We have been doing our cloud security blog now for a couple of weeks and decided to start to speak directly to some of the contacts who had been reading the blogs. I spoke to one contact from the legal sector (who shall remain nameless) who gave some very interesting feedback.
The bad news is that the call did not end up in a sale or a trial of the software, and they didn’t want to meet with us or try out any of our services so there is no fairy tale ending here.
What was more interesting was that the customer said about Umbrella cloud security and his current IT partner.
On the subject of Cisco Umbrella, he said they had been using it for over a year now and “it was absolutely brilliant”. The ability to automatically block bad domains and to investigate suspected threats was extremely good and he was very happy that they had decided to deploy the product.
Furthermore, he said it was introduced to him by their IT provider whom they have worked with for nearly 10 years now. He said it was a very strong partnership where they had offered an exceptional quality of service, they weren’t the cheapest but it would just be silly for them to look elsewhere at this stage because you get what you pay for and they certainly were getting very good value for money. He felt it would be silly of them to be looking to change under such circumstances. I said to him I hoped my customers felt the same way about the service we provide as we certainly strive to differentiate ourselves in this way. He thanked me for the call and we went t our separate ways.
Wow this is what I have been banging on about for what seems a lifetime, it’s not about being the cheapest or biggest, but rather about providing good value for money.
What was even more satisfying is the fact that he appreciated what we had been writing about in terms of cloud security and the importance of DNS security. He was totally happy with the Umbrella product and now couldn’t see them operating without it.
So I am really happy that though this customer said no to us, they endorsed what we believe and what we have been banging the drum about.
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More organisations are adopting a cloud strategy to leverage cloud services and enjoy the associated speed of development and deployment. One of the biggest challenges, however, is creating the balance that provides an appropriate level of governance over the use of cloud applications that still empowers users to leverage these services.
We recently highlighted a news article (read it here) about a tool that was able to trawl through Amazon Web servers and access potentially sensitive data hosted by a number of organisations. The tool highlighted flaws in the configuration of servers in the cloud. This is a good example possibly of a rush to deployment that left good cyber security practices behind.
In this blog series, we have discussed the need for a pervasive cloud centric cyber security approach that not just protects the user but also the data.
Cloud service providers are responsible for the security of their infrastructure, while organisations that use those services are responsible for user activities on top of that infrastructure. Cloud service providers will build security into their platforms and environment, however, if the data is being accessed by the wrong person or used inappropriately, they will not be aware of that. Additionally, they do not know what applications an organisation has approved or disallowed.
The cloud centric security approach, therefore, needs to have extensive visibility of who is accessing applications and data and how they are using it. The security approach must have the ability to identify malicious infrastructure and protect sensitive data from it. Compromised accounts need to be identified as well as potential malicious insiders. The emerging security tool that addresses this security concern is the cloud access security broker (CASB).
A cloud access security broker helps organisations address a range of cloud security vulnerabilities by providing visibility into the applications in use, profiling them from a risk perspective, and enforcing policies especially around data loss prevention (DLP) and user activity.
A good CASB implementation will also provide for the retrospective discovery of sensitive data and malware in cloud applications. The CASB should also integrate with network based entities to give visibility into real time data, threats in motion, as well as preview historical use of cloud applications.
In our next episode, we will take a deeper look at CASB and how they can work more effectively with other security tools to secure the cloud.
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So now we have confirmed what we already knew, the era of digitisation is bringing unimaginable opportunities for business innovation and differentiation. The big BUT is that our traditional approach to securing IT assets needs to be transformed and be relevant for the emerging world of large scale remote working, cloud based applications and massive increases in connected devices.
Our starting point in addressing the new cyber security approach must be policy based. It is vital to have a policy that is agreed at Executive level. The policy needs to identify the risks to the business of compromised information systems which could result in severe financial loss and reputational damage. The importance of securing these systems and the roles and responsibilities of everyone in the organisation needs to be clearly communicated. Having an effective policy is also a necessary step not just for good governance but also an important step on the journey to meeting statutory requirements such as PCI or GDPR compliance.
The policy of necessity should look at all aspects of the day to day user access, processing and storage of information, identify the risks for each component and identify the controls that are necessary to mitigate that risk. In a previous blog we identified some of these key controls which include;
- Education and Awareness: train users to adopt a security conscious culture
- Securing Configurations: to protect systems from vulnerabilities
- Secure Network Connectivity: follow industry best practices and design approaches
- Managing User Privileges: ensure users do not have unnecessary privileges that can be exploited
- Effective Incident Management: reduce the impact of a cyber breach and aid speedy resolution
- Malware Prevention: ensure good anti-malware practices are implemented to prevent infection
- Systems Monitoring: detect how systems are used and if they have been attacked
- Remote working: ensure that an effective secure remote policy and controls are in place
All of the above controls (and some) will be necessary for GDPR compliance and an area that to date has often been ignored by SMBs is systems monitoring. This will certainly need to change with one requirement of GDPR for detailed breach notification.
The above policies and their associated controls could go a long way creating a more secure business environment that is able to mitigate risk before, during and after a cyber attack. So the simple message is that policy must underpin and be the foundation for any kind technology or people solution to security organisations from cyber breaches.
In the next edition of our blog, we will begin to explore what some of the technological solutions should look like and the benefits they could bring if correctly deployed.
Live-to-digital is a growing medium, primarily driven by three factors. Once producers understand such audience motivations, it will become easier to strategize within the space.
- The experience is economical, costing less money and requiring less time than traditional theatre, as travel is largely taken out the equation and ticket price is either less or negated.
- Digital offers a convenience that cannot be matched by traditional productions, as streaming can occur anywhere.
- Digital offers a new means of exploring content – whether live or not – which is of great benefit to audiences who wish to discover innovative theatre.
Alongside these three considerations, elements such as advanced camera work help smooth the transition between live and digital, as audiences can enjoy the visual experience from a new perspective. However, many still refuse to give up on the actual live performance, or travel for Event Cinema.
While the digital medium presents clear benefits to the audience, producers are feeling the strain. Tackling new projects is intimidating, although widespread industry expertise can smooth the learning curve. Moreover, while the cost can be prohibitive, streaming is an economical means of growing an audience, and also a method many pursue in search of new fans. Given an infrastructure has been put in place in cinemas throughout the country, this can also help reduce the required investment.
What might spur momentum across the industry could be increased transparency, with viewer numbers and financial data shared between venues and producers. Until this happens, a reluctance to progress is likely to prevail.
In recent articles, you have witnessed first-hand the advent of live-to-digital in theatre. With audiences turning to the medium in droves, there is little question about whether suppliers should engage.
However, in light of widespread support for the transition, questions remain as to the factors that drive consumption, as much as why many suppliers are reluctant to enter the space. While some voice concerns over how to fund production, others surface different barriers to entry.
Perhaps the question could be better approached from a different perspective.
Once industry players better understand audience motivations, such hurdles won’t seem so daunting and new players – as much as existing participants – will be able to spur on the category, for its transformational potential is immense.
Why Theatrical Content is King
Let’s be clear; one truth remains: Those who want to see a live performance will, in no uncertain terms, do their best to see that live performance. The arrival of digital is not competing on those terms. Much in the same way Hollywood still draws an audience to the cinema, the intimacy of live theatre will always preserve its place.
That said, digital content is carving a niche, and the audience advantages are clear.
In short, for the audience, live-to-digital is:
- And, perhaps most poignantly, not necessarily ‘live’ (that is, consumers are not looking to replace the live experience)
The audience still very much appreciates the thrill of going to the theatre, which is why shows up and down the country continue to sell out with touring at stable levels. Digital is solely a means of increasing one’s consumption of ‘live’ performance, in a way that is both convenient and economical.
It is the audience’s way of supplementing their exposure to the arts while exploring lesser-known productions that they might otherwise not have seen. The economics, both in terms of time and money, allow experimentation. Something that was, in a previous era, unfathomable.
What the industry is witnessing is a new crowd mobilised through technology, or those who are too far from a theatre now able to enjoy the latest productions at a reasonable personal cost.
You see, it is this newfound ability to enjoy a performance without having to sacrifice a day or an entire paycheck that is most exciting. In fact, two-thirds of respondents stated that their greatest motivation for attending Event Cinema – particularly among older or rural respondents – was simplicity.
“Living in Sheffield, going to London is pricey. There are shows I couldn’t see live for financial reasons, or time constraints.” Audience Member, 25-44, Yorkshire & Humberside.
And yet, in its own confidence-boosting way, there is still a sizeable segment who travel at least one hour to attend live theatre, which reinforces the belief that ‘live’ is here to stay.
When focusing purely on financials, streaming evidently comes into its own. Yet, this is not a singular motivation.
Live performances have inherent limitations with strict schedules, while those who stream appreciate the opportunity of watching a performance outside of the traditional tour. In fact, almost half of those who streamed a production did so because no live version of the performance was available at the time.
Similarly, as shows continue to sell out, streaming may be the only option. Very few people suggest they prefer streaming to live, showing how they are not economising on the quality of their experience, rather doing what is necessary to preserve their enjoyment. To worry about cannibalisation of ticket sales is understandable, however, when producers realise that ‘going digital’ has previously had no adverse effect, they can put their fears to bed.
The reality is that more people are tuning in at their convenience, likely watching something they otherwise might not have chosen to see. Digital is a great means for broadening the mind and testing new waters.
If you had said to me, here’s a ticket to see Hip Hop Othello [the Q Brothers] live at the Globe [in 2012], I wouldn’t have gone. But watching it on the iPlayer [The Space], I thought it was fantastic – I wish I had seen it live.”—audience member, 45-64, West Midlands
Offering a Fresh Perspective
The proximity of the actors; their on-stage presence; the inherent risk of the live performance – these are all visceral reasons to attend the theatre. However, when it comes to Event Cinema or streaming, the primitive nature of the performance takes on new meaning.
What an audience loses in authenticity, they gain in perspective as, through this shift in medium, they can appreciate the performance in new ways.
When sat at the back of the National Theatre, it is difficult to appreciate the detail of an actor’s performance. When watching on screen, the depth of the actor’s expression is something that can be genuinely appreciated as the camera zooms in. This is a distinctively different experience, and one reason people enjoy productions in the digital form.
This is a message to production houses that the quality of their camera work is implicit in the success of any screening, underlining that – to bring a top-class production to the screen – they need to appreciate the different perspectives at play, and offer the audience the viewpoints they want.
Where the viewer has relinquished control of their focus, they get to appreciate the intensity of the emotion on display.
Barriers to Consumption
Not everything is simple in the digital world, and consumers do have their concerns. Much to the theatres’ delight, many simply choose not to participate in Event Cinema – or stream – for the reason they would rather be there in person.
Event Cinema does, in many ways, have similar issues as traditional theatre in its reliance on a physical venue, so audiences who struggle to attend the theatre may well lack access to Event Cinema as well. Similarly, viewing schedules deter those who live too far away, which could be an opportunity for exhibitors – more regular screenings could increase attendance.
Primarily, inadequate technology and lack of awareness are decisive factors for those who choose not to stream. More often than not, rather than not wanting to stream, it is more the crowd simply do not know that this is an option.
The all-too-common ‘build it and they will come’ mentality does not work. If you offer content via a streaming service, do not hide the fact. Market it well, and you will have a captive audience.
Of the largest segment of streamers – those between 16 and 24 – these were the least likely to know where to find content. This is an opportunity lost and a possible reason for scepticism around the effectiveness of live-to-digital.
There seems to be an invisible barrier in many production houses – the hurdle of going from zero to one live-to-digital projects.
For those who have experience with at least one production, the likelihood of producing a second is vastly higher than amongst those who have yet to dip their toe. This suggests that if producers can understand what motivates those who do operate in the category, they can work to reduce their fears and take steps towards new horizons.
Do Not Fear the Cost
While the positive economics for digital consumers is self-evident, digital producers are more sceptical. Rather than embracing any potential gain in online audiences, the upfront investment is likelier to halt the project.
Society is risk averse, and the thought of losing money is an understandable deterrent; however, artistic directors should try to reframe the purpose of live-to-digital. In general terms, few approach it as a means of driving revenues – at least, not in the immediate. So, for those wondering ‘how will I my make my return?’ – well, stop wondering.
Put cost aside for one moment and focus on the other core motivations of those who produce.
The opportunity to build a new audience base is a clear winner, as this new audience will tune in to lesser-known productions. The prospect of growing your brand in a new segment is also very real, as are the benefits of innovative partnerships that could lead to further prospects down the line.
What’s Really Holding Productions Back?
A barrier for anyone, anywhere, doing just about anything, is not knowing how. Do not be afraid to admit this if it is the case; you are in great company. Moreover, a lack of internal expertise is to be expected – you are new to this, after all.
Suffice to say, with the ever-increasing volume of live-to-digital performances, industry expertise has grown and, among those who produce, they cite external expertise as the best way to overcome the knowledge-gap. They attest there is plenty of help around and this can be a great way to upskill your team.
Understandably, the cost will always be a consideration, and the investment required will reduce appetite for participation. Two-thirds state this as their primary concern, so this cannot be ignored.
However, thanks to projects such as the Digital Screen Network, which was established in 2005, 212 cinemas received funding to install digital projectors with priority given to smaller, independent houses who likely did not have the capital to support such an investment. In 2009, this was followed by an initiative of the UK Film Council who encouraged the transition from DVD to digital projection.
The infrastructure in place is robust which, in turn, should help reduce production costs if you find out who in your local area has such facilities.
Equally, while access to funding will always be top-of-mind, the reality is that obtaining financing for both live productions, or live-to-digital, is of the same difficulty. So, perhaps success lies in an appetite to take the risk. Positively, four-in-five senior leaders within the industry suggested they were ready to take a punt on live-to-digital, meaning it could be up to funders to open their eyes to the opportunity.
Sharing Positive Vibes
Arguably, the most integral element to garner support for digital transformation lies in sharing the data behind the growth. While many positive stories exist, there is, admittedly, still a dearth of publicly-available information.
The first two articles demonstrated the levels of participation; however, other issues lie in the fact that almost half of suppliers have little-to-no access to audience data from their own live-to-digital productions.
This needs to change.
To encourage productions, it is vital that exhibitors collaborate with suppliers to share audience or streaming data to disseminate the positive statistics gathered as part AEA’s report. Not only would real data provide a reason for those currently in the category to expand their offering, but they would also have a story to sell to those on the sidelines.
Step into Centre Stage
The motivations behind live-to-digital from a producer’s perspective are clear. As soon as you understand your live audience is under no threat, it becomes about three benefits:
- Building new audiences, including those who cannot attend
- Marketing and growing a brand through new partnerships
- Pushing boundaries in pursuit of artistic acclaim
In general, the overriding emotion around the current digital landscape is one of positivity. Growing audiences and encouraging larger viewing figures can only be healthy for an industry that is limited to venues that, by their very nature, can be cost-prohibitive.
Disseminating work in ways that promote access must be perceived as exciting – an artistic challenge as much as a threat – while appreciating the work done to reduce the barriers to entry may even help sceptics overcome their concerns.
Given that almost nine-in-ten exhibitors plan to maintain or increase both the current number of live performances as well as their current number of screenings suggests an industry in the ascent. The bigger risk appears to be others missing out, rather than producers succumbing to a valueless fad.
In the final scene, the article will cover the future of live-to-digital, reviewing where the category may go from here. As part of this, it helps to look at several productions that have leveraged digital, revealing their core learnings and helping readers establish a strategy for tackling the live-to-digital world.
There is no question. Noble young minds have embraced a new medium: Streaming.
And while streaming forms just one part of the live-to-digital landscape, its appeal is far-reaching, engaging an alternative demographic than other, more traditional channels.
Where Event Cinema is growing at a steady rate among those of a particular income bracket, streaming is proving to be just as powerful a medium for productions wishing to broaden their appeal.
Taking arms against a non-existent sea of troubles is a fool’s errand. So, embrace the digital tide, for the numbers suggest opportunity, not peril, as discussed below.
Live-to-Digital Consumption is Everywhere
Nothing is more apparent than the nation’s appetite for live performance, as our first article revealed.
But, before you drown in the detail, let us first focus on one significant fact: while not everyone can make it to the theatre, the vast majority of those surveyed still display an interest in keeping their fingers on the artistic pulse through some form of digital experience.
From a pool of over one-thousand respondents, only a handful claimed to have never sought an online production of any sorts. If nothing else, this is an empirical thumbs-up for streaming.
As digital natives become the norm (it’s true – millennials and Gen. Z are no longer just the upstarts of society), is it any wonder they expect others to fall into line with regards to their routines? Perhaps not, and as this demographic will be critical in the long-term livelihood of every industry – not least the arts – it is crucial that leaders take note.
A fact well supported by the figures.
The Income Effect
Unsurprisingly, the primary audience of streamed performances falls between the ages of 16-24, as ever-younger viewers seek alternative forms of online engagement.
Whether their turning to digital channels is a direct result of less disposable income or just the fact that the generation is more culturally aware, the correlation between age and channel is further reflected in employment status. Among students, upwards of 65% of the population also stream, demonstrating how those with modest means are making the most of a new form of access.
This view is equally upheld by Event Cinema demographics.
Of those with higher incomes – talking £100k or more – ninety-four percent had attended Event Cinema; whereas less than a third of that same bracket had ever chosen to stream. Conversely – among lower-income households – while they have noticeably higher streaming rates, fewer make it to the actual event.
That said, there is still a notable proportion who seek the joys of Event Cinema – suggesting that Event Cinema is, in itself, an event to be cherished – yet streaming still serves a group who are less able to attend on such a frequent basis.
Which raises the question: who does your production serve? Depending on your response, your live-to-digital strategy could be vastly swayed.
The Paradox of an Urban Lifestyle
A clear benefit of the digitised performance lies in its instant accessibility for anyone, anywhere; an advantage widely recognised:
“You have people in very rural areas that are able to go and see performances that they could never afford to see in London and in New York. It is exciting” – Touring Theatre Director
In contrast with this widespread assumption, however, is that it is not necessarily the rural audience who benefits from live-to-digital. Instead, those in urban environments are fifty-percent more likely to stream than those living out in the sticks.
While this may surprise some, it is important to note that visual and digital exhibitions in urban environments also attract a younger, more dynamic audience, suggesting a predilection among up-and-coming generations for consuming digitised productions of any sort, be they theatrical, artistic, musical, or otherwise.
So, people stream. But what?
Now you understand the prominence of digital, it’s time to dig into the preference: or the what, the when, and the where.
While the live-to-digital category may have started out in the realms of contemporary music, then turning to opera, its future undoubtedly lies in theatre. One common theme amongst today’s live-to-digital productions is that drama sits head-and-shoulders above the rest in terms of popularity. Which makes sense.
Transporting live drama to the screen preserves much of the integrity of the performance and, as such, the majority of productions are dramas. Family theatre does make an appearance; musicals have their place – but each makes up just short of one-fifth of total productions, whereas dramas represent close to half of all streamed performances.
The cliff-hanger learning…
Keep the audience on the edge of their seats and your digital production will likely be well received.
Opportunities exist beyond traditional theatre; however, these are arguably more niche. Those over sixty-five are twice as likely to attend opera through Event Cinema, with the same theme existing in the context of streaming where – conversely to theatre – many more retirees consume opera online.
Giving the Audience What It Wants
With such clear signals from the audience, what else can one do – they are online, so why aren’t you?
It is little wonder that one-third of organisations include elements of live-to-digital in their schedule, with many who are in the process of – or have recently finished – a streamed performance. That said, the transition is not cheap.
In fact, it is mostly those who spend more than one million a year on production who go digital. They are also three times more likely to do so than their lower budget peers, which indicates budget, as much as a propensity for risk, determines who can tread the digital boards.
Moreover, those who receive funding tend to be more heavily involved in running live-to-digital trials within their portfolio. So, perhaps it is time to seek support.
However, even for those with limited budgets, unconventional routes exist as demonstrated by the Theatre Royal whose performance reached 170,000 patients across ten hospitals via Hospedia – an in-hospital television network.
A lesson in never letting yourself be bed-bound by budget in the digital era.
Interestingly, it is not only theatres who are forging new paths. Cinemas and schools, as well as libraries, pubs and cafes, are also demonstrating an appetite for non-traditional performance as they continue to fill seats in their less-than-conventional settings.
Moving one step further, access to a physical or digital location of your own is not a precursor to staging a live-to-digital performance. The majority of participants are more than accustomed to using third-party apps and websites when offering content, if not the websites of venues themselves – particularly if on a modest budget.
Income Opportunity or Brand Building
Whether you’re in it for the money, or just hoping to spread the word, there are opportunities on all fronts. Pay-to-view platforms exist, and this is a route a handful of production houses follow. Alternatively, they may choose to charge a fee at a live-screening venue such as a cinema.
However, not all take such a profiteering approach, with productions of a more modest size likelier to opt for a free platform as a means of establishing innovative partnerships to build their brand. Indeed, smaller operators may be best served in identifying their own routes-to-market with very few companies actively engaging with distributors when organising live-to-digital events.
Partly for cost savings, partly for the strategic fit.
Plus (and in no small part), given that live-to-digital and traditional production budgets tend to come from the same coffers, there’s a reason median spend on live-to-digital productions is less than £10k, with only a handful ever investing upwards of six figures.
Moreover, with 70% of exhibitors taking less than 20% of their gross box office earnings from live-to-digital, the investment does not provide the best returns.
Epilogue: Breaking Down the Trends
This exercise is not intended to be a death by numbers; they have their own story to tell.
First, realise that the young are streaming, as is a broader demographic. One-fifth of streamers are non-white British. In Event Cinema, that same demographic represents just one-tenth of the audience so, if you want a wide appeal, but your budget is limited, then target online platforms.
Significantly, those who stream more frequently are also likelier to attend live performances more regularly; even more so than your average theatre-goer. Realise that this untapped audience could turn into your biggest fans, given time.
Supporting this belief is the fact that for those who stream, the experience of live-to-digital is distinct from that of the live performance; in short, they are not seeking to replace the liveness of the theatre, they are hoping for an alternative experience – something unique.
Live theatre still holds the same appeal and the intent to attend has in no way diminished.
In fact, the digital activity can even energise a new audience thanks to its halo effect piquing interest in live repertoires, as the brand benefits from its foray into the modern world. Once you realise the scale of the digital landscape, you can begin to comprehend who we are trying to attract, and how to draw them in.
To genuinely appreciate why audiences participate in the way they do, or the reasons why theatres are reluctant to enter the space, read our next article. There, we will break down the underlying motivations, alongside the perceived barriers to entry, both for those who enjoy live-to-digital performance, as much as for those who stage.
Thank you for reading.
*Bows and leaves stage left*
The information included in this article has been adapted from the Live-to-Digital report (by AEA Consulting for Arts Council England, UK Theatre and Society of London Theatre) with permission from the Arts Council England.
Speak with any lover of The Arts about the role of digital in the world of live theatre, and you are bound to raise an impassioned response. Whether for or against—or just with a healthy dose of scepticism of the trend—views will be undoubtedly strong.
As they should be.
After all, live theatre is arguably the purest form of emotive expression, and there is no question that theatre exists for live consumption. However, it seems other mediums for enjoying performance art do have their place in the theatre world.
While acceptance of digital may not always be forthcoming from the purist, we would argue the prognosis for the future of live performance following a digital revolution is not as severe as some might have you believe.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
The emergence of the live-to-digital scene is not here to kill off live theatre at all. In fact, we can confidently say that live theatre—alongside live-to-digital—are both here to stay; and seemingly to the benefit of all those involved, so long as you understand the trends that underpin the growth.
Read our four-part series to evolve your understanding of the synergies between these closely linked, yet very distinct, industries.
Separating Fact from Fiction
“One’s fear, which may be groundless, is that eventually we and our equivalent theatres will stop doing plays and they’ll all be streamed live from these centres of excellence.”—Sir Alan Ayckbourn, Playwright
A characteristic anecdote among those most opposed: Live-to-digital is killing off the in-the-flesh experience.
It’s an understandable concern, but one that remains largely anecdotal, which is why industry experts have commissioned in-depth studies that present cold, hard evidence to support the decisions of those who need to adapt to the industry shift.
After all, simulcasting live performances—the act of simultaneously performing while showing the act across a number of mediums—is nothing new. And while stories are rife of an industry in decline, the facts suggest a different reality at play.
It was in 2003 that David Bowie first brought the idea of a live-digital blend to the masses, embracing the new approach to share his album Reality with an audience of 50,000 across 22 European cities. Perhaps not a performance enjoyed by the traditionalist, but undoubtedly one that set the minds of production houses racing.
For in 2006, the classical world had their first taste of digital. The Metropolitan Opera released a Live in HD series, and to great acclaim. The opportunity was obvious, and it did not take long for those in the UK to take note with Glyndebourne Opera beaming its 2008 production of Giulio Cesare, Tristan und Isolde and Così Fan Tutte into ODEON cinemas.
By all accounts, the productions were thoroughly enjoyed. However, theatre-goers were seemingly spared the drama as the focus rested on operatic or musical performance.
That was until the National Theatre decided to break ranks in 2009.
The National became the first major theatre to embrace ‘Event Cinema’—as it would later be coined—launching NT Live with streamed performances of their most popular productions broadcast in cinemas throughout the UK. The stage was set—other dominoes would be soon to fall.
Cue the entry of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Manchester Royal Exchange and Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company into the cast and the age of Event Cinema was well and truly established in the UK.
But few still quite knew what to make of it.
Despite its apparent success, those closest to the industry remained worried about lost audiences, struggling production companies cutting touring activity and an ensuing battle between David and Goliath—with live having to take on digital—rather than more poetic machinations of a live-to-digital symbiosis.
Time to lay legends to rest, as the Arts Council England, UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre realised it was their task to define the opportunity. They engaged AEA—one of the world’s leading cultural consulting firms—to review the prospects.
And the output is clear.
Presenting Rich Opportunity
What is obvious is that, while digital innovation will undoubtedly present challenges in any industry—especially that of ‘live’ art—the opportunity appears significant as long as we manage the risks.
Provided the industry has answers to questions such as:
i. How is the industry as a whole reacting to the digitalisation of live performances?
ii. How are audiences consuming digital vs original content?
iii. What action is required to preserve the integrity of live artistic endeavours?
iv. Do digital performances displace existing audiences out of theatres?
v. What are the core drivers in the future of live-to-digital?
The opportunities and risks will be better understood, and positive action will ensue. The most pressing task is filling gaps in knowledge with actionable insight, rather than listening to whispers in the aisle that speak of doom and destruction.
To See the Future; First Understand the Past
The ‘Event Cinema’ and live-to-digital industries are no flash-in-the-pan fad; in fact, 2014 revenues across UK and Ireland hit £35 million with their share of UK & Ireland box office takings doubling every year since 2009. In no small part thanks to the formation of enterprises such as Digital Theatre – a UK-based entity who specialises in the production and distribution of high-definition recordings of theatre performances.
Subsequent industry growth led to the creation of the Event Cinema Association—an international trade body headquartered in England established in 2012—who are tasked with reviewing industry progress and who estimate event revenues to hit £60 – £80 million by 2019.
And possibly US $1 billion worldwide.
For UK theatres, maintaining a leading position in a nascent industry with astronomical potential is important, but what is perhaps more integral to the healthy evolution of the broader ecosystem is that the entire cultural sector becomes adequately informed about what is on the horizon.
The industry’s evolution would suggest great things. Since the inception of Event Cinema—and live-to-digital in general—many businesses have spawned to support growing demand for such productions and services.
- HiBrow: A producer of live events as well as an online curator of the visual performing arts.
- Cinegi Media Limited: The service that ‘enables any venue to become a cinema’.
- The Space: A connector for new content with several distribution platforms.
As you can see, the industry is no longer just large-scale organisations beaming content to cinemas.
This is a complex ecosystem of streaming services, online distribution channels and digital media platforms, alongside project commissioners and industry bodies, who are growing the infrastructure to support this booming space.
Work has been done, but we are still very much in Act 1. Much of the plot is still left to play, and it is up to you to prepare as best you can.
High-level Indicators Point to a Positive Future
If nothing else, the most important takeaway is this:
Live-to-digital is a positive step for the broader creative industry; live or otherwise.
Every detail points to this belief.
Live attendances have barely moved. Productions are touring with as much regularity as before. Those who stream tend to be of a younger age and represent a more diverse cross-section of society, with little-to-no displacement of traditional audiences.
There is even evidence suggesting that live-to-digital is an effective means of revitalising audiences via accessible online content, encouraging them to actively seek live productions they want to see in the flesh.
Significantly, a key response from viewers was that—while the economics and convenience of live-to-digital appeal—no-one is seeking to replace the ‘liveness’ of the production. So, there will always be space for that personal connection that only the intimacy of a theatre can deliver.
This is not a question of LIVE vs DIGITAL.
This is a question of understanding the levers of an emerging industry and ensuring you are in the best possible position to benefit from what these mediums can deliver. Of understanding who engages with digital, how they engage, why they choose the form, and how you—as industry stalwarts—can benefit from insights gleaned.
Live-to-digital is not the future, but it is part of the future.
It is, therefore, something of which every theatre, and the theatre industry as a whole, must take note. There is no reason for digital to be the Greek tragedy of live performance. It should become more of a midsummer night’s dream.
Our subsequent articles, will showcase why this is the case with insights that deliver a standing ovation for the industry to get behind. So, check back soon for Act 1, Scene 2 of this four-part series that dives into the impact of live-to-digital on the world of live theatre.
It is up to you to read these insights in the flesh.
The information included in this article has been adapted from the Live-to-Digital report (by AEA Consulting for Arts Council England, UK Theatre and Society of London Theatre) with permission from the Arts Council England.
Theatre marketing to connect with audiences can be difficult when social media channels are saturated with multiple brands trying to outshine the competition. And yet, despite the saturation, a 2017 report on live performance experiences revealed 66% of respondents said they relied on word-of-mouth to find out about new shows.
Understanding who your audience is and opening direct lines of communication is important in ensuring the communication is based on their interests, needs and behaviours; increasing loyalty and encouraging return visits. When audiences feel understood, satisfaction and loyalty to theatres increases because there is a clear relevance in the communication. Audiences are far more likely to open emails and turn to social media pages for information when looking for new shows as a result of this communication.
We see this with media and entertainment websites, such as Netflix, where online audience data is analyzed and actioned based on previously watched genres, times, frequency and search behaviours. This information is used to create new content, watch lists and suggestions which keep consumers coming back. Netflix has mastered their algorithm of suggesting films based on their millions of user data and by doing so has amassed a global following.
What could theatre companies do with similar, if not more in depth, insights about audiences in their venues?
3 steps to building audience loyalty:
- Connect and identify your audience
- Gather information about your audiences
- Action the insights through theatre marketing
Connect and identify your audience
One of the quickest ways to connect with audiences on premises is through WiFi. Four out of five consumers post about a live experience on social media and use messaging apps, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, to keep in touch with friends and family. Having a weak connection can hinder the experience, especially when WiFi is considered a utility. According to a Small Biz Trends survey, 62% of businesses said customers spend more time in the facility or shop when there is access to free WiFi. When you pair this with the ability to collect core demographic data, such as email, age, gender and frequency of visits, theatre marketing teams are able to understand their fans to engage them with personalised, relevant content.
Segment information about your audience
Gathering data about your audience members develops a real-time picture of who is visiting your venue, for how long, their frequency and even what their interests are when they connect via social media. When KITAG cinemas in Switzerland invested in the technology to identify their core demographic audience they were able to identify from over 5,000 lines of active customer data the majority of their audiences were 18 years or younger, and see the change in audiences depending on different days and movie releases. Theatre marketing teams can then export this data and personalize communication, increase online engagement and identify audience channels.
Action the insights through theatre marketing campaigns
Audiences travel from around the world to see productions – imagine if you could greet your international guests in their own language when they connect to log into the WiFi. Rather than just have consumers connect to WiFi, theatres can customize login screens and redirect them to particular landing pages, social media streams and online reviews. Theatre marketing can also increase dwell times of audiences arriving earlier to drink at the bar, purchase merchandise and programmes creating an excited atmosphere before the show. Using these channels can also optimise online searchability across different countries by identifying and tailoring to locations.
Consumer satisfaction also increases when they are recognised for their loyalty. In the same Small Biz Trends survey, over 50% of respondents said they were more likely to return to a venue if they were rewarded for spending a certain amount or visiting a number of times. Just over a third said having access to exclusive offers and gifts would improve the experience further. One statistic even found 45% of people surveyed would increase their loyalty if a venue offered money off their bill for paying online, or via app (increasing to 51% of respondents between 45-54).
It is clear audiences are interested in receiving offers based on their relationship with theatres and having the data to create personalized messaging is the foundation for building audience loyalty.
A guest blog from Gavin Wheeldon, CEO of Purple, the intelligent spaces company.
Purple’s cloud-based solution provides businesses with the same in-depth understanding of their physical spaces that website analytics have delivered for years. With Purple’s software enabled over your existing WiFi network, you can access a wealth of rich WiFi analytics to help you build detailed customer profiles and better understand how customers are interacting within your venue. What’s more, the Purple Portal provides unique and cutting-edge marketing tools allowing you to take meaningful action based on the data collected.