Do Livestreams help or hurt Broadway?

Do Livestreams help or hurt Broadway?

Liz Chirico 

OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

Watching Broadway HDs recording of “Holiday Inn” (after the fact- this post isn’t about their streaming issues) my husband asked if these livestreams and recordings of shows hurt the industry. My immediate reaction was one of “NO!” mainly because I wouldn’t want these programs to end. But it gave me pause. Do livestreams or filmed performances (like PBS’s upcoming Falsetto’s) ultimately help Broadway leading to increased ticket sales or does it have the opposite effect?

According to Playbill.com, the week ending January 15 saw a combined take of over $25 million for all Broadway theaters. On average the houses were 90% full with only a handful under that mark. While I don’t know what each show needs to earn weekly to pay its actors, musicians, stagehands, etc., I feel confident in saying most of these shows are doing OK. 

23 shows will open between now and the end of consideration for the 2016-17 season. I didn’t even bother to count the number of shows with planned openings for the start of the 2017-18 season. We all know how tough it is to make it on Broadway. I feel comfortable saying half of them will last a season and a third will become bonafide hits- at least hits enough to recoup their initial outlay and then some. So with grosses of upwards of $25 million weekly and over 20 news shows hitting the Great White Way in the coming months, Broadway seems to be robust and healthy. 

I believe the primary audience for these shows consists largely of theater-goers who have either seen the show already or consistently see live theater, whether Broadway or touring productions. This core audience will shell out the money to see live theater whether or not these broadcasts continue.  Broadway won’t lose any money from these folks. 

Currently broadcasts (and I’m only discussing legal, authorized broadcasts, not those shaky things on YouTube) have taken place after or right around the same time a show closes. Therefore it’s not hurting the grosses for that show as it’s closed.  The filmed broadcast of Allegiance did so well last month, it’s returning to theaters next month for another screening. And on a selfish note it’s preserving some wonderful performances and shows for posterity. 

Strictly speaking from a marketing and financial standpoint, reaching the non-Broadway obsessed folks, those who will see the latest hit on Broadway or have an occasional night out with a touring production, is what the filmed performances should aim to do. The filmed performances of productions highlight the best of Broadway that might not make it into pop culture but is no less enjoyable. They may utilize talented actors/actresses who are well known outside of theater such as Corbin Bleu and Jane Krakowski. If it pulls in people who then realize how incredible theater can be, so much the better.

In short the filming of Broadway shows won’t result in a loss of ticket sales and revenue to the Great White Way. It may in turn bring in additional revenue in the form of new faces opened to the wonders of theater. 

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