VirtualArtsTV goes to Streaming Media East! (And Learns a Valuable Lesson for the Performing Arts Industry)

VATV at Streaming Media East

(L-R) Synaptic Digital’s Andy Lipson, VATV’s Kathryn Jones, NewTek’s Philip Nelson, VATV’s Erin Bigelow, Author Mitch Jacobson

Could I come up with a nerdier title for a performing arts company’s blog post? Probably not, but as it turns out, streaming technology is one of the most exciting things that have happened to the arts in decades. It is changing the way americans choose to experience the arts, exposing more people to the arts, and creating new ways for artists to work and to have their work seen. Via this lens, “nerdy’ transforms into “inspiring”.

So… back to…

VirtualArtsTV goes to Streaming Media East! (And Learns a Valuable Lesson for the Performing Arts Industry)

Last week both Erin and I participated in the NewTek hosted “Best Practices for Live-Streaming Production” panel at Streaming Media East. Streaming Media is a conference I’ve attended since 2007 – dedicated to all things streaming but with a heavy emphasis on the technical side of online video delivery, it was in 2007 at Streaming Media East that i first discovered the TriCaster – the computer that makes multi-camera live streamed performing arts possible.

What a difference 6 years makes…

That first trip to streaming media east came less than two months after the first live-streaming platforms, and launched. Accessible live-streaming was a brand new concept and barely merited a flicker of attention at the conference. This year, not only was our best practices for live-streaming session  packed but the majority of the attendees were seasoned live-streamers. While no one else was streaming the performing arts, it was great to be surrounded by other professionals who are as passionate about the power and the future of live as we are.

I spent most of my attendee time at the conference in sessions that focused on TV Everywhere. I often find it enlightening to hear how adjacent industries are dealing with similar issues, in this case how the TV industry, has dealt with viewership of their content moving from traditional televisions to computers to tablets to phones. At the TV everywhere panels I was struck by the one refrain I heard over and over again, from ESPN from A&E from Scripps, from Discovery… second screen content has been ADDIDITIVE, not cannibalistic.


What does that mean? Why does it matter?

Networks have discovered that allowing their tv content to be available in places besides the TV like on iPads and in apps has increased, not decreased these network’s audiences. Most of these networks are actively engaged in creating more ways to reach today’s digital audiences, rather than obsessively reinforcing their walled garden of content. Each of these networks is reaping the rewards.

The fear I hear over and over again from theater, dance and music producers is that if we allow the performing arts to be experienced anywhere but in a physical space, if we live-stream it so that it is accessible to anyone no matter their physical location, people will stop coming to the theater.

This is the deal…

People have stopped coming to the theater. Audiences to live performing arts events are in the midst of a steady thirty year decline with no end in sight. Our twenty-first century audiences have multitudes of entertainment options available to them and the one highway that connects them all – is the internet. Yes, it’s possible, the producers, the unions, they could be right. Maybe no one will fill our theater’s seats if they can watch the show online. But if the naysayers are right,  the performing arts industry would be the first industry to experience that trend. History has shown over and over that by making your work more accessible, you ignite more passion in more fans, and your industry reaps the rewards in both revenues and cultural significance. You can see that trend as far back as the first televised baseball games which ultimately increased stadium ticket sales and as recently as The Met:Live in HD, which has tripled the company’s ticket sales and, according to Peter Gelb, has added $17 million to the Met’s net revenue stream.

And while TV is not a perfect metaphor, the key to the success is translating the in theater experience into a NEW experience that is equally thrilling, but adapted specifically for an online audience. It is a daunting but incredibly exciting task.  We get to reinvent what the performing arts can be, and what it can mean, in the twenty-first century.  We get to speak to global audiences and hear, in real-time how they respond to  our work.  We are no longer limited by geographical boundaries, or even four walls – and with every advancement in streaming technology the costs get lower and lower.

Let’s follow the example set by baseball and opera and television…lets not give up on the  future of live theater dance and music before we have even begun to fight.


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