Special Reports

Case Study No. 1: Detroit Symphony Orchestra

April 2, 2012 | By Nancy Malitz

"Live from Orchestra Hall":
Streaming as status quo

Issue: The Detroit Symphony Orchestra emerged in April 2011 from a 26-week strike in the wake of a collapsed economy that devastated the state's automotive industry, Detroit in particular. The orchestra faced an urgent need to replace lost support, repair broken concert-going habits and put out a positive message to a community benumbed by hardship appeals.

Goal: To utilize live web-streaming technology as part of a broad marketing strategy and become "the most accessible orchestra on the planet, viewable as much as possible by anyone anywhere," says Scott Harrison, senior director of patron engagement and loyalty programs and also executive director for digital media.

Digital component: Free, live transmissions of most DSO programs, delivered worldwide to computers, mobile phones, and other web-enabled devices. (Selected examples, archived at YouTube, embedded below)

Obstacles: Little in-house equipment or technical expertise, a staggering financial burden ($9 million in shortfalls since 2008, $54 million in real estate bonds, shrunken endowment), and no precedent for determining risk to the subscriber base.

Money: Production costs came in at $7,500-$10,000 per concert, paid for by a "low six-figure" Knight Foundation grant for 20 "Live from Orchestra Hall" webcasts this season. Detroit Public Television partnered for five cameras (including four manned) and broadcast expertise. The post-strike contract provided for streaming video without additional musicians' fees.

Time & Staffing: For each concert, a 2.5-hour tech run-through at rehearsal, a 2.5-hour set-up the day before, and the 2.5-hour concert itself, plus another day for planning, guest interviews, onscreen graphics, and promos to email, Facebook and Twitter fans. "You get into a rhythm," says Harrison. "It becomes easier, and each time we aim for something better." Harrison devotes half of his time to the project and other staff members pitch in bits that add up to another half position.

Measuring Results: As of early March, "Live from Orchestra Hall" had exceeded 60,000 viewers at www.dso.org/, www.dptv.org, www.Paraclassics.com , and over the mobile app DSO to Go. Viewing a concert involves signing up, and the DSO now has an active email list of more than 6,000 addresses, about a quarter from the Detroit Metro area. "We haven't figured out how we're going to mobilize them yet," Harrison says. Limelight, which provides the webcast platform, tracks the average DSO viewer time at 30 minutes. (Nielsen clocks average web page time at less than a minute.) Mobile apps account for five to seven percent of the concert views and that number is growing. The DSO says its Facebook fan base (8,000) consists of many locals who attend concerts, while Twitter (6,450) attracts internationals who like to shout out their hometown connections. The DSO's YouTube channel (68,000 views) provides afterglow, with clips and a few complete works such as Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and Mason Bates's "The B-Sides." And the DSO reports that overall classical ticket sales are up 22%, compared with the last full season before the strike.

During a broadcast of Mahler's Fifth Symphony on Feb. 17, the DSO heard from a Delta traveler who was watching on the in-flight Internet. Says Harrison, "I thought, 'We're not only all over the world. We're above it, too."


Nancy Malitz has been writing about the intersection of the arts and technology for most of her career. She developed some of Gannett Media's first newspaper websites and worked on strategic projects for media change.



Mason Bates "B-sides

Beethoven's Fifth

Additional Case Studies
National Theatre of Scotland’s Five Minute Theatre: 24 hours, 230 plays, performed by anyone, to audience of everyone

Kronos Quartet’s Under 30 Project: Crowd-funding at the grassroots

New York Philharmonic’s Le Grand Macabre: YouTube promotion, underground style

Los Angeles Philharmonic's Mahler Project: Full court digital press, from banner ads to conducting app



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