Since March, many organizations have been discovering the true potential of digital streaming to their audiences. Offering online experiences while venues have been shuttered has been a necessary way to stay connected with communities and engage with audiences in new and exciting ways. But what role do online platforms play when venues begin to reopen? As social distancing restrictions are lifted further, will there still be a need to offer digital accessibility?
While no one has all the answers, it’s clear that many organizations have taken advantage of online programming, so we can expect the digitalization of our arts and entertainment experiences to continue for the foreseeable future.
As more venues begin to reopen at limited capacity, we can expect some of the public to be ready to return to in-person attendance immediately, while others will be more hesitant return to busy, enclosed spaces. Their nervousness is understandable. Even though venue operators will be taking every precaution to safeguard the health and safety of staff and visitors, it will still require a leap of faith for the public to trust these measures are enough. Our recommendation is to use the online platforms you may already have in place as a way of building confidence with your audiences for their eventual safe return, while also making your work more accessible to a growing audience that you might not have otherwise been able to reach in person.
In providing a continuing quality experience, start thinking now about what you can offer to your audience to stay connected should they choose to stay home. If you haven’t already, consider implementing a digital subscription package in addition to your traditional subscriptions so you can offer your community another level of engagement that enhances their digital experience.
The digital subscription offerings should be customized to your audience needs and expectations, but they should offer a unique, entertaining, and thought-provoking experience, just as the in-person experience does. The first step is to make sure your subscribers know how and where to access the content when you do publish it. Then, create some original content they won’t want to miss—perhaps your digital subscribers would be interested in watching a virtual read-through of an upcoming play, or interviews with key performers about how they prepared for their role. Maybe offer an exclusive, behind-the-scenes backstage view or tour of the building during intermission. Post some teaser images and videos on social media to remind audiences why they’re connected to you in the first place and make them excited about reconnecting with you in person when the time is right for them.
On performance night, consider adding webcams with live feeds in carefully selected areas of the building (for more info on what’s involved in integrating broadcast into your venue, check out this handy guide). Audiences at home will love to see familiar faces as they enter the lobby. It’ll remind them that their community is still active and eager to welcome them back when they’re ready to re-engage in person. They’ll also be interested to see what safety measures you’ve put in place, so use this as an opportunity to cut to scenes every so often that show your team checking temperatures as people enter the building, the cleaning and disinfecting procedures in place, and signage explaining a one-way circulation system for moving around the building safely. Every single scene you broadcast will tell its own story and build up to a bigger picture of what you’re doing to make your facility a safe and welcoming environment. If audiences at home are confident that you’re creating a safe environment, they’ll be more likely to consider coming to a performance in person in the near future.
Another option is to have post-performance commentary and insights that can be used to engage your subscribers no matter how they choose to attend. Send subscribers a link to watch a recording of the performance’s most coveted sections, with a creative team member providing commentary on what viewers are about to watch, what makes the piece significant or interesting, the process, and maybe even some fun facts that lead to the final product. Many online video platforms, such as YouTube Studio, offer free editing tools to allow you to include simple pop-ups on screen during the show, displaying nuggets of information on the screen in real-time. If you can add another dimension to an online broadcast, your audiences may find new ways to appreciate the story behind the performance—and you can highlight the things that are unique about the performance at the same time!
Engaging your audiences in an online platform also allows you another channel of communication with them that hadn’t otherwise existed. Use your online presence to your advantage and start the conversation with your audiences today to start rebuilding their confidence to returning in person when the time is right. Let them know about the measures you plan to put in place when your building reopens, or the additional training your team will undergo before that date. Interact with them to gauge their reactions about when they think they’ll feel comfortable returning to in-person performances, make sure that they feel heard, and use their feedback to plan accordingly. It won’t be a straightforward path ahead, and it will take time. But every step you take now will lead you to where we all eventually want to be—together.
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