The Silicon Review
“We are the only destination for streaming full-length Broadway shows.”
Bonnie Comley is the founder and CEO of BroadwayHD, a user-friendly SVOD platform with a clearly defined niche of content; Broadway shows. In March 2020, BroadwayHD became one of the only fully functioning entities in the theater world. Broadway, the pinnacle of live entertainment, was a multibillion-dollar industry that shut down overnight, and BroadwayHD was perfectly positioned to fill the void. The company’s motto is “If you can’t get to Broadway, get to BroadwayHD,” but who could have predicted that the entire world would be unable to get to the theater? In part, due to the effects of the pandemic locking down entertainment venues, the appeal of streaming platforms has intensified. Within weeks of theaters closing, streaming usage increased over 50 percent.
Launched in 2015, BroadwayHD has invested significantly in technology to ensure the streaming is a faultless, high-quality experience for subscribers. In late 2019, to support its growth, BroadwayHD launched a new suite of applications. Its next-generation Subscription Video-On-Demand (SVOD) service, across multiple platforms and devices, and introduced new high-performance business models, refreshing and enriching the user experience. The technology utilized has provided the platform with a robust end-to-end OTT video solution that accelerates growth by providing subscribers with a rich, personalized, and easy-to-navigate experience on any device. As a strong brand in a niche space and by upgrading its subscription offering, BroadwayHD has cemented its status as a genuine OTT innovator.
BroadwayHD’s on-demand Internet streaming service adopted the Netflix model and adapted it to live theater shows, featuring digital captures of premium, full-length theatrical productions. While theater is traditionally an art
form limited to a restricted number of bricks and mortar venues, this ground-breaking subscription service took it from the stage to screen, making the best of professional theater accessible to worldwide audiences using online streaming technology. In this way, the platform has filled a crucial void, eliminating barriers to accessing this niche market, democratizing an elite form of entertainment, and allowing viewers to enjoy recorded and live-streamed Broadway, West End, off-Broadway and regional performances at a location or time suited to their convenience and at a fraction of the cost. A Broadway musical ticket’s average price was $125 compared to the annual BroadwayHD subscription fee of $100. Specializing in live captures of high-end theatrical productions, using from three to as many as fourteen HD or 4K cameras from multiple viewpoints, BroadwayHD is the foremost innovator in this field…leading the digital transformation of live theater arts, integrating it with streaming technology and eliminating geographic, economic, and physical limitations. With better accessibility and affordability, BroadwayHD is expanding Broadway’s fanbase on a global platform. BroadwayHD is the only online streaming service of its kind, offering global audiences unlimited, on-demand access to premium full-length stage productions, specifically captured for multi-platform viewing. Ensuring ease of access for its customer base, BroadwayHD is available to anyone with a connected device, from mobile phones and tablets to desktops, laptops, and TVs, accessible through Apple TV and Google Chromecast, Roku, Amazon Prime, Firestick, via the dedicated apps for iOS and Android or via the website www.BroadwayHD.com.
With Broadway dark until later in 2021, fans are eager to view shows from the comfort of their own home. BroadwayHD is the global aggregator of authorized, professional captures of Broadway and Broadway-caliber shows, and as a result, the platform is supporting this worldwide demand. BroadwayHD is a member of ‘The Broadway League’ and therefore recognized as-a-service business to the Broadway industry, keeping theater fans engaged with the art form they love on a 24/7 platform. This will ensure an appetite for the live stage shows when theaters reopen. The pipeline of content is still robust, with new shows rolling out weekly with productions filmed pre-Covid.
Less than 25 percent of media-tech companies have female CEOs, and there are even fewer female founders, so Comley lives in a rare space.
Comley’s in-depth knowledge of the technology, expertise in marketing, and producing this specialized content has put her at the intersection of art and commerce. She is listed in the Guinness World Records and has been asked to do so many keynote speeches, moderating, and lecturing for OTT panels and conferences that her colleagues have dubbed her the “Stream Queen.” Comley’s generosity with her time and mentorship is inspiring the next generation of female tech entrepreneurs. At BroadwayHD, Comley has ensured that the company has a 50:50 gender split. Safeguarding her gender-diverse workforce at BroadwayHD allows the company to serve an increasingly diverse customer base.
Comley wanted more flexibility in managing a work-life balance for herself and her employees, so in 2019 BroadwayHD transformed into a remote and cloud-based organization. While it was still expected that employees would travel into the New York City offices on a regular schedule, the aim was to encourage employees to develop the infrastructure and home office environment to allow them to work flexibly if necessary. This perceptive modification of working practice and evolution of company culture allowed a smooth transition to the fully remote working environment adopted following lockdown restrictions, allowing the company to flourish and not face any decrease in productivity or any negative impact on its subscriber base.
Although Comley has degrees from UMass and Emerson College and is an alumna of Columbia Business School Executive Leadership Program, she credits her parents for her stamina and discipline as an entrepreneur. “My Dad was an elevator mechanic, and my mother quit her job at the New England Telephone Co. to start their own business on our kitchen table. They were young with four children, but they were hard workers, and they were risk-takers.” Comley said, “My mother always told me, the only people who never fail are the ones that aren’t doing anything.” Comley joked that her parents James and Virginia Comley, had many ‘ups and downs’ in their elevator maintenance business, but it grew to be one of the largest elevator companies in New England.
As a three-time Tony Award-winning Broadway and an Olivier Award-winning West End theater producer for the live stage shows, Comley’s highly regarded industry reputation has enabled her to successfully negotiate agreements for BroadwayHD with all 17 unions, guilds, and associations responsible for the live streaming and filmed TV capture of Broadway’s unionized shows. Comley and her BroadwayHD team have also been able to develop crucial relationships with leading theater companies across the world to showcase their productions, including Roundabout Theater Company, The Public Theater, Manhattan Theater Company, The Geffen Playhouse, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Broadway Worldwide’s Direct From Broadway® catalog, BBC Worldwide North America, WNET/New York, Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House, Donmar Warehouse, and Digital Theatre + in the UK, as well as partnerships with leading independent producers.
Through these unique partnerships, BroadwayHD has been able to provide these global theater organizations with a platform to showcase their productions. As a result, BroadwayHD features a vast library of theatrical content, including some of the best works from the past 20 years, spanning numerous genres and eras. Comley’s purpose for the BroadwayHD platform is not to replace live performances but to utilize these vital relationships and agreements to use their new media form, to stream, promote and expand the reach of live theater productions, ultimately preserving it for the next generation as well as inspiring future theatergoers.
In a ground-breaking first for the Broadway industry, on June 30, 2016, Comley and the BroadwayHD team, in partnership with the Roundabout Theater Company, achieved the Guinness World Record for the first Broadway show to be live-streamed. The historical performance of ‘She Loves Me’ was viewed live in real-time by audiences in over 84 countries across the world. On that day, BroadwayHD and ‘She Loves Me’ were trending on Facebook and Twitter, while media and customer testimonials praised and lauded the live-streamed production.
Comley has been a lifelong advocate for arts in education and is a proud member of The Broadway League Audience Engagement and Education Committee. Comley felt BroadwayHD needed to have an educational distribution arm, ensuring the platform is available for schools and colleges to access at a significant discount. By utilizing its extensive catalog, students can study a full range of stage shows and backstage documentaries that highlight a production’s intricacies behind the scenes. Through this partnership, over four million students have access to the service across 95 countries.
In August 2020, Comley was recognized in the ‘Industry Leader’ category of the ‘Cynopsis Top Women in Media Awards’, earned by female trailblazers pushing the industry forward while empowering and inspiring others. The honorees are innovators, risk-takers, and those instrumental in executing strategy, all traits that Comley has honed over her decade’s long career. Comley won her first ‘Telly Award’ as the Host/Reporter for the Nightlife TV series in 1989 and went on to win eight more ‘Telly Awards’ (honoring excellence in video and television across all screens) and ‘One W3 Award’ (celebrating digital excellence) with BroadwayHD.
Through BroadwayHD, Comley has been instrumental in the evolution of the stage to digital movement. BroadwayHD’s catalog of pre-COVID-19 recordings will inspire the path back to recovery for the industry. The streaming service has made theater accessible to the masses, expanding the reach of theater to those who cannot experience it or those who want to keep experiencing it over and over again.
As the aggregator of recorded live theater, BroadwayHD is the technological innovator for the industry’s restoration and digital transformation. To help shuttered theaters create additional revenue, in March 2020, the platform shared its resources, giving regional theaters a distribution channel for their subscribers, creating a path for live theater-producing organizations around the country to use digital assets as consumer-facing products. It partnered with ACT-San Francisco and Berkeley Repertory Theater to distribute recorded performances to their patrons, helping these cancelled shows get seen and preventing refunds to existing ticket holders. The process was quickly followed by over 90 other theatrical producing organizations, creating a watershed movement of available digital content and starting the transformation of the stage to digital that will lay the groundwork for the industry’s future recovery and its impact on the national economy.
BroadwayHD is a niche streamer in a world of giants. Comley, the “Stream Queen,” plans to keep BroadwayHD competitive in this environment. “Everyone will have one or two of the big streamers like Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu, but they will also have a niche or two based on their special interests. If you are a horror fan, you will have Shudder, if you’re an anime fan, you will have Crunchyroll, a sports fan, you will have ESPN Plus, and if you are a theater fan, you will subscribe to BroadwayHD,” Comley states. “We are the only destination for streaming full-length Broadway shows. Our marketing team knows where to reach the theater audience online, and once we reach these fans, they are our biggest influencers.” BroadwayHD’s subscriber retention is “very sticky” according to Comley, and gift certificates to the service are now the way the older, traditional Broadway ticket buyer introduces their children and grandchildren to this art form.
Comley’s laser-focused content streaming strategy over user-friendly technology seems to be working—BroadwayHD celebrated its fifth anniversary in October. BroadwayHD has outlasted dozens of other network platforms like the recent 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 over a year, which means any Googling for “Broadway” pushes “BroadwayHD” higher into the organic searches.