How This Husband-and-Wife Team Made Broadway Accessible
Learn how two producers brought a niche interest to the masses.
Did you know that the 2016-2017 Broadway season attendance topped those of the ten professional New York and New Jersey sports teams combined, bringing in a record-setting $1.45 billion in ticket sales? These numbers, courtesy of The Broadway League, illustrate the drawing power of one of the most highly acclaimed niche markets in the world, Broadway Theater.
Armed with such statistics and their great passion for Broadway, Tony Award-winning producers Stewart Lane and Bonnie Comley decided it was time to take this niche market to a global audience.
"I've always wanted to do this, to share Broadway with the world," says Lane in an interview. Lane is a veteran producer whose production credits include La Cage aux Folles, The Will Rogers Follies, Legally Blonde: the Musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie and a host of other hit shows.
Together, Lane and Comley looked at the Broadway theater demographics, which has remained the same for many years -- over 40 years old, Caucasian, largely female, higher average education and much higher disposable income than an average American family (the latest figure places the average annual household income of the Broadway theatergoer at $194,940).
"Despite being a niche market, Broadway is recognized around the world. Ask anyone, 'What is Broadway?' and they will tell you it's the pinnacle of live entertainment," says Comley, adding that "this includes people who have never been to a Broadway show."
Yet, the goal of taking a niche market to a global audience was going to be a challenge. One way to achieve this was to engage the ever growing younger audience by reaching them where they live -- on the internet -- by providing 24/7 access to shows. It also helped to tap into some familiarities to market the new digital platform. For example, audiences were already familiar with significant films like Les Miserables, which came from Broadway to the big screen, or Legally Blonde, which made the transition from film to Broadway musical. There's also star appeal, as movie and television stars regularly cross over to Broadway. Clearly, aspects of many Broadway shows have already transcended across the media and have drawing power.
Making it happen
As longstanding members of the Broadway Community, Lane and Comley knew they had to reach out to a lot of people and organizations to actually create a first-class web portal featuring meticulously filmed HD captures of full Broadway shows. They were able to leverage their relationships with the leading New York theater companies into collaborations with the Roundabout Theatre, The Public Theater, Manhattan Theatre Company, The Geffen and even Lincoln Center to name just a few. They all recognized that global exposure would increase their individual brand awareness.
Next, they took on the task of securing agreements with all 17 of the unions, guilds and associations responsible for creating Broadway shows. Their mission was a success as everyone got on board. "Now, when BroadwayHD pulls up in front of a theater with satellite trucks and 14 cameras, unions are confident that the creators of the shows will be compensated," says Lane, who is also a proud, card-carrying member of the stage union, Actors Equity.
Finally, thanks to the diligence of their technical teams, Lane and Comley created the BroadwayHD website, which launched in the fall of 2015 with a selection of 100 titles, with shows from both Broadway and London's West End. The selection has since grown to over 200 titles.
Price point was also very important. Using a Netflix-style of pricing, BroadwayHD offers unlimited access for only $8.99 a month or an annual fee of $99.99, which is roughly the average cost of a single ticket to one Broadway show.
Of course, theater purists, along with some producers and critics, argued that streaming is not the same as sitting in the audience and taking in the show live. But, while this certainly is a valid point, the democratization of Broadway -- bringing down the barriers of access whether it's geographic, economic or physical limitations -- has provided the gateway for a new audience.
It should also be noted that an educational component also emerged. For schools, theater groups, young producers, directors and performers, BroadwayHD provides a crisp, clear digital way to study the craft from the best in the business -- and even go backstage. An educational distribution arm makes many of the titles available at a discount for schools and colleges.
Globalizing your own niche market
By utilizing new streaming technology to the fullest, offering a reasonable price point and tapping into the familiarity of films and star power, Lane and Comley launched and marketed a new vehicle for Broadway that made a niche market infinitely accessible.
Entrepreneurs in niche markets can take a page out of Lane and Comley's playbook and reach out globally thanks to innovative technology and tapping into common denominators between the smaller niche market and their desired larger audience. Using the internet and social media, it's easier than ever to market to the masses, providing you find a reasonable price point and an accessible means of transmitting or transporting your products or services. An educational element that teaches the larger audience about your niche can also be beneficial.
In the end, Lane and Comley successfully unleashed a recognized niche brand to the world through BroadwayHD. If this story serves as inspiration, perhaps it may be time to take your niche market global, as well.
Rich Mintzer is a journalist and author of more than 80 nonfiction books, including several on starting a business and a dozen for Entrepreneur Press. He hails from Westchester, New York, where he lives with his family.