Live broadcasting the arts: then and now
Tonight the Royal Opera House is screening Peter Wright’s classic production Giselle live to over 1,000 cinemas around the world. Giselle has been performed over 550 times since it premiered in 1985, but for the first time The Royal Opera House has produced a digital guide for mobile devices, containing specially selected films, articles and photos to bring remote audiences closer than ever to the real thing.
The release is part of the organisations’s research and development project to make their website ‘mobile-ready’ and accessible on all devices. With support from the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts, and partners Kings College London and POP, the Royal Opera House are testing the ability of html5 to help them share and connect with their growing global audiences.
Their efforts also represent some of the latest developments in a long series of innovations in live broadcasts in the arts, which we at Nesta, along with Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, have been closely involved with for the past four years.
Our 2010 publication ‘Culture of Innovation’ measured the effects of National Theatre’s NT Live! HD broadcasts of live theatre to digital cinemas. It demonstrated the ability of live broadcasts to deliver emotionally engaging performances to dramatically increased audiences. The National Theatre was by no means the first to explore this area, but thanks to a clear strategy for data collection agreed between researchers and the National Theatre at the outset, and a commitment to sharing their lessons publicly, the arts sector has an robust evidence base to support live distribution decisions.
Today, the NT Live programme of cinema broadcasts is regularly available in 600 venues in 25 countries, with 260 screens in the UK alone. The worldwide audience for NT Live has reached 1,275,000 since it launched in 2009. And, as NT Live producer Emma Keith explains in a recent blog, it is also now financially sustainable, with the majority of productions returning a surplus.
In 2013 we are seeing live broadcasting, along with live streaming and screening, being adopted across the arts and cultural sector. Our recent research ‘Digital Culture: How arts and cultural organisations in England use technology’ found that live streaming was the fastest growing digital activity of arts organisations in 2013.
Smaller organisations are also experimenting with the technology. Streetwise Opera, a performance group that works with homeless people, said ‘live streaming of opera performances to cinemas has been a factor in Streetwise Opera’s development of the first fully-integrated live and film opera to be shown in a cinema.’
Another Digital R&D Fund grant recipient, Cornwall-based Miracle Theatre, is exploring the digital distribution opportunities for small-scale productions. Along with partners at Golant Media Adventures and Falmouth University, the project is testing the economic feasibility and the extent to which digital technology can help retain the unique intimacy, engaging quality and ‘liveness’ of their performances.
Live broadcasting is no longer new in the arts, but it’s exciting to see arts and cultural organisations looking for new ways to apply it and generating new public knowledge about working with technology. You can follow the ROH’s project as it evolves on Native.