Propelling Irish music to a global audience via online broadcasting

by | Apr 6, 2021

The heel-tapping jigs and reels that flow through Dublin for the city’s annual TradFest reached new boundaries this year via on-demand broadcasting.

Established in 2006, TradFest attracts some of Ireland’s biggest names from the folk music scene who play in iconic venues across the city including City Hall, Dublin Castle and St Patrick’s Cathedral. The festival is internationally recognised with thousands of people travelling to Ireland’s capital each year to watch acts such as The Dubliners, Dervish and Altan perform.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions this year’s TradFest was the first, however, to be held behind closed doors. Instead, it was streamed exclusively via TicketCo Media Services. It saw six virtual concerts delivered and record ticket sales achieved – outstripping the physical capacity of its venues.

We caught up with Claudine Murray, Marketing Manager of TradFest organisers The Temple Bar Company, to learn more about the festival’s’ first online broadcasting experience.

Early planning

In the summer of 2020, it became clear the 2021 festival was under threat and a plan was created which accounted for the best, expected and worst scenarios.

“The option of cancelling TradFest 2021 was never there,” said Claudine. “Our income is based on the festival taking place, so we needed to host something to attract money.

“Planning early was the key to our preparation. We worked on three plans in the summer to welcome audiences either in a limited capacity, via hybrid events or online only. That’s why TicketCo worked for us as their multi-purpose platform accommodates for all scenarios.”

Efficient delivery

Ordinarily, TradFest hosts between 30 and 50 live concerts in dozens of venues in Dublin over a five-day period. To make this year’s digital festival work, a few changes had to be made.

Claudine added: “Part of TradFest’s’ appeal is that performances are held in historical venues, making for a truly unique experience.

“We knew broadcasting in all of our usual venues was going to be too costly so decided to scale back this year’s festival by prerecording six shows and making them available on demand via TicketCo later. This is why planning was so important. We understood our budgets for each scenario and could work accordingly.”

Discovering TicketCo

The Temple Bar Company took inspiration for this year’s TradFest from the successful staging of the 2020 Varanger Festival held in Vadsø, Norway. It is believed Varanger 2020 was Europe’s first hybrid festival to ensure it could reach a large audience amid COVID-19 restrictions.

“Varanger Festival is very similar to TradFest in terms of its niche genre and reach,” said Claudine. “At TradFest, we don’t fill big stadiums with thousands of people – we run many smaller events over a long weekend. Our communication with TicketCo throughout our first broadcasting experience was fantastic. We had full control of every aspect of TradFest 2021 from marketing to event delivery and ticketing.”

Quality filming

To make TradFest 2021 appeal visually to as many people possible, The Temple Bar Company hired video production company Born Optimistic to film each of its six shows.

Interest in the festival was so big that RTE commissioned a TV show to be filmed about the festival’s 2021 staging.

“We’ve never streamed our performances before,” said Claudine. “Previously we have used video as a marketing tool, but not to broadcast an entire concert. We take great pride in how we present our festival, so the challenge was to capture that in our online concerts through high quality production which came at an additional cost but brought the event to life.”

Audience reaction

“People loved it,” said Claudine. “Temple Bar’s main source of revenue comes from international tourists, so we had lots of eyes from all over the world watching our shows.

“We’re proud to welcome such loyal visitors each year – 70% of TradFest visitors are repeat visitors from across Ireland, the UK, USA, Germany, Netherlands and further. They’re invested in our festival and supported it online this year too. We understood after the festival that everyone felt starved of live productions – that was part of the pull for them in addition to the quality of filming in such jaw-dropping locations.”

Global reach

Claudine estimates this year’s digital festival reached more people than in previous years owing to on-demand broadcasting’s ability to reach a global audience.

Each of TradFest 2021’s six virtual concerts sold an average of 2,000 tickets – between four and seven times the festival’s typical capacity for a single event.

“It’s important to remember 2,000 digital tickets doesn’t mean 2,000 people,” said Claudine. “We estimate each ticket meant an average of three people were watching from a household, so our reach was enormous. Just under half of viewers were from outside of Ireland too so our global reach was expanded too.”

Supporting digital events

With event organisers across the world embracing live music’s hybrid future, it would be easy to assume that TradFest can look forward to offering physical and digital tickets to customers in years to come.

But this year’s festival was only made possible thanks to a change in internal policies funding bodies that previously did not support online activity.

Claudine explained: “A lot of state bodies want live performances – they bring people into the city who contribute to the economy by staying in hotels and eating in restaurants. We rely on the support of the Department of Arts, Culture Ireland and Tourism Ireland plus local authorities and Dublin City Council to make these events possible. We are unsure if they will continue to fund fully digital events beyond the pandemic. The appeal of hybrid events is that we can reach a wider audience while also attracting live audiences to Dublin and the Temple Bar.”

To learn more about how UK organisations can source vital funding and support to maximise digital opportunities, read our feature blog with the input of digital theatre expert Simon Baker here.

To learn more about TradFest please visit here: tradfest.ie

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