The Idea in 10 Sentences:
Since live venues shut down, there has been an explosion of free live performance online - some of it subsidised.
The performance and artistic quality has been universally high, but the production quality varies widely.
It is now time to monetise this content through a single, unified, PAID National Digital Performance Platform (NDPP) for all the performing arts, based broadly on the model of the Berlin Philharmonic's Digital Concert Hall.
The content would be driven by VENUES, ARTS ORGANISATIONS, and to an extent INDIVIDUAL ARTISTS.
Artists, venues, arts organisations and all their supporting staff and resources need to be subsidised by monetising digital performance in a unified, cohesive way.
Audiences need to be weaned off free professional performance - quality performance has value, and should be paid for.
The platform would provide meaningful and viable support to venues and arts organisations providing socially distanced performances, through online ticket sales, subscriptions and the provision of a high quality technical services and training for streaming and archiving.
A unified national digital performance platform would future proof the arts in Ireland against any future restrictions in live performance.
The platform would be a unified shop window for the arts in Ireland for international audiences and investors.
The time has come for serious online infrastructural investment in the arts in Ireland.
An Irish National Digital Performance Platform - the Details
Using the Berlin Digital Concert Hall as an example I propose we launch a subscription based, national online digital performance platform.
The subscription based digital platform, in partnership with venues, arts organisations and individual artists would present multiple daily/nightly concerts in various genres. All performances would be professionally filmed, edited and recorded, and an archive of concerts built up.
The digital platform would be subscription based, with the option of purchasing tickets for individual performances, and would aim for a high degree of consistency across the board in production levels.
Q. But we have loads of content already, why would we need a national platform?
A. The current online content mirrors the slightly disjointed Irish arts scene that existed pre-COVID. To move forward we need to embrace a more joined up, unified approach to the arts.
The resources that each organisation puts into providing their own individual digital platforms could be pooled, and a single, future proof platform built.
It really comes down to ensuring that professional artists and practitioners can be remunerated fairly for their work, while also ensuring venues and support teams are paid fairly.
Q. But it’s all available for free already, how would that work??
A. There would need to be broad support for the platform from artists, venues, arts organisations and audiences.
The current audience needs to be weaned off free content - there is NO WAY I should be able to see a Lisa O'Neill concert live from the NCH without paying something, yet there it was… FREE (and great!)
Q. Hang on, I only like theatre, I wouldn’t want to pay for rock concerts as well…
A. The platform would cater to all artistic tastes.
Possible subscriptions offered could include:
genre specific packages - e.g. theatre/spoken word, ballet, music: classical, traditional, popular, country, jazz, indie, opera...
venue specific packages - e.g. Whelans, the National Concert Hall....
geographical packages - county or province based...
organisation based - e.g. Druid, Irish National Opera, National Symphony Orchestra, Irish Chamber Orchestra ....
Toe Dippers - additional low cost tickets available to existing subscription holders to try out a different genre.
Individual tickets to events would also be available, allowing smaller venues to supplement actual physical ticket sales without the administration challenges of streaming.
Q. Yes, all very well, but what about when live performances happen again, won’t all of this be surplus to requirements?
A. No, the platform would continue alongside live performance, decentralising things, and increasing exposure for Irish artists and their work into the future.
The online platform would supplement income from live ticket sales.
The platform would be open to subscribers outside Ireland, subject to licensing and copyright agreements being put in place - which might take a bit of time.
Q. OK, this is sounding almost feasible as an idea, but how would it work?
A. In a nutshell, venues and arts organisations would sign up to the platform as promoters. They would then set up the performances, as they have been doing for decades. But this time they would be filmed and recorded for streaming.
Individual musicians/performers could also sign up, but they would need to prove they have the technical requirements in place to produce performances to a good technical standard.
Performances and concerts would be advertised via the platform and other media, and subscribers and ticket holders would tune in.
Individual ticket holders would have access to the recorded concert for a specific time after the performance, and single access tickets, at a lower price could be purchased for the recorded concert after the live/premiere show..
Q. Great, but let’s hear about the elephant in the room, the hard, cold, contactless cash!!
A. Ah yes, the nitty gritty. I would dream of this as a kind of Irish ArtsFlix, eventually morphing into a commissioning organisation, creating amazing work for musicians and creatives, but that’s pie in the future sky.
The idea would be that subscribers can ‘attend’ a maximum of X number of shows per month - say 4 or 5. Once they have ‘attended’ a gig, they can’t back out and say “well it wasn’t what I thought, so that one doesn’t count”. As in real life, you pay the money, you take the chance!
Through complicated algorithms, created by more powerful brains than mine, the money would be paid from the platform to the promoter, who would then pay the artists and tech staff in the usual way.
Q. Yeah, but HOW MUCH?
A. It would depend on the audience size - as in real life. In an ideal world, the pricing would allow for minimum €5 per view to be paid to the promoters.
Though it’s unlikely that monthly subscription prices of €30 would be feasible in today’s economic climate. It would most likely be €2 - 3 per view, with the platform taking a flat fee of €1 per month for the first few years of operation.
For archived material, a reduced pay per view royalty based system would to be worked out.
Q. Who would be involved as promoters on the platform?
A. Involvement would be countrywide: Music venues, theatres, arts centres, arts organisations such as possibly Music Network, TnaG, Irish National Opera, RTE - although there is a bit of crossover, so that might not be feasible.
Individual artists would be encouraged to partner with venues, although they could be involved ...individually.
Q. Ah yes, RTE - but isn't this what they do?
A. Yes, to an extent, and they do it very well. But this is a much wider remit to digitally broadcast venue-based, live performance, right down to the local parish hall, with multiple performances being streamed across the platform on any given day/evening.
Q. It sounds like there would be a lot of technical expertise required to produce the performances to the level needed. How would that work?
A. Yes, that is true. This could work in a number of ways:
Existing technical staff in theatres, venues and arts organisations would need additional training to acquire the necessary skills. A series of free online courses tailored for each skill set could be developed and delivered, with realtime support available from experienced professionals.
A number of mobile audio/visual facilitation teams with their own equipment would be available for different geographical areas. These teams could be hired, for a fixed price per performance/set of performances (to be agreed between the promoter and the team based on guidelines from the online platform). An online directory of teams, as well as examples of their work would be available.
Individual artists wishing to increase their music and video production skills would have access to courses tailored to meet their specific technical challenges and requirements, as well as equipment grants to allow purchase of equipment.
Q. It sounds like there would be a LOT of editing involved. Will that add a huge level of expense?
A. Ideally the editing should be done live. There are controllers etc. on the market to facilitate this - e.g. Elegato, Roland Go:Livecast. If there is something that needs to be edited in post, by all means do that. But the platform is meant to recreate live performance situations - warts and all!! If something really doesn’t work, there will be an option to remove it from the platform after a set (short) period of time.
Q. The internet in my area seems to run off beetle power, does that mean I can’t be a promoter?
A. No, there would have to be an option for ‘live’ premieres which are pre-recorded and released on a certain date. Although…..that national broadband plan should………... for another time….
Q. OK, it’s sounding better and better, but what about the tech side of things? How would we set this platform up?
A. On the technical side, there would be no need to reinvent the wheel. The Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall and to an extent Medici TV among others, have developed successful video subscription platforms for classical music/ballet/opera. This could be expanded to all genres.
I don’t know how jealously guarded the technology is, but in my idealised world, there would be a spirit of mutual cooperation with a new project such as this….
The Irish platform would have to allow multiple live performances simultaneously. Again, this is beyond my expertise, but may, or may not prove to be a challenge...
Q. But what about the day to day operations?
A. To administer and coordinate the streams and performances, each county would have a dedicated five-person team working full-time for the platform. The roles would be:
Depending on workload, assistants and support staff could be added. A central platform team, as streamlined as possible, would run the central operations of the platform.
Q. How do we ensure it doesn’t become an unfocussed money pit?
A. All roles would be YEARLY contracts subject to annual appraisal based on performance and effectiveness in the role. There would be no jobs-for-life in this scenario, mirroring the uncertainty experienced daily by the artists and venues the platform supports.
An efficient and impartial company structure would need to be put in place to ensure maximum efficiency, accountability and transparency.
Again, this is outside my area of expertise, but the ideal company structure would combine the ethos of a not-for-profit with the efficiency of a private venture, the transparency of a …..(can’t think of an example), as well as the entrepreneurial spirit of the artists, organisations and venues it supports.
Q. Time Frame?
A. Ideally the platform would be ready to go in October/November 2020, but that would mean assembling an efficient steering committee (paid) to cut through the bureaucracy and get this thing done. Seems ambitious... and indeed it is.
Q. Almost afraid to ask....what would the cost of all of this be?
A. Ok, well we had to come to that I suppose..... This is not my area of expertise, but very rough guesstimations......
Yearly Regional office staff = 5 x 40k x 26 counties
Tech Platform set up cost estimate (incl steering group)
Bandwidth/Data management (not sure...but)
Central company employee costs = 10 x 50k
Office setup costs, support systems, promo
For reference, a recent estimated budget for Galway 2020 was €39 million...
Q. And what will it earn?
A. This is a tricky one. Assuming around 250,000 people subscribe at a rate of €15 per month, that would be €3.75 million per month. Equating to subscription income of €45 million per year.
In 2018, Netflix had approximately 250,000 Irish subscribers. The subscriber number would take time to build.
Taking €1 per subscriber per month, the platform would generate an income for itself of €3 million per year.
The shortfall of almost €11.5 million would have to be made up by central and local government funding.
Q. OK, so what next?
A. Well, we would need to gauge support for the platform from artists, venues and arts organisations. If that support was there, then the level of support from the audience would need to be gauged.
All of this information could be gathered by surveys and polls.
We then secure the funding and BUILD IT!
A. I'm putting this idea out there for discussion and debate. I believe the time has come for serious online infrastructural investment in the arts in Ireland.
We have the technical expertise, we have some of the best artists and performances in the world, and we have an engaged audience who will support online performances with actual money.
If we let this opportunity pass, we are looking at a bleak and uncertain future for the arts in Ireland.
Go forth idea.....and FLY!!!
Other Artist Specific Questions:
Q. I’m very independent and like to do things my own way. What if I want to set up my own scheme for subscription concerts?
A. By all means. As artists we are wary of the big brother mentality. If you have the technical expertise and audience to set up your own platform, go ahead. But think about the time involved after the initial set up - are you ready for that commitment? What about three years down the line?
From my own experience, I have started projects in the past, only to find that I didn’t have the time to maintain the level of PR and admin to maintain the momentum. There are people out there who are amazing at this, and I would love to facilitate access to their expertise through this platform.
Q. OK, well that sounds interesting…. But what about royalties etc. if I play cover songs as part of my performance?
A. Ideally IMRO would need to be a central player in this platform to ensure that everyone gets their royalty share.
Q. I have my own YouTube channel. Does this mean I shouldn’t put free content up there any more?
A. No, of course not! YouTube is a great tool for promotion, but getting a decent amount of money from YouTube needs a huge amount of work, and number of views. In the past, as artists, we would have income from live performance in addition to other sources.
This proposed platform is intended to replace that lost income to venues, arts organisations and artists by monetising performance again. As artists we need to strike a balance between free(promotional) and paid content going forward.