Research Update #3: Creating Online Audiences For Orchestras

(Courtesy of The Maccabees, presented by Vevo)

(Courtesy of The Maccabees, presented by Vevo)

In my last research update, I illustrated some of the most important opportunities and benefits associated with the creation of online audiences. But as arts managers consider how to create these online audiences, they should also be aware of a variety of challenges and potential risks associated with doing so. Here are a few:

Funding, Staffing, and Time Issues

In the Pew Research Center survey Arts Organizations and Digital Technologies, conducted in 2012, the majority of respondents identified cost, time, and staffing as the major obstacles facing their organizations in adopting new digital technologies.

Producing and distributing creative content online can be costly, both with regards to money and time. Technical equipment may have to be purchased and extra staff likely has to be involved. Funding digital projects with project grants can also be challenging, as technologies and costumer expectations are continuously shifting. By the time a grant is awarded, the market may have already shifted, leaving the funded project out of date.

Technical barriers

Technical barriers potentially impact both the production of digital content by orchestras and the consumption of digital content by audiences. On the orchestra’s side, audio-visual production expertise is required, the latest technological equipment must be provided, and the concert house must fulfill certain pre-conditions, for example positions for camera and cinematic lighting, in order to produce high quality recordings. A recent article in The New York Times exemplifies some of the difficulties in filming orchestras:

Filming orchestra musicians up close can be problematic, resulting in endless shots of wind players with puffed-out cheeks and string players sawing away. With the Los Angeles broadcast, the camera operators seemingly ran out of ideas, at times apparently finding cracks in the ceiling more interesting than the musicians. The New York Times, 11 October 2013

On the user’s side, technical barriers such as slow or interrupted Internet connections, outdated computer equipment, or insufficient computer skills may negatively affect the user’s online experiences. In order to minimize technical barriers and facilitate online access, organizations should offer substantial online help for technical questions and allow users to test whether or not their computer and Internet connection meet required specifications before they subscribe to online services (if paid subscriptions are required to access content). One current example of an organization that provides such assistance is the Berlin Philharmonic.

Quality concerns

Directly related to technical barriers are concerns regarding digital quality. In a short questionnaire, Mark James, Senior Developer at the Philharmonia Orchestra, identifies the quality of the Philharmonia’s digital output as one of the organization’s biggest concerns. He explains, “The digital output of the orchestra should strive to match the quality of the musical output.” In order to ensure appropriately high quality in the production of digital output, sufficient funding, trained staff, and the latest technological equipment must be provided. However, other aspects affecting the quality of the online experience are beyond the control of the organization. Among the factors that affect the quality of the user’s experience are the specific devises used ( smartphone, tablet, laptop, or smart TV), the Internet connection, the location or environment in which the concert is being watched, as well as the individual users attention span.

The factors mentioned here are, of course, not the only challenges in the creation of online audiences. I would be very interested in hearing about your experiences! Which of the mentioned challenges, if any, are you experiencing? Are there other challenges or obstacles that you have encountered? Please leave your comments below