Pacific Northwest Ballet - Live Streaming in Dance (3 of 3 Interviews)

 Source: (Labeled available for noncommerical reuse) 

Source: (Labeled available for noncommerical reuse) 

Live streaming has become a popular marketing mechanism for many industries, and AMT Lab has covered this topic extensively to understand how arts organizations are taking advantage of its benefits. Earlier this year, I gave readers a summary of what Facebook Live is and how to use it, and in April, AMT Lab published Sofia Stucchi's white paper about how it is being leveraged by museums. 

A graduate of Appalachian State University's undergraduate dance program myself and appreciator of many forms of dance, I reached out to organizations across the country to find out how the art form is using live streaming to increase audience engagement and expand organizational reach. I heard back about its benefits from two renowned dance companies, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and the Pacific Northwest Ballet, as well as Cennarium Americas LLC, an online platform offering high-definition streaming access to performing arts productions from around the world.

Over the past few weeks, I have shared the interviews I conducted with each organization who felt live streaming has something to offer for dance. You can read the most recent interview with Themis Gomes, the Executive Director at Cennarium Americas LLC, here, and before that, we talked with Sofia Gomez of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. The third and final interview is with Lindsay Thomas, a Videographer at Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Jane Bowers: When did your organization use live streaming for the first time?

Lindsay Thomas: We did our first live stream on Sept. 25, 2013.

JB: What type of content does your organization typically live stream? (ex. performance, dress rehearsal, studio rehearsal, etc.)

LT: We have live-streamed in-studio rehearsals, onstage rehearsals, a technique class from the PNB School, and one performance.

JB: How many viewers typically watch your organization’s live-streamed content?

LT: Between 2K-4K people tune into each live stream. Generally due to union negotiations, we are not allowed to leave the video up for later viewing; however in the one occasion where we did, the video has received 125K views between Aug, 2016 and now.

JB:  What resources, financial or other, are necessary to produce high-quality live-streamed content?

LT: We use Wirecast to stream our content, which costs approximately $800. We already had a camera that was compatible with live streaming, but originally cost $3K. When we are in the studio, we also use multiple angles with 2 additional iPhones. It takes 4 people to put on a live stream:

1.     One main camera

2.     One iPhone camera

3.     One running the switch-board

4.     One engaging/answering questions on social media

JB: What challenges have you faced while live streaming, and how have you overcome them?

LT: One of the challenges is how the software platforms are constantly evolving. There was one event that we had to change the hosting platform two days before the event, because our original software (that we had successfully used three months prior) had run an update, and my 2009 laptop was no longer able to run the program. That caused a lot of stress. The solution was getting a new laptop.

The next challenge we’re tackling is how to increase our viewership. We have done eight live streams in four years (four of them in 2016), and we were hoping [to] see our numbers increase as our audiences became more accustomed to the idea of tuning in online. However, the numbers stayed level (no matter the star power of the choreographer/dancer or whether it was a performance or rehearsal), so we are working on getting union permission to leave the videos online after the live stream is completed because we know we are missing a lot of potential views there. We are also going to try using Facebook as our streaming platform (vs. YouTube). These days, Facebook’s algorithms are pushing live content and we’d like to try to capitalize on that.

JB: Do you feel that your organization has benefited from live streaming? Why or why not?

LT: We know from the analytics that the live streams enable us to reach broader international audiences and we get 99% positive feedback. Is it increasing tickets sales/donations? Probably not. Is it successful institutional marketing, raising our standing as a top rate ballet company? We hope so.

JB: What advice can you offer to peer organizations who want to incorporate live streaming into their digital strategy?

LT: I would say if you’re a larger organization who has a built-in audience, make the leap and try live streaming. I trust the marketing experts who say it's the way of the future. However, if you’re a smaller company, don’t invest a ton of money into getting the gear and running expensive live streams. Most organizations can’t be the Royal Ballet with ten camera angles, microphones and special studios, so don’t try. Try to find your own spin on content, be consistent, and just use your iPhone and Facebook LIVE.

Has your arts organization used live streaming recently? If so, tell us about it!