According to Nielsen, a company that measures and analyzes TV audiences in the U.S., four in ten (40.3% of) households with televisions now subscribe to streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. More specifically, millennials are watching 40 minutes less traditional TV day in and day out compared to numbers from only two years ago. Though the shift is not yet complete, one could make an argument that people are turning their attention to a video streaming option at an alarming rate. As this trend continues to grow and flourish, people you may not expect are jumping on the bandwagon.
Tony Award winners Stewart Lane and Bonnie Comely are hoping to revolutionize live theatre with the introduction of Broadway HD. Upon subscription, one has access to the site’s library of shows, including plays and musicals1, classic and contemporary. Pricing is set at $14.99 per month or $169.99 for an annual pass. As the average price of a ticket on the Great White Way has hovered around $100 over the past year, this would only be a little over a ticket and a ½ for a year’s worth of performances. Mirroring Netflix, this is quite the steal compared to purchasing each individual show.
In our digital age, it would be natural to assume that theatre attendances were in decline. However, this is not the case! Broadway attendance for the 2014-15 season was up 7.3%, a larger jump than from the year prior, standing at 13.1 million audience members. In fact, the attendance that season topped those of the ten professional New York and New Jersey sports teams combined, according to an official press release from broadwayleague.com. More people are going and shows are running for longer, discouraged from closing2. With support at an all-time high, one must wonder what Broadway HD could do to these numbers.
Until now, live theatre seemed to be the only thing that you couldn’t stream. Even many major music festivals post their performances for people to watch in the comfort of their own home. Aside from Tony clips or horrible quality, highly illegal bootleg videos in obscure corners of the Net, you pretty much had no choice but to go out and see shows yourself. For people who live nowhere near New York City (and I’m not just talking Kansas; Broadway is an international phenomenon) and don’t ever make it out there, this may be the only opportunity they will have to see a Broadway show in their lifetimes. But what about the theatre goer that typically makes the pilgrimage?
To put things in perspective, how about some math? Tourists made up 70% of ticket sales in the 2013-14 season. With this information, let’s say, theoretically, we have a family of four from London traveling to NYC, intent on see a show. Tickets alone would run around $400 total ($100 being the average price of a ticket, times four). We also need to get them to the city, which will come in around $2,400 in plane tickets (approximately $600 for a roundtrip ticket, times four). Hotel? Anywhere near Times Square, you’re looking at a good $800 ($200 per night and we’ll hypothetically say they’re staying 4 days, though I feel like many would stay a whole week… We’ll be generous).
If we total everything up:
$3,600. Before food, souvenirs, maybe they want to see two shows or do something else around town (I hear there’s a lot to do in NYC)! This is quite pricey. Maybe our Londoners will bag the trip if they can get the show on their TV in the UK.
As of right now, there are only 108 titles available on the site, the vast majority of which are BBC programs. However, there is much potential. The streaming service has only been available for a short amount of time and already offers Memphis, 2010 Tony Award Winner for Best Musical. The co-founders of the site claim that their focus will be on limited-run shows (i.e. mostly plays and not musicals, as plays are more likely to be set on a “limited run” basis) as to not squander the sales of the big productions at the time. However, when the money starts to roll in and if they begin gaining momentum, who’s to say where this will go or what it will do to actual live theatre.
1 The terms play and musical actually aren’t interchangeable. A musical is a play where singing plays a large part. For example, Wicked is a musical, but Hamlet is a play.
2 When a show is put on Broadway, its run is either unlimited, meaning it will close when it stops making enough money, or limited meaning it will close on a pre-determined date. Most shows are set for unlimited runs.