Broadway turns to streaming with ‘Diana’ as COVID-19 keeps lights out

Broadway streaming

Premium video on-demand (PVOD) has been gaining traction as movie studios have struggled to reach audiences because of theater closings – and audience reluctance to return – during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, Broadway – which still hasn’t set a firm date for reopening – is looking to streaming to help it stay on stage.

Diana: A Musical, which had its opening night cancelled because of the pandemic, is going to premier instead on Netflix. Next month, the musical will be filmed at the Broadway theater where it was going to open – without an audience – with its original cast. It is set to begin streaming on Netflix in early 2021. Meanwhile, the show is planning to open on Broadway May 25.

The musical had been scheduled to open March 31 but announced on its website the move to Netflix. It already had been in previews at the Longacre Theater when the pandemic forced its closure.

“We speak for the entire company when we say that we couldn’t be more excited to finally be able to share our show with theater lovers everywhere,” the producers said in a statement. “Though there is no substitute for the live theater, we are honored to be a part of the quality entertainment that Netflix provides its subscribers worldwide.”

Performing arts see streaming as a lifeline

Diana is following on the heels of another current Broadway musical, Hamilton, which last month debuted a film-adapted version on the Disney+ streaming service. Hamilton reportedly increased Disney+ app downloads 74% over the July 4 weekend when it was released.

Combined, Broadway shows are reportedly losing $35 million a week in ticket sales alone, said Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin, not to mention the impact theater closing are having on the New York City economy. Broadway shows are expected to remain closed at least through Jan. 3, and many producers don’t expect to return until the spring.

It’s not just Broadway that’s discovering streaming can help during the pandemic.

Movie studios – with a backlog of films as summer openings were cancelled – has decided streaming direct to consumers is an attractive alternative. NBCUniversal earlier this year netted more than $100 million on its streaming release of Trolls World Tour. Disney this month announced it would release its $200 million Mulan to Disney+ subscribers with a ticket price of $30. And, during recent earnings calls, an increasing number of studios committed to, or indicated, that they would also be looking to streaming more first-run films, especially as the pandemic made theater openings uncertain.

The bottom line

The pandemic is streaming’s evolutionary moment, creating an environment ripe for change and innovation.

For the arts, it’s been especially difficult. And it will remain so as long as there’s no vaccine for COVID-19 and as long as social distancing remains a mandate.

Increasingly, an array of performing arts are turning to streaming as a way to bring live entertainment to their loyal audiences. But operas, orchestras and choral groups are not only using streaming to stay in touch with their existing audiences, they’re also using streaming’s reach to expand reach.

With less than half of consumers saying they’ll not return to theaters until a vaccine is released – and an identified trend by younger audiences away from attending any live event – streaming is delivering a lifeline that isn’t likely to end with the pandemic.

Stay tuned and stay well.

Jim O’Neill is Principal Analyst at Brightcove. You can follow him on Twitter @JimONeillMedia and on LinkedIn