YouTube, Hulu, and On Demand programming have revolutionized people’s access to the moving image. Yet the contemporary dance field still offers few high-quality options for viewing performances online. Even the idea of online access raises big questions:
How would audiences’ experience and engagement level differ during live performance when compared to online viewing? On a more practical level, will audiences pay to view dance online and how will they respond to different subscription and purchasing options? How would copyright laws apply to online dance content?< How might artists benefit financially from sharing their dances online?
On the Boards (OtB) explored these questions when they developed OntheBoards.tv (OtBtv), a first-of-its-kind website offering high quality full-length videos of contemporary performances, through both streaming and download, via a range of fee-based options. Inspired by interactions they saw on podcasts and blogs, On the Boards invested in filming the artists appearing on its season in high definition and hopes to use its new video platform to expand what they see as audience’s burgeoning interest in mediated viewing experiences. By reaching dance enthusiasts who either live far away or are inhibited by busy schedules, OtBtv seeks to draw them into a network of artistic dialogue and ultimately inspire them to attend live performances in the future. Each of the stellar videos appears alongside background information on the artist and work, with blogs, to build knowledge and spark conversation. Striving to be the equivalent of a museum catalogue for dance, OtB filmed, edited and uploaded nine new dance films, along with accompanying content to provide context, though interviews, research and essays. OtB splits the fee with artists for their content.
OtB is tracking the successes and obstacles inherent in their new online model, and attempting to answer the questions above, by documenting their progress and surveying viewers. So far the results have begun to address the questions. Most importantly, OtB found that people are interested in this content. During the project period, the site had 26,138 visitors from 52 states and 108 countries, with 9,750 users and 106 subscriptions. Although most subscribers have prior relationships to the artists, efforts are being accelerated to tap those who are new to the artist or organization. The limited EDA research suggests that the nature of engagement appears different in the theater from online. Audiences reported being more emotionally engaged when watching live performances but intellectually engaged when watching films, and they like to view them multiple times.
Since its launch, On the Boards has adapted what it has learned. The editing process took twice as long as expected, to allow time for the artist to work closely with the editors. It became necessary to launch a national advertising campaign and engage a national PR firm to give the project the exposure it deserved. It was important to set expectations for exposure and distribution that were in line with the project. The fact that the internet is widely accessible did not mean that this new content was automatically accessible, as staff states, “our art is a niche, and it remains this way, even on line.” The capacity of small organizations to create and distribute such content is an issue to consider carefully, but it is possible. It is important, OtB found, to have a dedicated staff. Also, the music rights many be an issue for some artists and due to increased use of iPhones, iPads and other such devices will no doubt influence the technology choices in any similar platform.
Over the course of the next few years On the Boards has allotted for its online video pilot program, staff will be on the front lines of a campaign to engage and track audiences through this innovative use of technology. With additional new Duke support, OtB will launch a partnership with three national peers (PS122, PICA and Fusebox Festival) to understand what has been learned and determine the best path for replication elsewhere.
On the Boards’ project raises timely issues about transferring the integrity and artistry of dance from the stage onto the Internet, while raising revenue for the artists and organizations that produce it. Staff aptly points out the unanswered questions and challenges that remain for the dance field in considering its high-def online presence. Will audiences pay for it? What is the most effective way to advertise and market it? Is it okay to take this work outside of a direct arts context? What platforms will grow as the most popular for user access? What about the long-term intellectual rights? Is the funding model sustainable and can arts orgs afford to take on this type of financial and infrastructure growth? Can we afford not to? In OtB’s words, “our sincere hope is that more organizations within the dance field…will engage in similar activity and help find the answers.”
View webinar about OtBtv that answers some of the questions above.
View a Powerpoint of the main findings.
Visit the OtBtv website to view samples of their high-def dance offerings, with supporting materials.
Read the EDA research about this project.
See also the content about this project that was presented during Dance/USA’s EDA Learning Exchanges, including video presentations from the grantees themselves about their project, as well as timelines, budgets, and other details.