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Jennifer Sowinski
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Grow arts and culture revenue

Four Questions to Ask Before Launching Digital Arts Content


As time moves on with pandemic restrictions in place, many organizations are grappling with what a 2020–21 season might look like with group gathering limitations and social distancing rules still in place. Last week we shared some thoughts on social distancing, and this week, we’re discussing another option for engaging audiences and sharing work: streaming content online.

When the need to close theaters and orchestra halls across the country arose in March, many organizations rushed to film what they could and share it online, as much as resources and union rules would allow. Overnight, arts organizations found themselves converted from theaters, operas, orchestras, and ballet companies, into digital media companies. Now, as we contemplate what might be next in the world of online performing arts, it’s important to consider what we have learned from that initial round of streaming, and think about what digital content should look like moving forward. Here are four key questions arts organizations should ask before launching into digital content.

1) Does streaming content advance our mission?

Before setting out to stream a bunch of content, whether that’s full performances, master classes, artist discussions, or anything else—it’s important to consider what your organization’s goals are for streaming. Resist the urge to stream content just because you feel like you should, or because it seems like all of your peers are doing it. If it’s not true to your mission, then streaming content may not serve your community or your organization well. Once you’ve confirmed how streaming will serve your mission, it’s critical to be concrete about your goals and expectations. Write down your strategy, record benchmarks that can be used to measure success, and create a plan for how you will reach them.

2) How will we define success?

Depending on your goals, your strategy for streaming will look very different. If your primary goal is to increase engagement, think about who you are trying to engage. Do you want to keep your current audience and subscriber base engaged, or are you looking to gain the attention of potential new audiences for your organization? Based on that goal, what kind of content is best, and on what platforms? Do subscribers get access to special content that non-subscribers do not? Which content should be available for free, and which should require some kind of payment? How will you know who is viewing your content?

3) Should/could we monetize the content?

Another goal for streamed content may be to generate revenue. Revenue generating streamed content could include offerings like classes, filmed stage performances, or specially created digital performances. If revenue generation is one of your goals, then the digital quality of the content is increasingly important. Audiences will continue to expect more polished experiences from paid streaming options, especially as it becomes more popular. Consider carefully which content should have a cost, and which would serve your organization and community better as free content.

4) How will we track our audience?

Whether your online content is available for free or paid, and whether it is full-length performances or a single song, also consider how you can most effectively capture as much information about who is watching as possible. Can you embed content on your own website, so that you can track movement and clicks? Do you want people to log in to view free content, in order to capture contact information for future marketing? Are there ways to link content views to your own CRM?

Online streaming is here to stay, and even once we’re back in person sitting next to each other, the opportunity to reach additional audiences online will remain. Now is the time to be forward looking, to define what digital streaming has to offer your organization and your patrons, and to strategize for the success of your organization in the future.

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