New tech on Broadway that has nothing to do with special effects

As a theater lover, I was super excited to see a new service offered by two Broadway producers: on-demand streaming of shows. I love the idea because there are so many new productions that open in New York I don’t have the ability to see because their run is too short, they never made it on tour, tickets were hard to get on my very rare visits to the city, and so on. There is also the advantage of seeing productions with the actors that originated the roll, and, as the founders promise, opening night performances, events those outside the industry rarely get to see.

Here’s what I like about the founders’ attitude towards the service: While some in the theater industry may worry about the cannibalization of ticket sales, Comley and Lane, whose first love is theater, don’t see that as an issue here. We don’t want to, and we’re not going to be able to, compete against the actual experience, the communal experience of sitting in a theater and laughing with a group of people and seeing live performers onstage,” Lane explained. It’s, well, refreshing to see someone in the business of creating content realize that there are more ways to consume that content than just the traditional, existing way. Even better, the founders see the streaming as an additional source of revenue, not one that will affect their current revenue stream from tickets sales, but one that will be a bonus on top of that.

Sitting in the nosebleed section for the Book of Mormon tour in 2012. Live theater is thrilling and exciting from any seat.

Sitting in the nosebleed section for the Book of Mormon tour in 2012. Live theater is thrilling and exciting from any seat.

Streaming a show can also serve as an advertisement for the live production. Just like the Tony Awards introduce a show to potential audiences by staging a single song or scene, so will BroadwayHD tease viewers with full length streams. The founders are right: there is no way that watching a show on a TV can compare to a live theater experience. Viewing at home is a completely different experience.

I do have a few qualms though. First: pricing. The cost of an “all you can view” subscription is currently $14.99 paid monthly or $169.99 paid annually. There is also the option to rent a single show for two days for $7.99. The monthly rate seems high when compared to other video streaming services and the content way more limited. I can see this making sense for school drama departments but perhaps not as much for private consumers.

My second qualm is about the content itself. For a service with Broadway in its name, there are too few current (or even recently closed) Broadway productions in its library. Where is the season’s runaway hit Hamilton? Where is Larry David’s “Fish in the Dark?” This year’s Tony winners “Fun Home” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?” Any Andrew Lloyd Webber musical? The Book of Mormon? Wicked? The impression is that the site is mostly repackaged content from the BBC and older shows. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but that isn’t content that justifies a high price tag.

Bottom line: I love this service, I am more than willing to pay $8 for a show that I want to see. Heck, I’d even pay more for the really popular ones I’m dying to see (Hamilton, again.) But I won’t pay a premium for any old show. Make it dazzle, people.

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