Here's Why Roadblocks are Entrepreneurial Opportunities

Like many business entrepreneurs, BroadwayHD's Bonnie Comley faced multiple challenges, but she aced them and learnt

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Bonnie Comley is the founder of BroadwayHD, a streaming service, specializing in high-quality full-length filmed Broadway shows using a Netflix-like subscription model. BroadwayHD launched in 2015 and by 2016 had achieved the Guinness World Record for the first Broadway show to be live-streamed. Heading into its seventh year, BroadwayHD is a thriving entertainment platform serving a global audience of theater fans. But like many business entrepreneurs, Comley had multiple challenges from the start. Here is how she used those obstacles to her advantage.

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Comley recalls being told, "You can't do that", "It's never been done before." "No one does it that way." These are statements that many people have heard at some point in their career, so they stop what they were trying to do. Many take these declarations as an impasse, but what if the statement "the last guy tried and failed," is your opportunity to study a business's roadblocks? Examining someone else's path, understanding the challenges, and addressing them can help you choose a more successful option."

There were many challenges for Comley and BroadwayHD to overcome. The first challenge was from the producers of in-person live stage shows. Many producers felt a streaming business would be competition to box office ticket sales for in-person shows, so Comley needed the buy-in of theater industry professionals. Comley's highly regarded reputation within the live theater industry enabled her to lead BroadwayHD to successfully negotiate agreements with all 17 unions, guilds, and associations responsible for the live streaming and capture of Broadway's unionized shows.

The BroadwayHD partnerships further expanded to include significant theater organizations eager to share their stage productions with the global community without the full burden of additional digital distribution and marketing efforts. The BroadwayHD platform exemplifies how traditional theater experiences are being reimagined for consumption in the digital entertainment era and adding to live in-person theater ticket sales.

Although some producers still feel that in-person shows and filmed/streamed shows are in competition, the pandemic proved that consumers' appetite for in-person shows only increases from watching filmed versions of the shows. BroadwayHD isn't a replacement for in-person shows, it's just another way for fans to engage with an art form that they love. Since BroadwayHD's launch in 2015, the average age of a Broadway ticket buyer has dropped for the first time since 2000, indicating that BroadwayHD is having a positive impact and knock-on effect on audience members booking tickets to live shows. In other words, by bringing theater to younger fans online, the younger theater fans are buying tickets to the live stage shows. The formula is a win-win for the future health of Broadway, ensuring the next generation of ticket buyers for the live in-person stage productions.

Another challenge for Comley and BroadwayHD was to understand and solve the three main barriers to access for the in-person shows. These barriers are geography, price, and physical limitations. The average cost of a Broadway ticket is $125. And the price of an annual streaming subscription to the BroadwayHD service is $130. For 300 shows- this solves the price barrier. Technology Apps for smartphones and smart TVs allow the shows to be streamed at home or personal devices – this solves the geography and mobility issues. High definition and audio recording, captions, audio descriptions, and the ability to raise the volume make the shows accessible to the blind, low vision, and the hearing impaired.

Since its launch, the impact and reach of BroadwayHD have been widespread and significant. The global appetite for live theater and digitized live theater is rapidly growing. BroadwayHD has subscribers in 122 countries and is adding new content every month.

There are than 25 per cent female CEOs and even fewer female founders in the media and tech industry but Comley's strategy of laser-focused high-quality Broadway content streaming over user-friendly technology seems to be working - BroadwayHD celebrated its sixth year anniversary in October. BroadwayHD has outlasted dozens of other streaming platforms such as Quibi, Seeso, Al Jazeera America, and Pivot TV which entered the market with much bigger fanfare and bankrolls. BroadwayHD has the first to market advantage and with Broadway shows shut down for almost two years, Googling for "Broadway" pushes "BroadwayHD" higher into the organic searches.

There will be more challenges ahead for Comley and BroadwayHD, but reframing obstacles as opportunities, looking for partnerships in adjacent businesses, and studying the path of others has turned Comley's roadblocks into a path of success.