Live Streaming Events — Audience Builder or Destroyer?

It seems as though every time a new entertainment technology achieves mass adoption, there is always a question as to whether it will mean the end of the “live” experience. Starting with the advent of television, a variety of technologies were predicted to kill off the live event. Initially, television was going to turn all of us into homebodies, never venturing to a live event. Then the VCR was purported to do the same thing — if you could rent Romeo and Juliet, why would you go out to see it live? And the list goes on, including HD TV and the Internet itself.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve always been a fan of the live streaming of arts events by all organizations — not just the mega-organizations such as the Met Opera. Fortunately for lower-budget organizations, the prices of cameras and bandwidth continue to go down, and with them, the barriers that once prevented these small organizations from attaining the capabilities of live streaming. Additionally, with services such as Facebook Live, and others following down that path, there’s now an instant no-hassle publishing platform.

That’s why I was particularly interested in an article by Anne Torreggiani, the CEO of the UK-based The Audience Agency, which describes itself as a “mission-led organisation, which exists to give people better access to culture, for the public good and the vitality of the sector.”

Her article delves into a study done by a handful of performing arts organizations in the UK that stream live arts events. The article goes on to say:

…those attending screenings seem to be more frequent attenders [of live events], and it looks as though there could even be a traceable causal effect, with screenings serving to increase the frequency of their engagement.

As we might expect, older audiences who enjoy streaming events find the proximity of the event and the ease of going a significant factor. I have heard this personally from relatives in their 80s and 90s who attend streaming arts events in retirement locations such as Florida. The article also explains that on the other side of the age spectrum, streamed events attract younger viewers, not only because they are already online, but because the price is lower or in many cases free.  

The inevitable question is whether creating a habit of watching streamed cultural events among younger audiences will cannibalize their eventual attendance?  

My bet is that just like all the other innovative technologies before it, streaming satisfies the need for immediate cultural consumption by those who are physically not able to attend, but who otherwise would, and it “primes the pump” and creates new demand for the “real thing” for others.

Only time will tell, but I’m betting on a positive outcome all around.  

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