On Oct. 26, multiple sources including Entertainment Weekly announced that a new streaming service, called “Broadway HD,” will offer paid, subscription-based access to high-quality recordings of live theatrical productions from Broadway and beyond. This news was met with cheers of joy and the hope that eventually people all over the country (and presumably, the world) will be able to get a taste of Broadway from the comfort of their own home.
This isn’t the first time that Broadway shows have found their way to the Internet though. It’s just the one of the first times that Broadway shows have found their way to the Internet legally.
For years, Broadway fans on websites like Tumblr and YouTube have traded and shared “bootlegs” (a.k.a. illegally recorded productions) of Broadway plays and musicals both current and past, the primary goal being to share the theatrical wealth with those who don’t have the means to get to a Broadway theater. In that sense it’s an honorable pursuit, but to many performers and creators in the Broadway community, it’s a nuisance that not only distracts from the performance at hand but also takes away from the magic of seeing a live show in-person.
In addition to the more lofty reasonings in the battle against the bootleg, there’s also the financial one. Every aspect of a Broadway show is created by a group of very talented, hardworking people and those people should be justly compensated for their work. If someone watches a show via a free bootleg, they’re essentially depriving those people of hard-earned, well deserved money. And that’s just not fair.
“Hamilton” creator and star (I know, I know “she’s bringing up ‘Hamilton’ again'”) Lin-Manuel Miranda put the anti-bootleg view best when he responded to requests for a “Hamilton” bootleg on Tumblr with this. Like Miranda says, there is something incredibly special and magical about being in a darkened theatre surrounded by others experiencing a live performance that will only live in that moment. However, many bootleg watchers would argue that an experience like that often comes with a somewhat hefty (upwards of $100) cost. If only there was a way for both sides to be happy…
This brings us back to “Broadway HD.” At the moment the website doesn’t have any up-to-date Broadway productions available for streaming. (And it doesn’t seem likely that it will any time soon; according to a piece from The Daily Dot, Broadway producers are concerned that a streaming service might eat away at ticket sales.) The site’s content is mostly made up of British productions from The BBC. The most current show from Broadway is the 2013 revival of “Romeo and Juliet” starring Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad. A subscription to “Broadway HD” is either $14.99 for a month or $169.99 for a year, which isn’t exactly cheap. If “Broadway HD” is meant to be a solution to the bootleg epidemic, it’s going to need to do a bit more to appeal to both the Broadway community and the bootlegging audience.
Personally, I can see it from both sides. As someone who has had the pleasure of seeing a number of Broadway shows (and the displeasure of watching a few shaky, poorly shot bootlegs), I know that nothing can beat seeing a performance like that live. But as someone who doesn’t live in New York and can’t see everything due to money and time, I understand the interest in seeking something out by any means necessary. It’s a discussion worth having and problem that doesn’t have an easy solution.
So what do you guys think? Do you think that Broadway shows are meant to be seen live and so they should remain that way, regardless of accessibility issues to Broadway fans all across the country? Or do you think that Broadway needs to adapt to the changing culture and the needs of its fans and develop a fully-formed online streaming presence? Will you be getting a “Broadway HD” subscription? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts.