I have been following Diep Tran on social media for years so I got a minor thrill when she announced she was named editor-in-chief of Playbill last October. Last week she posted an explainer about why it is so difficult to stream Broadway shows resulting in most content on Broadway HD being filmed in London.
A lot of it has to do with the upfront costs. It isn’t easy or cheap to create a high quality recording of a Broadway show. Tran reports that the production of Hamilton paid close to $10 million to record the show and then sat on it for years until Disney+ offered $75 million to stream it. Most productions aren’t so successful as Hamilton that they were able to front that amount and then wait for a good offer.
Contributing to those costs is the fact that unlike film productions, theatrical productions involve people who are members of dozens of disparate unions with whom a streaming contract has to be negotiated. Tran notes that during the pandemic Actors’ Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA created a contract that allows livestreaming of productions, but the number of streamed views is tied to the live attendance of the production. Other than that, there are no standard contracts associated with recording or livestreaming a production so every negotiation of terms basically starts from scratch.
So while it may be easiest to assume its the producers wanting you to see the show live that limits streaming, there are actually many more people either invested or contributing to that situation.
All this is much easier in England as Tran writes:
But wait, you might be asking, the National Theatre in London has figured out how to stream its shows, why can’t Broadway producers? Well for one, the National Theatre receives subsidies from the UK government, which helps fund their livestreams. And union rules in the UK are different than the U.S., and the payout for residuals is much less for U.K. productions.
I suspect, however, that there may be increasing pressure toward a standard set of terms that will enable US based shows to be more easily streamed in coming years. I wouldn’t be surprised to find this being accomplished by moving shows out of NYC to places with robust production resources, but fewer unions involved.