital streaming revolution. Bringing films and TV into the living rooms of millions of viewers allowed for that instant gratification of being able to see content on demand. Hulu followed, bringing new TV shows to viewers who missed the original broadcast of them. Prime tied in the powerful online retail giant, Amazon, to enter the entertainment world and proved that it is a force to be reckoned with. These entities have provided awesome entertainment, but there was one area that was being underserved. Live theatrical productions. There were those who said that live theatre should stay on the stage, but if you are unable to attend a live show due to the rising costs of tickets, difficulty traveling to a major urban theatre town, or you just didn’t have the time to take a trip, you were not able to witness the magic of live theatre.
“We have been trying to expand to new audiences for years,” says Stewart Lane, one of the co-founders of BroadwayHD, an online streaming service that delivers live Broadway productions to audiences in their own living rooms. “We had this idea to stream shows online, but the technology just hadn’t been able to catch up.”
Lane and his wife Bonnie Comley, two longtime Broadway producers, have spearheaded this effort to bring live theatre to other medias, with the goal of filling the appetite of hungry theatre lovers who might not be able to travel to New York to see a Broadway show.
“Currently the demographics for live Broadway shows are those who are 45 years old or older, but on BroadwayHD, we are able to captivate the 18 years and older age group,” says Lane.
Before BroadwayHD, there was only a few options outside of going to New York City to see a Broadway show. “There was PBS, that showed a few productions here and there, and there were DVD’s that could be purchased, and there was pay-per-view, but we are able to reach so many more people, who might actually want to buy a ticket to see a live show down the road. It is a digital gateway,” says Lane.
The Broadway Leauge, the organization that represents producers, theatre owners and operators, has been tracking demographics for years. In the 2018-2019 season, Broadway experienced the greatest season ever, selling 14 Million tickets, and bringing in just under two-billion dollars, with sixty percent of all tickets being purchased by people coming in to visit New York. It is safe to say, that Broadway is a viable industry.
“Broadway content is luxury content,” says Lane, “BroadwayHD is able to open it up to the rest of the world.”
By creating a streaming service of content, one needs to acquire the content to deliver to the consumer. “We started having to figure out how we could get content,” says Comley, “we were filming shows over the years and we had 10 of them ready, we needed to make our service the destination for Broadway streaming, so we had to figure it out.”
Comley says that BroadwayHD works with many producers in securing the rights to their productions, writing up the proper contracts to stream the shows, and works diligently to grab the content that will be exciting to the audiences. “We are happy that just over 4 years into our service, we have over 300 titles available,” says Comley. Luckily, many producers see the value in this operation.
It should be said that BroadwayHD is not just a platform for shows that are filmed with one camera in the back of the auditorium while the show is happening, true production quality is put forward. “At Lincoln Center there are digital archives of performances that were originally intended for educational use,” says Comley, “they were stripped down versions of shows. We didn’t want that, we wanted to give the audience the true experience. We have quality.”
Comley says that attention to detail is given to all the productions they film. “We use three to fourteen cameras in the productions, and we want to match the eye experience that you would have if you were actually sitting in the theatre.”
Lane and Comley are very proud of their newest acquisition for BroadwayHD, the UK tour of “42nd Street.” “We read about the production, and we went after it,” says Comley, “we did everything we could to track it down.”
“42nd Street” is arguably the first backstage entertainment story. Telling the tale of a young Peggy Sawyer who comes to NYC to attempt to start her career as a song and dance girl, “42nd Street revived Broadway back in the 80’s,” says Lane, “before that we didn’t even have enough shows for the ‘best musical’ category at the Tony’s.”
Lane discussed how “42nd Street” also was a big victory for America. “We were going through the British invasion on Broadway, we had ‘Cats’, and ‘Phantom’ and ‘42nd Street’ was an American created musical for families. Before Disney, there would only be one family musical a decade.”
Lane and Comley have set the bar high for themselves and for their product. “We are excited about the new material we have coming out,” says Comley, “and we know that our audiences will too.”