The definitive guide for theatres to live stream shows

Why should you

read this guide?

TicketCo has products that impact important stages of the purchase process and the digital experience.

The goal of this guide is to provide the absolute best, most up-to-date, definitive guide for theatres and production companies to learn how to live stream shows to their audience as part of their integrated approach to sales and marketing.

This guide is a labour of love for us here at TicketCo. We created it with help from one of our clients – Simon Baker, Technical Director and Digital Producer at Wise Children. Together we wanted to create a one-stop shop for everything you need to know about getting the most value out of live streaming productions for yourself and your company. We didn’t want to offer an idealistic view of online work but rather a real world one – TicketCo’s team working in hand in hand with the industry – just like our products are designed to do.

It’s not just an instruction manual (although we’ve written one of them too if you are interested) but a strategic guide we hope helps you start on your new adventures.

“If COVID-19 taught the theatre industry anything, it is that people still like stories told in unique ways. Theatre on-screen is not TV; it has its own form, tempo and aesthetic. It has the opportunity to be bespoke to the interests of local communities or tackle subjects too risky for broadcasters that are mainly looking to sell ad space or subscription packages”

Simon Baker, Technical Director and Digital Producer at Wise Children

Getting started

So how do you get started? What equipment do you need?

Live streaming events have allowed venues and theatre companies to stay connected to its audiences, but it’s also allowed them to seek out new audiences and engage them in new ways. 

Using simple technology, imagination and theatrical ingenuity coupled with robust yet straightforward paywalls and a user experience, live streaming is within reach of all arts organisations regardless of size or budget. Like all good theatre – you need a story that you want to tell and an audience that wants to hear it.

Normalising this technology and placing it within the heart of the creative and technical teams means live streaming has uses beyond broadcasting large scale productions.

“Imagine intimate read-throughs of new work or the Panto cast giving a rehearsed reading of a Shakespeare for your local schools. Imagine broadcasting early scratch/R&D showings to your friends’ mailing lists. Imagine bands playing intimate gigs from your loading dock or the youth theatre doing something magical in the studio space. Imagine.”

Simon Baker, Technical Director and Digital Producer at Wise Children

Live streaming is a chance to get people interested in what you are doing, in who you are and what theatre does and can do.

Paywall

Glass to glass livestream event including paywall: How does it work?

Live streaming is simple. Like anything, there are hurdles to clear and pitfalls to avoid but TicketCo has experience in this field to help you. We have done lots of the hard work for you. You don’t need to rebuild your website, you don’t need to throw out your CRM and you don’t need to go out and hire a production film company. You just need an idea.

First you need an account with a live streaming provider (a way to get your event online and broadcast out to peoples’ homes via the internet). You then need a box office system to sell your stream through and give people access to watch. The TicketCo platform binds the box office function with the live streaming element to create a seamless experience for the audience. 

You need some cameras to capture an image, some way of capturing the sound (just like you would a regular event, musical or gig) and a way of combining them all together. There are lots of different ways to do this and of course this can scale up or down. From an iPhone on a selfie stick and handheld mic through to complex multi camera setups and lots of radio mics, large format mixing consoles and vision mixers.

This audio and video feed then needs to find its way onto a computer in order that it can be uploaded and then streamed over the internet. The audience then watch this feed by heading to where you have told them the stream will be.

In TicketCo’s workflow the audience chooses an event on your website, clicks purchase or book which in turn takes them to the engine. The audience member adds a ticket to their cart and clicks check out, enters their payment details, chooses their GDPR preferences and on completion, receives an e-ticket with a link and instructions to view. 

The ticket generates a unique, non-sharable code which means you can enter it into any of the various methods of watching a TicketCo stream – be it an Apple TV, Amazon Fire Stick or just a simple web browser on your laptop, phone, tablet, or smart-TV.

TicketCo’s streaming engine is powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS). For the Producer, you are automatically issued a streaming key an hour prior to show time. This key is what allows your computer and show feed to be uploaded to Amazon’s servers ready for deployment to people’s devices. This automated process from AWS automatically ensures that the stream the user gets the best possible experience based on their device and internet capability.

Requirements

A brief description of what hardware and software you will need to do a pay-per-view event

Here’s an example of a quick and simple streaming set up for less than £5000 suggested by Simon:

  • 2 BlackMagic Design Pocket Cinema 4K Cameras,
  • 2 Manfrotto Fluid Head tripods,
  • a GoPro Hero 8,
  • a BlackMagic Design ATEM Mini Pro and
  • a (well specified) computer running Open Broadcast Software. 
  • a way of capturing audio
  • a robust internet service of at least 12Mb upload.

This would allow you to create a left, centre, right camera shoot, a way of switching between those three cameras, a way of adding graphics, images and overlays and a way of getting it all uploaded to TicketCo.

Of course, this is just the hardware – there is more to it – you might need some cable, plus some technical and creative input. Light levels for cameras can be complicated at first, colour too can be contentious. You might also need a method where more than one person can view all the cameras at once for example. However, none of these things should deter you. Learn more in this in-depth guide to setting up for a production.

Lingo

A brief description of the most common live streaming words and phrases you need to know

As we started out on this adventure I noticed the bewildering array of new phrases and acronyms I needed to learn – here’s my handy cheat sheet to get you started (and look like you know what you’re talking about in meetings)

Simon Baker, Technical Director and Digital Producer at Wise Children

PPV

Pay Per View is a type of webcast service that enables viewers to purchase events to view via a private online broadcast. The broadcaster shows the event at the same time to everyone who ordered it. 

VOD

Video On Demand is a system that allows users to select and watch video content of their choice on their smart-TVs, or digital devices.

OBS

Open Broadcast System is the software used to communicate your video and audio onto a live stream server. There are many others available including WireCast and vMix.

Stream Key

The unique code used when communicating with a streaming server in order to show the stream online. 

Streaming

The process of broadcasting a signal over the internet for people to watch.

HD

A TV format that denotes the technical standard of a broadcast by defining the resolution of the frame – ie 1920×1080 would be 1920 pixels wide by 1080 pixels tall – the HD standard.

Frame Rate

The number of individual pictures that when played together give the illusion of a moving image – this often quoted as 25fps (ie 25 picture per second).

Bit Rate

How much data you can upload per second.

Deployment

How your image and audio gets to its audience.

UI

User Interface or how your website works for people.

Latency

Sound processes quicker than video and the delay between the two is called latency and sometimes lag. You can correct this by delaying the sound so that it appears in sync with the picture.

Encoder

A way of capturing your audio and video and translating it into something that can be uploaded OBS is ultimately a fancy encoder. 

Aspect Ratio

This is the relationship between height and width. TV today is (broadly) 16:9 whereas old TVs were 4:3. Don’t dismiss 4:3, it has its uses.

Upload and Bandwidth

How fast your broadband connection allows you to upload to the internet.

Closed Captioning

the visual display (as text) of audio on media. This is the most common form of captioning and can be identified by the [CC] symbol. Closed captioning is often referred to as subtitles or subtitling, despite their differences. While subtitling involves translation into an alternate language, closed captions are in the same language as the original audio. 

Broadcasting

How the broadcasting part works

Once you have got your audio and video stream on your computer a piece of software needs to communicate with TicketCo’s engine. This is done by connecting your computer over an RTMP protocol (Real Time Messaging Protocol). Don’t worry about it too much but might be handy for a pub quiz. It is just a way of one computer talking to another computer but in a continuous way that allows audio and images to be streamed.

TicketCo issues this RTMP link and Stream Key – think of this like a password an hour before your event going live. This hour gives you time to get everything set and tested thoroughly. You can see the signal arriving at the servers. There is usually a 40 second delay as the ‘pipe’ fills up.

This stream ends up at Amazon Web Services and at this point, various things happen to your signal – first of all, the signal can be told only to deploy (be available too) specific Geo Locations – for example, you may only have the rights to a script in the UK so you can make sure your stream is not available anywhere else. The stream is sent out to all the people that have access to it. The AWS servers create several versions of the streams in various formats to ensure the end-user – your audience – get the best version for their device and broadband speed. 

Customer care

Box office and customer support

Lots of you will be approaching this with experience of having run a box office office – at Wise Children this was all brand new here are some of the things I learnt. They may seem obvious to some but to us [Wise Children]  it was steep learning curve

Simon Baker, Technical Director and Digital Producer at Wise Children

Theatre has a very broad demographic. This means online events are catering to both tech-savvy and the tech resentful. We have to understand the burden we are placing on the audience. There are so many ways to watch something on TV or online. Netflix, Disney, Amazon, Apple, Sky… all have their quirks and passwords and often their own remote controls – it is complicated and requires them to put in the effort to watch. Your event delivery is another thing they are going to have to learn. The producer’s job here is to make this journey smooth and the hassle of watching worth it. The audience are nervous to start with. 

There is a careful marketing job to be done here. The most questions that need answering tend to be:

 

How do I watch?

Will my TV work?

Is my credit card safe?

What happens if my Wi-fi doesn’t work?

What if it doesn’t work?

Can I talk to someone?

I’ve lost my ticket?

I’ve bought a ticket and don’t understand how to view?

Do I have to watch live?

 

It is best to try and head these off in your marketing outreach and keep following this up in text on the ticket or through TicketCo’s handy ‘contact attendee’ feature. The Producer’s job is to do everything they can to reassure the audience that the journey to watch the show will be fine. You have competition from the best players in the business, but you can learn from them. Look at how simple Apple TV’s Video On Demand copy is.

Around 10% of your audience will want some kind of direct interaction from you and this builds steadily as you approach showtime, just as everything starts to get more stressful. My tip – be prepared, have some handy answers already to copy and paste into a quick email response.  Remember this audience will communicate in many ways so keep a watchful on your social media channels too

Simon Baker, Technical Director and Digital Producer at Wise Children

Marketing

Marketing for an online event

If print marketing rules for a theatre poster were:

What is it?

When is it?

Where is it?

Where is the Box Office?

 

Then online marketing rules are not dissimilar:

What is it?

When is it?

How do I buy a ticket?

How do I watch?

 

Communicating these four things present a challenge and an opportunity. 

You have to guide the audience through the decision of whether to watch your show with you title treatment, lead images and copy in the usual way but with the added information of how they can get involved, but this is a slightly new world for them.

When running a venue it is common to have an ‘about your visit’ or ‘how to find us’ page. This might list bus stops, trains stations, parking, walking directions etc. It might also give clear instructions on how-to pick-up tickets and what time to arrive. It will probably have information on access facilities as well as how to place an interval drinks order. 

The trouble is, as theatre goers, we already know what questions to ask and what answers we might expect. 

For an online event, the audience needs all the equivalent virtual answers to those questions but might not know what to ask. And won’t have much experience. Fortunately this gives you lots of opportunities and excuses for talking to the potential audience.

“Online PPV sales follow a different curve. A spike as the show goes on sale and then a flatline till around the day of the event, then a spike (often late in the day and often to the wire of showtime). Think of it like 30% advance sales on the day of release and then 70% walk up at 7.00 pm.”

Simon Baker, Technical Director and Digital Producer at Wise Children

Staying visible between going live with ticket sales and the event itself is vital to optimising on the day sales and the ‘Golden Hour’ – the final 60 minutes before showtime. You will be thankful you have lots to talk about on your social media channels as you guide your potential audience on this journey. Ideas for content could include not just focusing on the what but also the how.

It is important to keep building engagement via newsletters, social media posts, adverts, blog and website content, and media relations right up to the start of the show. The buying cycle is different for virtual events and momentum is required. It is important to have proper customer segments set up for retargeting, this works well on Facebook events where you can continue to communicate with potential customers who have not yet made up their mind whether to buy a ticket.

Branding allows you to white label the visual look of the customers’ journey on the platform – from your landing page to the e-ticket. It can be applied in several areas on the TicketCo website: event page, organisation domain, online broadcasting platform, checkout and PDF / wallet. This enables organisers to get the brand look and feel right, to help sell shows and experiences. 

There are various ways to personalise your pages. These are: header logo image, header background colour, primary and background colour, main foreground and background colour, main label foreground colour and main font. By full branding your events via the tools within the platform you can push out enticing branded content to market your event. 

Once your branding is set up it will become your default option, unless otherwise specified. This will ensure you achieve consistency with your event branding throughout your campaign. 

Exceeding your physical limits

How streaming will expand your outreach

Live Streaming has aided audience development in many ways. For venues the physical location of the work is no longer a barrier. The work is equally accessible in York as it is in Cornwall. It is also equally accessible in New York as it is in Paris. Suddenly venues and the work within the venue have a global reach rather than a local one. 

Global or Local, live streaming removes many barriers to watching work. There are numerous reasons people might not attend physically. Price, physical health, mental health, childcare, work patterns etc. are all barriers. Live streaming enables a truly inclusive audience. 

Equally physical venues have a limited and fixed capacity, meaning for popular shows some people often miss out on a ticket. But the virtual capacity is limitless. It opens doors to a wider audience, either via live streaming, or video-on-demand. 

Some people may only ever experience your work online, and that’s OK – they are still your audience and are just as valid. Some people might be encouraged to visit a theatre who have never been before.

Live streaming is an excellent way to develop audiences and build long-lasting relationships with them.

Up-selling

How you can utilise the customer journey and do up-selling

Once you have engaged your audience and they have commenced the journey of purchasing digital tickets to your streamed event it creates additional revenue generating opportunities

The TicketCo payment platform has built-in functionality to offer additional products and services at the point of sale, while your customer is in a ‘buying mood’. It means you can offer ‘bundle offers’ on multiple events to lock-in customers if you are offering a series of events. But it can also mean selling anything from food, drinks, merchandise, vouchers, travel, or other services. Additional sales of this kind are directly linked to the customer ID generated at ticket purchase. 

It means you can sell traditional event programmes and merchandise, which can be sent to viewers’ homes ahead of the steamed event, to add to their ‘experience’. It also creates opportunities to collaborate with partners or sponsors to develop further revenue generation. Some event organisers have successfully sold food and drink to ticket buyers which are delivered to their homes for them to enjoy while watching the live event. 

Knowing the difference

Live streaming versus video on demand

There’s a term in design – Skeuomorph. It is the notion that you take visual design clues from an original, well known form and apply them to something new but with the same function. The lightbulb in the shape of a candle flame is one example. Computer graphics have done this for years (we still have waste paper bins on our computer desktop.) When introducing new ideas it can be useful to refer back to similarities with old ones.

Live Streaming is like live broadcasting. The sad truth is that very few things are live these days. The News is largely live and so too is sport. So the idea of a live broadcast is rather like that – if you want to watch the News at 10 you really have to watch the news at ten o’clock. A live stream is as it happens – in real time. A bit like TV used to be before the internet. You can’t be late – you’ll miss it. Much like live theatre. (Although being a latecomer to a live stream is less embarrassing and requires much less climbing over people whilst balancing your drink and wishing you had not bought a centre seat in the stalls). 

Being live is the one big advantage theatre has over Film and TV – the jeopardy, the idea that this is a unique, one time only experience and its exclusive to only the people that are there. Something can and could go wrong, but whatever happens it will be special. It is this notion that makes theatre and live events magical. No producer wants errors or show stops but sadly it is these events that create magical memories – that time a costume change was missed, the revolve sticking, that missed cue, the wrong sound effect, the incomplete scene change, the wrong prop, organisers might hate them but the audience crave them. This is live streaming.

Video on Demand, well it is pretty much as it says. It is a virtual movie rental. 

Video On Demand has excellent uses too. They aid being able to work across many time zones, they allow people to watch again, they allow producers to add features such as close captions, foreign language captions or audio descriptions. They also allow for work not suitable for live broadcasting to be hosted in a robust way. 

Common problems

What kind of not foreseen issues might appear, and what may be the reason for these?

There’s always a good reason to not do something. The great New York ad man, George Louis once wrote ‘Tell the Devil’s advocate in the room to go back to hell.’ Careful conservatism can paralyse any project. Clearing hurdles is the creative producers job.

Simon Baker, Technical Director and Digital Producer at Wise Children

Here are some broad tips and also some very specific ones:

 

  • Will an online event reduce physical ticket sales or reduce the appetite for live theatre in person? There is mounting evidence to suggest the opposite is true – this might be why Hamilton streamed on Disney. 
  • It is expensive. This feels increasingly untrue. The price of the equipment is getting less and the technology is becoming simpler. The cost of live streaming should not be a barrier.
  • This whole thing relies on the internet – yours needs to work flawlessly. Test it, put it under pressure and get to know your IT team or company. 
  • The stream has stopped working. What do we do now? Stressful but chances are the reason it is not working is within your control. Most likely issues are internet speed slowing due to some crazy router/quality of service choke/firewall – remember when we said test and test again. It might also be that you are trying to stream too much information that may not be compatible with your live streaming provider. Do you really need to be streaming at 60 frames per second at 4K?
  • Our Box Office team are dealing with so many inquiries. This is good and bad. Good that there is interest and demand but also adding to a workload of the team. This is where the marketing and box office teams need to re-work copy on the website and tickets and think through their messaging. Identify the common issues and see what can be done to navigate them. 
  • Go through the user journey yourself on as many devices as you can find. Try high contrast mode, stealth mode, large text mode – just as you would when developing a website. Get as wide a demographic to test it for you – maybe with the offer of a comp or reduced-priced ticket. Try not to let your audience be your beta testers. The amount of booking sites with dead links or non-responsive pages would amaze you. Critical family members are very useful for this…
  • Simon Baker adds as the final point; “50% of people will book on their phone so test it thoroughly on one. There should be no chink in the armour. Don’t let your user interface or confusing copy be a reason not to book a ticket. You’d be surprised by how often i see work where no one has fully tested the UX“

Hybrid

The future is here, and it is hybrid

Digital is for life, not just for COVID-19.

We are all excited about getting back into real-life venues as COVID-19 restrictions start to ease, but it would be foolhardy to think we should cease our online output and return to normal. 

Digital culture needs to be at the heart of all modern arts organisations. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s just how valuable digital delivery channels are. Digital output allows organisations to engage with audiences like never before. 

The pandemic has made the public more tech savvy. Our responsibility here is to seize that opportunity.

Digital and online content works at all scales. Live Streamed events don’t just need to be replicas of large-format stage shows filmed behind closed doors. There are many other opportunities to pursue.

It is worth looking beyond arts organisations for ideas. For example the BBC’s flagship Saturday night show Strictly Come Dancing. It is not just a 60min TV show; it also has its sister, commentary show in It Takes Two. Plus it has its podcast show on BBC Sounds and its Drag Race inspired Strictly Frocked Up. 

This universe of the shows is beyond the simple spin-off. They allow the audience to stay in the world of the show. Theatres, Arts Organisations, touring theatre companies can do this too. Not everything online has to be a big event. Smaller, more intimate events work too. There are ways to connect these smaller events to the main attraction. 

Imagine stories being told from secret rooms in theatres the public never usually see or local bands playing live from the rooftop space that is never typically used. Imagine streaming R&D showings to friends’ groups or schools, or even rehearsed readings. It is exciting to think of how you can expand the universe of your work; all the while improving access and engagement 

Hybrid events are an exciting prospect. The notion of some in real life audience mixed with an audience at home. There is much to consider here and new models to explore as well as creative opportunities. 

Live streaming expands your reach beyond your physical location constraints, and that is something to be enjoyed.

Hosting

The importance of a robust host

What happens when it all goes wrong?” I get asked this question a lot and we’ve all sat in that board meeting, right?

Simon Baker, Technical Director and Digital Producer at Wise Children

This is live theatre and organisers are well versed in the risks. This is after all, why people come to live events – that unique, never to be repeated, one-off experience. 

Creative teams and technical crews mitigate the risks at every step. Back-up systems, rehearsed show stops, spare parts and rigorous pre show checks are all part of the production planning process and operation. 

Live-streamed work should be no different. You need a robust platform that has been tested. You need an infallible user interface and secure box office – all the true values about a physical production apply to a virtual one.

There is a temptation to rely on what at first feels like a simple solution. You have spent a fortune on your CRM/Ticketing platform/Website, and you need to prove its worth. Surely, you think, the tech team can just stream via one of the online video services, and we can just put a page on our website.

You could definitely do that – it is certainly a choice. 

The trouble is you are at the mercy of various things. Interruptive pre-rolling and mid-stream ads for the user are commonplace and even if you are OK with that, what is being advertised may not align to your brand or values. 

Then there is your own website – it is hard to beta-test when you need 2500 plus people logging on at once to test it fully. You don’t want to discover your bandwidth issues just as you press Start Streaming – it is stressful enough.

Your R&D money is better placed in getting something on-screen and happening rather than working out the back-end technology. 

If that path is for you, there are some great companies that can help you build a site that will allow that. But the numbers and bandwidth requirements means you need some people who know what they are doing. 

TicketCo’s Live Stream engine is hosted by Amazon’s AWS Elemental and Cloud Front services. It is reassuring to tell your Board your stream is being hosted on the same infrastructure that runs Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Hulu and the BBC. 

Promo codes

How to use promo codes

Event promo codes are discount codes that organisers can offer their audience in an attempt to learn more about them and sell more tickets. 

Getting inventive with promotional codes can drive sales and is a great function of the platform. They have become an established part of the process of the online customer journey. 

Promo codes allow event planners to better understand which promotional channels and tactics are working. With this information, they can then invest in effective tactics while reducing those that are not producing as well. You can create specific promo codes for different audiences and platforms.

You can also create private tickets for the exclusive use of partners, VIP guests, journalists and colleagues. Additionally you can create group promo codes, so for example you could offer a group promo code to a school or charity to allow a group to purchase tickets at a special price.

The TicketCo platform prevents virtual streaming tickets from being shared by ticket buyers to their network of friends and family. This key security function ensures organisers can keep tickets on sale right up to an event starting and even during a show and maximise the ‘Golden Hour’ of virtual sales. This is made possible because ticketing and the broadcast of an event is integrated on the TicketCo platform.

Major event industry research reveals ticket buyers’ appetite to pay for online content

Are you planning a digital event? Download the 72 page report with lots of valuable findings here.

Digital shows delivered behind an online paywall perform stronger than free content. This is one of numerous insights discovered in a comprehensive survey that just has been released.

 

The report recommends pricing of digital products based on existing insights and knowledge acquisition from the international market, in relation to similar digital products, target groups, digital packages and content.

Bonus content

Recommended read

Re-opening the UK and what it means for the event industry

What we can expect in terms of planning, budget, funding and how events actually will look like.

A bargain of a buy

Don’t miss out on a bargain; limited time only! It will save you 3% commission on your future virtual ticket sales.

Digital theatre offerings vital to unlock future funding

Theatres need to embrace digital events to financially survive – and organisations are on hand to help you with funding.

Adopting the box office role and minimising customer inquiries

Everything you’ll need to know on how to deal with customer care in a live streaming world.

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About us

TicketCo Media Services is a pay-per-view streaming and video on demand service built into a robust payments platform. The foundation of TicketCo Media Services is TicketCo, a unified cloud based platform for efficient event payments. Integrated into this is a live streaming and a video on demand feature built on broadcasting grade technology from Amazon Web Services.