‘She Loves Me’ Will Be the First Livestreamed Broadway Show

Let’s look at the money behind this historic announcement.

She Loves Me at the Tony Awards

Theater fans may have noticed an historical announcement yesterday:

BroadwayHD and Roundabout Theatre Company have announced that they will live stream the Tony-winning revival of She Loves Me, marking the first time ever that a Broadway show has been broadcast live. She Loves Me will be available to watch live, on a pay-per-view basis on BroadwayHD on June 30 at 8 PM.
Visit broadwayhd.com/shelovesme to reserve a live stream pass to the June 30 broadcast for $9.99; alternatively She Loves Me is free with all annual subscriptions to BroadwayHD’s on-demand library.

If you’re the type of theater fan who immediately thought “wait, this can’t be the first time a Broadway show has been broadcast live, I remember watching that production of Peter Pan with Mary Martin on videocassette when I was a child,” here’s the deal: the 1956 telecast of Peter Pan starring Mary Martin was broadcast live, but it was not a Broadway show; it was created specifically for television, much like 2014’s Peter Pan Live! (It was also completely unlike Peter Pan Live! in every aspect.)

Also: She Loves Me will be livestreamed. Not for television. Not even for movie theaters like it was a Metropolitan Opera production. For the internet.

The livestream will be hosted at BroadwayHD, which you might remember me writing about last fall:

When I wrote about BroadwayHD last year, I noted that its library was pretty small and was “only going to interest the theater historian.” That has totally changed. Now they’re a legit service with an extensive library of contemporary performances, including big-name musicals like Phantom and Les Mis.

If you’re the type of theater fan who is now eagerly thinking of the possibility of streaming that one big-name musical that I’m also thinking of, we’ll get to that. First, let’s look at what it costs to livestream She Loves Me.

Theater is a highly unionized industry, and figuring out how to compensate performers and creators has been hard. Despite widespread evidence that broadcasts increase ticket sales, many producers remain concerned about discouraging potential ticket buyers. And it is not clear whether any individual broadcast can be profitable. (The Met Opera, the National Theater and the Roundabout are all nonprofits.)
“The most difficult part of this is the cost — everyone has to get compensation — and the challenge is determining the value of the live stream,” said Ken Davenport, a producer who last year streamed a performance of an Off Broadway musical, “Daddy Long Legs.” He said the broadcast was watched by about 150,000 people, and built buzz for the show, but was not profitable.

The current “value of the She Loves Me livestream” has been set at $9.99 (or free if you pay for a $169.99 BroadwayHD annual subscription, which means it isn’t technically free, but whatevs).

Also, if you are trying to remember where you last saw Ken Davenport’s name in The Billfold, it was here:

Ken Davenport is Spring Awakening’s producer, and was part of the “Kickstart our way to the Tonys” plan. (Did you see the performance? It was amazing.)

I am still a little ambivalent about the idea of Kickstarting additional funds for a traditionally-produced show, but I am not at all ambivalent about bringing theater and the internet together—because they’re already together, half of my Tumblr feed is people creating 16-bit videogame storyboards for Hamilton. (YES, WE’RE GOING TO GET TO HAMILTON, I READ THE NEWS TOO.)

Back to the NYT to answer the question “who is producing/paying for the She Loves Me livestream:”

The “She Loves Me” broadcast is being financed by BroadwayHD. Roundabout said it is spending nothing on the venture — in fact, it will receive a small amount of compensation.
The founders of BroadwayHD, Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, said that the broadcast would be costly but that they were optimistic it would be profitable.

What are the costs here? They need people to work the cameras and run the tech, but they’re also giving up seats so they can have space to do the filming. Which you might think is not that big a deal, like, is She Loves Me seriously selling out every evening, and the answer is no, it’s not selling out—I checked—and I’d like to think that all of those people livestreaming the show will more than cancel out the handful of high-value seats they give up so they have room for the cameras. (With the most expensive She Loves Me ticket currently priced at $152, it’ll take 16 livestream viewers to make up the cost per seat. Yes, I know that’s not exactly how the math will work, since they have to pay for the cameras and the labor and the rest of it. But still.)

So if you are a Broadway fan, and you want to see more livestreamed shows, I think you need to show up for She Loves Me. Think of it as your own investment in Broadway’s (and the internet’s) future.

Okay. Back to that other big-name musical. Did you see this tweet?

They’re filming the cast. There will be a video. Someday, we may get the privilege of paying to watch it—and it won’t stop a lot of us from paying to see Hamilton when it ends up in St. Louis or Chicago or Los Angeles or wherever it goes.

I need to end a with a bit of a sappy, emotion-filled explosion of joy, because the whole point of theater, from the very beginning, has been the fact that it’s participatory. It invites you in. Asks you to contribute to the story being shared that night, at least with your attention and with the emotional connection between yourself and your seatmates and the actors and their characters and the production. (That’s a lot of connection going on.)

Now that connection has expanded to the internet, and theater didn’t ask us to take it there, we took it there ourselves, and I know that watching a livestream of She Loves Me isn’t going to be the same as watching it at the Roundabout, but we’re still going to be participating and we’re still going to be connected, and I am so excited to see what that looks like, and what theater might become.