April 14, 2021
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Over the past year, businesses all over the world have been forced to go digital for their operations. For the performing arts industry, this has led to platforms such as YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Twitch and others being used to maintain connections with their audiences. Given this trend, how can performing arts businesses use digital platforms in the most sustainable way?

Vince Ford, DBA ’19, thinks the answer lies in flexibility and intentionality. In a talk in March 2021 presented by the Institute of Business and Information Technology, as a part of its Digital Leader Fireside Chat series, Ford spoke to his experience as the Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy & Innovation at the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Executive Director of their Performance Innovation Lab. During this talk, Ford answers the aforementioned question by stating that it is important for performing arts organizations to know why they are implementing technology and how they can best integrate it into their business.

The role of technology in preserving the audience-performer relationship

For the performing arts, the main impact of digital transformation is seen in the relationship between an audience and the performer. Technology can be used to maintain this relationship and make both sides comfortable during the performance.

“When we think of what art is, it’s a connection between the audience member and the artist or the performer,” says Ford. “Digital transformation for institutes like mine, and other fields as well, involves focusing on that relationship between customer and company, you know, artist and audience.”

Some of the ways that technology is useful in maintaining the artist-audience connection include using online platforms to sell tickets, using data to understand customers and anticipate their needs and using data to improve the product experience.

It is also important to recognize the need for technology before implementing it. There needs to be a solid reason for digitizing tasks or projects.

Ford states “It’s not just showing up and saying hey, we’re going to digitize this thing that we do. There has to be a why. Otherwise, as you’ve probably seen in other organizations, you just have these one-off projects that are not integrated in any way and transformation never really happens because there’s no driving connection as to why you’re doing it and who you’re doing it for.”

The use of watch parties and hybrid formats to recreate the audience experience

While online performances are not substitutes for live experiences, Ford sees an opportunity in the growth of online performance or a hybrid live-online format,  similar to what we see in sports.

“Sports give us a good example of this hybrid approach in terms of having the option to see a sporting event live or watching it on TV, it’s not exactly the same but that connection still exists”, says Ford.

Of course, part of what makes a live performance special is the energy in the room. Whether it is the cheers or the boos, these actions manifest the connection between the audience and the performer.  According to Ford, these connections could be improved by exploring ideas such as watch parties in order to build a sense of community in the audience.

Ford states, “Aside from what’s happening on stage, what’s magical about a live performance is the connection with the people in the room and so one of the interesting things in the last year has been testing things like watch parties to foster a sense of community around online events. There seems to be something interesting there that taps into some of the benefits of being in an audience.”

The after-effects of the pandemic on performing arts.

Even after life gets back to normal, businesses will likely continue to utilize online resources for their operations. For the performing arts, this has both positive and negative results.

The good news is that, due to the adjustments made, there is now a lot more knowledge about what works in the digital space, from the offerings to the experience to the pricing strategies and so on.

“Many of the ideas that we wanted to do on a grand scale, we just didn’t have a lot of people working in the space or enough examples to see what works and what doesn’t. Now, the new online platforms that have come out sort of represent everything that technology can do in performing arts whether it’s the infrastructure or the content experience,” says Ford.

On the other hand, changes in consumer preferences may cause live performance to suffer. For example, people who once enjoyed going to live concerts may decide that they prefer sitting at home on Friday nights. Despite this, Ford remains optimistic about the future of live performance.

“My prediction is that we will see a similar benefit that other industries such as sports have seen in that as people have become more exposed to things at home, there will be more interest in coming back to the live experience because the live experience will become even more special and important. This will bring people back into the concert halls. Of course, this is when everything settles in the next couple of years.”

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