Intimacy at Scale: The Live Streaming Opportunity

Every four years, as we enter the presidential election cycle, I keep my eye out for which technology tool will change everything. Several cycles ago it was email marketing, and then came online donations, online communities, targeted AdWords, and more recently social media and YouTube. As we now know all too well, some of these tools have been used to great effect and others have been exploited. But, by now, we can easily dub these tools part of the mainstream political action. Meaning, these tools are out there — they are known and being used (or misused). They aren’t new.

I’m curious about what will be the breakout technology for the 2020 campaign. My bet is on the use of live streaming. I’m not the only one, and this point was made well in a provocative article in The Atlantic titled “The Political Question of the Future: But Are They Real?” The article offers a quick summary of various types of media engagement in the 20th century that made a real difference before arguing that live streaming is about to have its day.

Candidates are quickly figuring out that a livestream can inexpensively and nearly immediately provide messaging that is neither prepackaged nor smooth (which has for years been the goal of most political operatives). Today’s public is clamoring for authenticity. We want to know who these people are in an unvarnished way — and only then can we make a judgment about them. (Arguably, unvarnished authenticity was the one thing Donald Trump did better than any other Republican hopeful in the last election.)

What live streaming offers is an intimate view of the candidate, or what The Atlantic article describes as “insight at scale.” In this political moment, that seems particularly valuable. You may wonder, “What does any of this have to do with the arts?” Well, intimacy is all about emotion, and emotion is what motivates people to do almost everything. Though we think we make rational decisions about what to buy, wear, and eat, lots of research demonstrates that it is “emotion that creates motion.”  

For an arts organization, it’s about connecting with your audience and making an emotional connection. Yes, the art you put onstage does this — but that’s only once you’ve gotten them in the door. So as you think about how to get them there, how could you use live streaming to connect with audiences?  

Lots of ideas spring to mind easily, starting with backstage interviews with the cast or director, a preproduction or rehearsal interview during a break, or a post-concert interview with the conductor as she walks offstage. And these are just the most obvious ones. We’ve all seen things like this on PBS — and the best part is that now you can do it too, with a mobile phone and practically for free.

In a highly digital world, the public seems to be clamoring for things that are real — real food, real raw materials, real experiences. That’s what the arts field has to offer — and in more ways than just what’s onstage.

While we’ll have to wait until the end of 2020 to know if live streaming is the breakout technology of this election, you don’t have to wait. Your audience is voting with their feet every time they come to your theatre.  

And, speaking of your audience, how about live streaming people coming out of the show — showing their reactions and smiling faces?

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