Today, news broke that producers Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley launched BroadwayHD, a video streaming site which aims to offer plays and musicals as Netflix and Hulu do with movies and TV shows. While the concept and initial launch is exciting, don't go knocking over one another to join just yet, because it's not what it seems, nor what you would hope for.
If you're hoping to see streaming videos of Wicked, The Book of Mormon or Hamilton, they're not on there. And due to publishing rights, union contracts, etc, they're never going to be on there. Which begs the question, how is this going to succeed?
Instead, right now, you can enjoy, pretty much, the entire BBC Masterpiece Theatre series, which you can and should be watching on PBS and on the BBC website, which also offer streaming services. So I hope you're excited for Hedda Gabler and Henry VI.
The main reason why most audiences would purchase this service, would be to see Broadway musicals. Well, right now, for $14.99 a month or $169.99 for the year, you can enjoy five musicals. Yes....five of them.
According to their website, you can watch the 1980's video recordings of Tintytypes and Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies, along with Sondheim's Putting It Together, Memphis and the 2001 video of David Hasselhoff's Jekyll & Hyde....take my money please!
Therein lies the problem with this kind of service. They need a certain type of show for it to be profitable but the type of show they need will put them out of business. There is no way producers are going to put their properties on this service for cheap without going with bigger services like Netflix, Hulu, Apple, etc first. So there is little to no reason to purchase this, when you can go to those other sites. And it's unlikely you're going to see other movie musicals because the movie studios have big money deals to keep them on the bigger sites.
As much as you would like to think it, this site isn't going to survive on streaming BBC adaptations.
Now how can something like this work? The key is going to be exclusive content. The other streaming sites thrive because they have content you can't get anywhere else. BroadwayHD can do the same. Whether it be behind the scenes shows, documentaries, concerts, reality programming, there is potential to for this to be a more attractive buy. The only problem with content like that, is other sites like Broadway.com and Broadwayworld.com do it for free.
Another way that this could work is if BroadwayHD is the only place where you can view the New York Public Library's Theatre on Film and Tape Archive. An archive of video recordings of Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regional theatre productions as well as dialogues between notable theatre personalities. But again, that will never happen.
Finally, the only other way this could possibly work is if they would be able to offer, one-time broadcasts of current Broadway shows. But again, this wouldn't happen because the price would have to be high enough to compensate all the parties involved with the assumption that people would record the Broadcasts and watch them repeatedly. This is the main reason why the movie industry hasn't gotten totally on board with releasing their big money films on streaming services.
Don't get me wrong. I could be completely wrong and BroadwayHD could have a bunch of streaming rights deals we don't know about yet. But with what's on there and what could realistically be on the site, there's not much reason to get excited.
I want everyone who wants to see theatre, to be able to see theatre. So in essence, I like what these folks are trying to do. But for the service to actually work and be worth the investment, they're going to have to do the impossible. Because right now, it's not even close to being worth the price.