The Potential of Webcasting for the Performing Arts Sector

May 20, 2014 - 46% of Canadians watch performances by professional artists over the internet and 16% say that seeing a show live on the internet fits their own personal definition of what it means to attend live professional performing arts.

As these findings from The Value of Presenting illustrate, the commodification and the digitization of the performing arts is an unavoidable trend. It is propelled both by new technologies – Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks, panoramic cameras and/or holographic technologies – and by big players – the iTunes Festival, Digital Theatre project or, in Canada, La Fabrique culturelle. And it’s making performing arts available anywhere, anytime.

At the last CAPACOA conference, on January 22nd, we led a working group discussion during which 21 participants explored how the act of presenting could be effectively replicated through webcasting technologies (see the ABCs of webcasting, below). Using a marketing framework, participants were asked two main questions:

  1. What are the respective advantages or the distinctive character of presenting a show live to a local audience vs. presenting a show live to a remote audience? How do they differ and what do they have in common? And what do audiences might enjoy from each one?
  2. Who could be your potential markets for webcast presentations?

Here’s what they said.

The respective advantages of webcast vs. live performance

Live Webcast of a Performance

Live performance, seen in the venue

  • Global reach
  • Possibility to connect to families and to fans of the artist
  • Affordability for the audience
  • Convenience for the audience
  • Limited investment for the audience
  • Social aspect with other audience members watching from the same location or through social media
  • Business aspect for the artists: presenters can view them + promotion
  • Intimate experience
  • Community character, localness of the experience.
  • Direct interaction with the artist
  • The patron has more control over the experience
  • More experimental
  • More focussed for the audience – they are providing themselves with the gift of time to enjoy the performance.
  • The social aspect is integral to the live performance

Participants also wondered whether an emotional connection between the artist and the audience was needed first, for a webcast presentation to be successful.

None of the participants – most of whom where presenters – mentioned the personal connection with the presenter and the front-of-house staff as an advantage of the live performance. This is nonetheless a key feature of performing arts presentation.

What are the markets for webcast presentations?

Participants first acknowledged that the answers to these questions were contingent on both the venue (some venues have a symbolic value which can be an integral part of the experience) and on the programming (family shows will cater to that particular market).

Potential markets:

  • people with mobility issues because of age or because of a disability;
  • communities with no access to performing arts institutions;
  • those who want an intimate relationship through close-up views and back stage tours;
  • schools who cannot afford to take their students to live events;
  • current audiences (patrons, donors, mobile app user).

Participants weren’t sure whether webcasting was a good tool to reach new audiences. There was however a sense that it could help expand access through word of mouth from current audience. Participants also wondered if it could help reach out to the “already curious” who may want to safely “try out” a performing arts experience – those with an interest in the arts but who may be hesitant to come to a venue because of lack of familiarity with the live-place setting or because of fear they might not know when to clap or what to wear.

In the discussion period, participants had interesting ideas about webcasting for specific remote audience in a given community (i.e. a ‘closed’ webcast from Harbourfront in Toronto to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories):

  • If an artist knows he/she is performing for a specific remote audience, chances are he/she would address that audience during the performance, thereby recreating the direct interaction of a live performance;
  • The local audience can become part of the experience that is webcast to the remote audience and vice-versa;
  • Local and remote audience could interact via social media;
  • When there is “intent” to present a performance to a specific remote audience, then a webcast most resembles the act of presenting to a local audience.

There remained many questions to explore, including what kind of business models might generate societal and/or financial returns. Will it be on-demand (users pay up-front to view the webcast)? Allowing users to view 10 minutes for free before they must pay? Requiring sign-in so patron data can be collected? A subscription service, such as Netflix? Or a mix of ticket sales and tips, as in Concert Window? Future will tell. Hopefully, this discussion will be the starting point for successful experimentation with webcasting technologies.

The ABC’s of webcasting

A webcast (also called live stream) is a video presentation distributed over the Internet using streaming media technology (data is sent as a continuous flow while the video is being watched).

A year ago, I wrote a blog post for TechSoup on webconferencing vs webcasting. If you would like an overview of the two technologies and basic tips, you can read this:

Essentially, webcasting is a four-step process:

  1. Capture: Images and sound are captured using as single camera or several cameras and microphones with a mixer and/or a capture interface.
  2. Encode: The output from recording devices are fed into a computer, where software converts the video signal into a digital signal that can be transmitted over the internet. It is possible to could acquire your own encoder or have it supplied by a third party provider (who would ensure you always have updated version).
  3. Transmit: The encoded output is transmitted over the internet to a streaming server. This requires a wired internet connexion with a fast upload speed. 2 Mbps is a bare minimum. For higher resolution, 5 Mbps or more would be needed.
  4. Host/Broadcast: The streaming server broadcasts the encoded video as a continual flow of data which is displayed for viewers on one or several web pages or applications. A webcast video may remain archived on the server for further viewing.

Performing arts organizations who want to explore this further, may contact a webcast provider. Tell them what you’d like to do and try to find out if they would be willing to experiment with you and help you build a long-term capacity for webcasting.

Here is a list of webcast providers with whom CAPACOA has been in contact in recent years (in alphabetical order):

  • Base Two Media – Based in Vancouver.
  • ethere Live – Based in the Niagara region.
  • Eventstream – Based in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa.
  • GC Webcasting – Based in Ottawa and Toronto, this company did some work with the Canadian Opera Company and with the National Gallery.
  • It’s happening right now – Montreal-based. Their service is long-term and venue-based.
  • Live Toune – Montreal-based and performing arts focussed.
  • MaxDigital – Based in Ottawa.
  • Omnicast TV – Based in Toronto.
  • Orchard TV – Operating out of Brampton, Ontario, this company specializes in webcasting music artists.

For the tech savvy, it’s also possible to explore off-the-shelf services such as Livestream or Ustream (see our post on the TechSoup blog about them).

Written by: Frédéric Julien


Previous and Related News Articles

Extreme Weather: A Threat to Festivals?

Performing Arts Alliance Seeks Relief on Postage Rate Increase