BroadwayHD, the stage-centric subscription and on-demand service that launched last year, will take its latest step on the challenging path toward establishing itself as a Netflix for Broadway, with a live stream later this week of the current Off Broadway revival of “Buried Child” starring Ed Harris and Taissa Farmiga.
Although live cinemacasts of stage product have become relatively commonplace with shows originating in London (through the National Theater’s NT Live series) or at the opera (via the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD program), live streams from New York are still novelties. “Buried Child” is only the second, following the livestream of ongoing Off Broadway musical “Daddy Long Legs” last fall.
So the digital dissemination of the New Group production, a well-known Sam Shepard play with a notable cast, stands poised to turn the heads of theater fans who haven’t heard of BroadwayHD, or who weren’t persuaded to give a try when it launched last fall. Viewers can purchase access to the live stream — the equivalent of single-ticket sales — for $9.99; annual subscribers (who shell out a hefty $169.99 for the year) will be able to watch without additional payment, and the capture of “Buried Child” will have a permanent spot in the BroadwayHD library.
Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, the stage producers who founded BroadwayHD, promise “Buried Child” will be the first in an ongoing series of live streams that they hope will be selling points for a platform that aims to establish itself as a high-profile digital destination for stage fare. The company aggregates an array of theater titles encompassing Broadway Worldwide’s Direct from Broadway catalog as well as product from public television station WNET (including vintage stage performances from Helen Mirren and Daniel Craig) and the American Film Theater library. The BroadwayHD catalog currently tops 130 titles, with recent additions including the buzzy, much-lauded London revival of “Gypsy” starring Imelda Staunton. (Lane and Comley stayed mum, however, on the new service’s subscription base.)
At first glance, theater productions seem like a good fit for the streaming-platform models established by Netflix and Hulu and Amazon, since Broadway fare appeals to a passionate niche audience that can’t always make it to New York to catch a show. But there are a slew of hurdles, including negotiations with stage unions and rights holders still fairly new to working out their positions on digital distribution, and the fact that many of the productions most likely to arouse widespread interest among viewers — “Hamilton,” “The Lion King,” “Wicked” — won’t allow a capture of an entire performance to hit the Internet until after the production has closed, so as not to cannibalize theater ticket sales either on Broadway or on tour.
But for star-driven, limited-engagement shows like “Buried Child” — now at the end of its run (which closes April 3) and with no chance of extension — there’s little downside to putting a performance online as an extra source of revenue. For BroadwayHD, it’s one more lure for the potential subscriber base that would put the streaming service on the map.
“Buried Child” streams live March 30 on BroadwayHD.com.