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Live Webcasts for Arts Organizations

One of the more exciting developments this past year (aside Obama’s Inauguration, the stock market crash, and Twitter – yes there are other things in this world aside from twitter), has been the proliferation of live online video.

Websites + companies like UStream.tv and Mogulus have made high quality live web broadcasts a reality.

This past year alone, I produced live performance webcasts for Martha Graham Dance, Misnomer Dance, and DanceBrazil. All of these webcasts featured live webchats, and a global audience.

These unique online events brought in more audience members than the theaters could hold, and generated more online buzz than any of these companies could have hoped for.

Simply said, more people saw their work online than in the theater. Not only that, but the online audience loved the performances and were highly engaged, updating their facebook statuses while the performances were happening. Many came back to the website long after the webcast was done to see the archived video. All of this was not too surprising for me. People love interacting online, particularly around live events.

Just think back to the past few Oscar Parties, Superbowls, and Elections….

What was surprising to me – many people who were watching the webcast had already seen the company’s work before live – in the theater. However, countless others had never had the opportunity to see the company’s work and lived in places the company had not yet toured.

I thought I’d share a little more insight and answer some common questions I’ve received since then:

  • How do I do a live webcast?
  • How much does this cost?
  • Is this for me?
  • Where’s the money?
  • Will it take away from my live audience?

Before I start answering these questions, I’m wondering – why aren’t more companies doing this?
Bars in New Orleans and Fort Lauderdale have webcams and webstreams.
Why aren’t arts organizations and companies doing the same?

I’m convinced this is the year companies will start putting their live work on the web.

Am I wrong?

Watch Misnomer Dance‘s webcast
Watch DanceBrazil‘s archived performance


  1. At the Kitchen Theatre Company, we have never discussed the idea of doing webcasts (live or otherwise). The closest we’ve come is that a couple of times we made video “teasers” which we sent around to folks we thought were potentially interested in attending a play (and posted on our web site and Facebook page). We didn’t have any real strategy for how to get that out, so I don’t know how effective it was.

    For many plays we produce, we are not allowed to record video other than for archival purposes–due to Actors’ Equity rules and, I think, agreements with playwrights/publishers. Are there exceptions to the Equity rules that I don’t know about, or is it just different in the dance world?

    If we didn’t have the rights and Actors’ Equity issues, we would still be unlikely at this point to do webcasts. Mostly because there is no good place in our theater to shoot video. However, we have bought a building that we are renovating (!), and one of the many things I am excited about is that the control booth will be in a much better position for filming. So tune in next year!

  2. There are certainly similar restrictions in dance, although for the most part, these restrictions are indirect. Theaters and music rights holders do have restrictions. Since 99.95% of dance companies are non-union, the dance world tends to have more flexibility than their more unionized performing arts peers. That being said, AGMA (who represents the Metropolitan Opera, many ballet companies and Ailey/Cunningham/Graham, among others) has been extremely positive and progressive in this area.

    Here’s my take on live streaming. I think it plays an important role in the future. I also think the level of quality at which the Met and some of the other Opera companies are streaming meets the bare minimum standard of consumer acceptability. For live streaming to become a viable outlet and something to be considered more than a PR expense, the theaters need to get involved and install the proper equipment, just as they are at the Koch Theater.

    Now, it seems that you’re getting asked the same question I am: Will (live streaming, video on demand, etc) take away from the live audience? If you look at any other form of content, the only possible conclusion to draw is “absolutely, positively not”.

    My sense is that the current successes of live streaming projects is anecdotal at best, and was driven as much by curiosity as interest in seeing the companies perform. In the pyramid of needs, I think live streaming should be considered a fairly low priority at this time. That being said, if the resources are there to do it, it’s worth the continued experiment.

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