Revenue / 10.06.20
Streaming Success and Monetization Transforms Summer Tradition at Tanglewood
Leading photo by Marco Borggreve
Tanglewood has been a fixture in the Berkshires since the festival site moved to the donated estate in 1937. The Koussevitzky Music Shed, named after the organization’s first music director, opened the following August, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) has performed there every summer since, with the exception of 1945 when the season was canceled during World War II.
Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood. Photo by Marco Borggreve.
More than eight decades later, alongside the entire global entertainment industry, Tanglewood found itself amid a pandemic and shutdown. It took the Tanglewood team just 31 days to reimagine their summer season and create an impressive array of new video content that would become the foundation of a comprehensive, well publicized, much loved and enthusiastically attended virtual festival.
“Live performances may not be happening this summer, but we are still making beautiful music with the Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival,” the organization shared via its promotional video:
At the same time, things were just as busy in the ticketing department.
“We were first handed the information pertinent to ticketing the festival on or about June 1 — at least the initial information of who, what, where and when — but then came the big ‘how,’” says David Winn, Box Officer Manager for the BSO. “At Symphony Hall in Boston and at our summer home at Tanglewood, we use Tessitura. Setting up the events was easy, but we started to incorporate many features that we had never used before. We were also able to combine several processes that allowed us to do even more. One of those processes was determining how to offer certain business partners a way to distribute a specific link to one part of the festival content but prevent the recipient of the link from accessing other content.”
There were a lot of other questions too, says Winn, with the biggest centering around the number of tickets they would sell.
“Are we going to sell more than we think? Fewer than we think? What about our biggest event of the summer, called ‘Best of Tanglewood on Parade’ that this year featured James Taylor as our host?” Winn says.
In consultation with partner Made Media, it was determined that an existing general admission chart could be used. “Then, if we need to, we can build secondary events to roll into,” says Winn. “All of this was new territory. We had no idea what to expect.”
He continues,” The actual building of the event is straightforward. Just create an event. Pretty simple? Well, we then had to find a way to connect that event to Brightcove, the company we chose to host all our streaming events. Turns out, with the help of Made Media, that is a simple procedure as well, but it was all very new to us. At this point, any of the videos we were showing on our website were hosted right there on our site.”
Still, at the beginning of June, Winn and his team were not sure which features they would be using or need. As they got deeper into the month, the team refined and standardized its process and set up.
“There were many long hours. I would arrive at my desk at Tanglewood at 6 a.m. and work right through until 8 or 9 p.m.,” says Winn, “and I was not the only one. We were working with the web team, the marketing team, our IT staff, video production, accounting, development and many more. We were building a new village, and we were starting with the infrastructure.”
David Winn at Tanglewood.
That infrastructure would eventually host a wide variety of programming, both free and paid, with something to engage every Tanglewood patron and supporter and to keep them “clicking” back, all from the comfort of home. Pricing ranged from $5 to $12 for a single stream to $15 to $90 for multipacks.
“We had a mix of archival video and newly produced video. All archival video was free to anyone, and the new material was monetized,” Winn says. “The support from our donors and subscribers was very strong. We ran a program that allowed donors full access to all the festival streams by donating $100 or more, which gave the donor access to all our summer content. Donors also received special access to private portions of several free events, including cocktail parties, Q&A sessions and specific talks we hosted. In addition, single ticket buyers could attend three Q&A sessions.”
There was mesmerizing, brand-new musical experiences with BSO musicians and world-renowned guests, and performances by young musicians of Tanglewood Center. Examples include Saturday evening “Great Performers in Recital,” recorded locally at Tanglewood’s Linde Center and spotlighting some of the artists who were to appear at the venue’s Koussevitzky Music Shed in 2020, as well as Wednesday evening “Recitals from the World Stage,” featuring additional 2020 artists and recorded at concert venues around the world.
Members of Silkroad Kaoru Watanabe (flute) and Edward Perez (bass) record their performance at the Linde Center for Tanglewood’s 2020 Online Festival. Photo by Hilary Scott.
The Tanglewood Learning Institute offered educational and engagement content, too, from celebrating Beethoven to mark the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth and masterclasses to video conversations and Q&A sessions with notable personalities.
Ultimately, working as one team is the only way to describe the process, Winn says.
“All departments came together to plan the creation of the product, the means to distribute the product and the decisions made on monetization. We relied heavily on development to be the driving force in creating sales to our donors. The $100 donation was a big part in early fundraising efforts that were directly linked to the festival. Then marketing took over to push festival sales with mostly an online presence. Of course, the press office had a lot of work to do as well. The festival information reached many media outlets.”
In a typical year, Tanglewood welcomes approximately 340,000 attendees and brings more than $100 million in economic activity to the Berkshires region. Since March, the BSO has lost millions of dollars in ticket revenue, so monetizing the festival was extremely important.
“While the virtual streaming festival ticket sales are not ever going to reach that level of income, we knew that keeping our patrons used to paying something for the new product was important,” Winn says. “We had plenty of archival material that was being presented for free to enhance the level of connection with our viewers. Giving customers options for newly recorded paid content and archival free content was important to us.”
So, too, was engaging donors and subscribers, who form the base for the organization.
“We must provide content to keep them interested in the BSO and Tanglewood. Organizations like the BSO invest a lot of time and money in cultivating and keeping our patrons, donors and subscribers,” Winn says. “To that end, we owe them a product that is something tangible, that they know we have produced just for them.”
The support of BSO Board Members and Friends was vitally important, too, as they came together to issue a challenge and match contributions, including ticket donations, through until the end of August.
Video message from Kim and James Taylor and their sons, Rufus and Henry.
Thanks to a generous anonymous donor, the Tanglewood grounds also remained open to the public three days per week on a limited and scheduled basis, welcoming 3,283 visitors with physical distancing and CDC health and safety protocols in place. The grounds will also be open from Oct. 3-25, 2020, on Saturdays and Sundays. While picnics are not permitted at this time, there are still many ways for visitors to enjoy the beautiful grounds.
“We encourage use of our [narrated] walking guide of the property as well as a relaxation/meditation guide that is provided to us by Kripalu, the yoga institute across the street,” Winn says. “We also offer a BSO listening stream.”
A family strolls Tanglewood grounds. Photo by Hilary Scott.
Ultimately, there is much to learn about the future of digital programming based on the trends of Tanglewood’s loyal participants this past summer.
All Tanglewood components — more than 78 programs in total — were translated to the digital stage and viewed 40,291 times. Educational programming shifted online, with the WBUR Radio Circle Round podcast collaboration yielding 336,821 downloads and Tanglewood for Kids activities drawing 11,024 website visitors.
Principally, the Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival sought to engage donors and ticket buyers to maintain their connection and lifetime value to the BSO. Of the 10,500 households who viewed Tanglewood programming, 37% were donors and 65% previously purchased tickets.
“Keeping a connection to our audience, donors, board, staff and patrons [was so important],” Winn says. “While the world is in turmoil and many businesses are finding it hard to survive, I really feel that the arts in general are among the hardest hit. Our prices were low at $0, $5, $8 and $12. The connection the BSO maintains with the community is vital. This is one way we could keep that connection alive.”
In closing, says Winn, every arts organization that has created online content is now faced with balancing new online streaming programming with in-person performances.
“The streaming projects we have all undertaken are not going to go away. As we face the evolution of the ‘replacement’ format along with our future ‘in-person’ format, how do we reinvent ourselves in this dual environment? Sure, we all have had lots of previous content on our websites, educational, research, archival video, etc., but this new world is going to demand both online and in-person content.”
He continues, “How do we monetize the content so that we are not giving everything away? A new norm is going to have to be achieved. Content is expensive to produce. Even archival material needs to be edited and sound quality upgraded. That all costs money. Are the finance departments across the world starting to take this into consideration? Will new departments be created to manage these things? Is that a new hire? I know that Maureen [Andersen, President and CEO of INTIX] asked us the other day if our jobs were morphing and if we were hiring new people to do these jobs. In many cases, the answer is no, there are no new hires. People who are already employees at many buildings are adding this to their job responsibilities. We are all learning to become more. The BSO recently laid off 50 positions. Everything from building maintenance and accounting to development, ticketing, IT and management. The remaining staff now has to face a new reality where we will all absorb more into our already busy work lives.”
Winn is embracing his new responsibilities for all ticketing operations in addition to his Tessitura work and ticket office management for Tanglewood. Any new projects or software related to ticketing for Symphony Hall in Boston and Tanglewood now run through him instead of IT.
“Several of us will also be learning how to create and edit HTML so that we are not as dependant on others in the organization. This will be incredibly helpful since we are also now involved in authorizing any content that ends up in Tessitura,” Winn says. “It is a promising and new world for all of us. While it is sad to think that our roles have changed so dramatically due to a worldwide pandemic, I’m making lemonade. My glass is half full. We are ticketing, and we take it in stride.”
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Tags: Venues , Leadership , COVID-19 , Coronavirus