Posted on Tue 05 July 2016

the problem with broadwayhd

Broadway, like Hollywood, has a problem. “They” — there are about forty Broadway theaters, 31 of which are owned by three companies, 3 of which are run by non-profits — produce an expensive entertainment service which draws tourists but utterly fails at clearing the potential market. That is, they could sell a lot more tickets if they could make it more convenient for people who won’t or can’t travel to Manhattan.

There are a number of options. The classic method is to mount a touring production, in which actors and props and sets travel from large city to large city for limited engagements. This is profitable but amazingly expensive, and while it increases the audience share to those able to visit those large cities on those particular dates, it’s still not all that efficient. Another option is to establish a second, third or fourth site — Chicago, LA and London’s West End are the usual choices — which helps a little. There is little to distinguish these “Broadway” shows from local productions, just a big budget and perhaps some of the original cast.

If a play or musical is unusually successful, it may be turned into a movie. This requires about the same investment as any other movie, and moves the whole problem into Hollywood’s domain.

But for the very minor cost of a camera crew and cinematographer, an actual Broadway performance can be recorded. All media is digital these days, and so there are several options for distribution:

  • Simulcast (or record, edit and send) to digital movie theaters
  • Make and sell discs
  • Streaming video / video on demand services

Simulcasting has been tried several times, Interestingly, London-originated productions are much more open to it than US-originals. Presumably the extra cost of a trans-Atlantic ticket is considered a sufficient barrier to entry.

In the last two years, BroadwayHD was formed as a for-profit company to do NetFlix- style streaming plus special live-streaming events. They’ve just managed to do two productions: Old Hats, an off-Broadway revival with the original duo of Bill Irwin and David Shiner, and from the Roundabout Theater Company, She Loves Me. Notably, both of these productions had firm (and near) close dates when they were live-streamed. Broadway is extremely jealous.

The process of actually signing up for, paying and watching a BroadwayHD stream is horrendously complex. Despite everyone uninstalling Flash due to the horrendous security problems, the supported browser viewing method is Flash-based. Officially there is HTML5 video support on Android and iPhone devices, but that doesn’t really exist — instead there is a link to an app which has very, very poor ratings. I didn’t install it.

There is the possibility of going through AppleTV or Roku. We tried Roku, and it worked — but it only worked after we subscribed for a year of service. The one-month option did not work, and the one-showing option did not work. I think BroadwayHD is currently charging us for all three, however.

So: video quality: high. Audio quality: acceptably good. Cost: awful, until you think of it as being the cost of one Broadway ticket split among the four of us, with no trip to NYC required. Then it becomes more bearable. User experience: very bad.

Hopefully that will improve. Hopefully the number of shows available will improve, as well — it’s currently very very very low. One, really, plus a lot of filler content.


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