Streaming makes theatre accessible to all online
Barriers which have long prevented theatregoers from attending performances have been knocked down – theatre’s open-to-all hybrid era is here.
For decades, perhaps longer, accessing live theatre has been a closed shop for many. Health, travel and financial implications have all contributed towards our ability to enjoy live performances, until now.
Chichester Festival Theatre, one of the UK’s flagship regional theatres, is at the forefront of streaming’s hybrid revolution. It recorded a live performance of South Pacific available to stream online on several dates via TicketCo Media Services HD quality pay-per-view streaming platform, alongside selling tickets for the live stage performances.
Chichester Festival Theatre’s Audience Insight Manager Caroline Aston is involved in overseeing the 1,300-capacity venue’s hybrid events where members of the audience can watch either in person or digitally.
The public’s demand for digital theatre has undoubtedly been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A country once gripped by strict social restrictions has re-opened and people can attend theatre physically once more. But there remains a wave of people unable to attend shows at venues.
This secondary audience is what makes hybrid theatre viable.
“Hybrid theatre means anyone in the world with an internet connection can access our performances,” said Caroline. “We are making theatre accessible to everyone.
“By broadcasting performances online, we are reaching new audiences, generating extra revenue and breaking down barriers that previously prevented people from viewing our shows.”
South Pacific is available to stream in 249 countries globally on selected dates until Friday, September 3.
More than 30 talented actors and actresses make up the show’s cast, some of whom have family and friends living overseas.
Joanna Ampil, who plays Bloody Mary, is one of those. Joanna was born in the Philippines which means some of her friends and family would not be able to watch her perform this role live in the current climate. That is until now.
Caroline added: “We have seen a spike in sales from the Philippines where Joanna’s family and friends have decided to tune in, which is lovely.
“We’ve also hosted people on our stream from the USA, Canada, across Europe and beyond.”
How to run a hybrid event
A successful hybrid event values the physical customer just as much as those viewing digitally.
Chichester Festival Theatre worked with The Umbrella Rooms to film South Pacific to capture the live performance while ensuring that the experience of the physical theatregoer was not impeded by poorly placed cameras that obstruct a person’s view. Likewise, digital viewers require a smooth viewing experience free of buffering or technical issues.
Before all of this can be considered, though, the theatre must receive permission to stream performances from the rights holders to the show. In Chichester Festival Theatre’s example, this meant contacting Concord Theatricals Ltd on behalf of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organisation.
“It is essential we protect the work of the creatives and ensure video content does not appear in areas where it can be copied or watched for free, which could jeopardise the future of other streamed content,” said Caroline.
“Our agreement with Concord Theatricals Ltd meant we could only stream performances to viewers who would watch using a secure, unique, code. We also agreed to make shows available for 24 hours at a time so people living in all time zones could watch at a reasonable hour.
“This is why our partnership with TicketCo is so important as performances can be broadcast securely and with flexibility around viewing times.”
To date, over 50% of Chichester Festival Theatre’s digital audience have attended the theatre in person before.
This means that over 40% of online viewers have never visited Chichester Festival Theatre previously. This data has been collected thanks to TicketCo Media Services innovation partnership with Spektrix.
Spektrix is a powerful technology platform for ticketing, marketing and fundraising in the arts, to increase digital growth opportunities for the theatre sector.
buy tickets via TicketCo, customers’ information is securely sent to our booking system so we can identify trends and report to our stakeholders.”
Such is the appeal of digital theatre, even customers who watched the performance live in person decided to purchase a streaming pass once they got home.
Digital viewers had the option to purchase an early bird ticket for £10, a standard ticket at £20 and were asked to conder paying £30 or £40 for their ticket to support Chichester Festival Theatre’s work
“Some theatregoers told staff they loved South Pacific so much that they purchased the stream when they got home,” said Caroline.
“We also introduced a number of streaming payment options so people could choose to support Chichester Festival Theatre’s work if they wished. Regardless of how much digital customers paid, they all received the same streaming experience.
“We were pleasantly surprised by the number of viewers who selected the higher priced option, and we are of course extremely grateful for their support.”
Hybrid theatre also accommodates for those with accessibility issues.
Chichester Festival Theatre have filmed separate tracks so they can offer the stream with a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter on the screen alongside the production or an audio described track. This is in addition to the traditional view, which also has closed captions if required.
Elderly relatives of actors and actresses have tuned in too, including one 91-year-old grandmother who proudly watched her granddaughter perform from the comfort of her own living room.
Caroline added: “There have been some lovely stories of people watching South Pacific which wouldn’t be told without the power of streaming.
“People really appreciate being able to watch theatre at home. But equally, everyone is excited to be back attending live theatre again. We’ve catered for everyone’s preferences.
“It’s great to be able to make shows accessible to our local and international community. Hybrid theatre has been a huge success.”