February 21, 2008

Is the Met the Future?

(I sent this to the Storytell list, in response to Gregory's post (below), but then thought it was too good to let disappear behind the gate of a closed listserv)

Author and storyteller Gregory Leifel (in his post, here) mentioned the Met (that's the Metropolitan Opera Association of New York City), which now has high definition live performances beamed via satellite to movie theaters in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

The Washington Post also notes that the Met is not content to share its performances in movie theaters:
One hundred additional live performances will be broadcast either over the Internet or on digital radio, with another 1,500 broadcasts from the past 75 years -- the Met's entire recorded history -- to be made available soon through an audio-on-demand service.

"It's only possible because the unions have put their faith in our ability to deliver what we promised them -- a means to build the audience and secure the health of the Met -- and, indeed, the health of opera as an art form," Gelb said in an interview. "Our audience is aging fast, and this technology will help us galvanize a new generation."

These transmissions will be possible because of a just-concluded arrangement with the Met's orchestra, chorus, ballet and stagehands, who voted in favor of a new media agreement after extensive negotiations this summer.

In the past, unions have demanded substantial upfront payments to all parties involved in performances -- making recordings, broadcasts and telecasts prohibitively expensive. Gelb calls the new revenue-sharing arrangement a "shift to a more fluid concept of media, in keeping with the infinite possibilities offered by modern technology."

(Tim Page, "Live Opera to Come to Movie Theaters", Washington Post, September 7, 2006)

More recent articles note that the first year was a success, that the Met is tripling the number of screens, and expects to reach one million viewers for the 2007-2008 season. (Ann Midget, "Met Opera to Expand in Theaters Across Globe," New York Times, August 9, 2007)

Can you imagine? An arts institution, 128 years old, confronts the reality of its marginalization by breaking out of its home, and brings what it does best out into the world. This, despite having multiple unions to deal with, and no doubt demanding donors.

This doesn't mean the Met will stop producing live opera. It can't. All the digital delivery systems in the world won't help you if you're not producing quality content.
Now I will grant you that there are no storytelling festivals with the endowment, the donor base, the general manager, or the history of the Metropolitan Opera.

But think of the storytelling festivals you've attended, or heard about.

Is their audience base shrinking or growing?
Is their audience aging?
Is the Festival locked into a specific venue and place, even if access to that venue limits the audience that can attend? (By capacity, or geographic distance, or obscurity, or lack of accomodations for out of town visitors)
Does it get any media attention (tv, radio)? And if it does, how deep is it? Is it a mention on the community calendar, two minutes on the news, or an hour long profile?

I know there are many logistical and economic hurdles keeping storytelling from being beamed live via satellite to movie theaters. I'm not advocating that, although it's a grand vision.

But how about radio?
How about television?

You can't claim that broadcasting a festival (either live, or after the fact) is technologically unfeasible.

And in this day and age, it is no more onerous to record and make available digitally live recordings from festivals than it is to do radio and television, and, I would submit, it's probably less expensive upfront and revenue generating over time. (Okay, I'll grant you, in many regions doing so would be ahead of the curve of what your audiences are looking for)

Sure, there are logistical hurdles. Working with partners new to the Festival environment (broadcast engineers, lighting and sound technicians).
Paperwork, legal releases. Revenue sharing arrangements.

My prediction: a savvy Festival, with a focused plan and diligent execution, could place itself as the premiere "brand" for storytelling in the mind of the public (even eclipsing those Festivals with longer histories or more clout in the storytelling community).

My further prediction: a startup venue will leap frog past all existing Festivals and do this within ten years. (The planning and technical execution you could do in two years, but it would take a few years to build the reputation... (and overcome the backlash from the existing storytelling community (and possible, some National organizations) that decry the "media"-ization of their beloved art form)). That's not to say this will come out of nowhere. Just that too many existing Festivals now are making the same mistake that the railroads did with the advent of the automobile and highway system: they focused on rails and trains, and not on the transportation business. Look around. You can see some new models of producing popping up. Keep an eye on them.

What are your predictions?


About Sean Buvala said...

My prediction:
If you keep breaking the eggs, you’re gonna find Lazy Jack’s wheel of cheese in your bed one of these days. I have already found his wet, angry cat in mine.

Either that, or you will never get invited to be a featured teller.

Professional Storyteller Rachel Hedman said...

I know a storyteller who happens to be a filmmaker.

I was surprised when one of his documentaries about ghosts at a local miltary base made it to the IMAX in Utah around Halloween time. That was the only theatre it showed in, but that is more than most any of us can say as storytellers.

He has actually professionally filmed some of us storytellers in the Salt Lake area. He combined the stories (there was a dog tale theme) as one big piece.

Now, after reading your blog, I think I will approach him and see if he can pull the same trick at the IMAX for his documentary as for the storytellers film. I wouldn't expect the full dog tales to show as an independent film, but perhaps clips could be shown before movies start.

Each teller, while telling a story, has their name underneath them the whole time much like you see when you watch a reporter interview someone on the news. The teller's website could easily be added and-- ta-da--it's an advertisement.

The story would need to connect to the movie about to be shown of course.

This is making my mind go crazy. I'll let you know what I find out.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman

About Sean Buvala said...

All this dreaming, Tim. I can prove to you why storytelling can't work on video by telling you about the failure of cooking shows. Come read my profound thoughts.


Liz Warren said...

Tim - this is so provocative! I want to run that "savvy festival with a focused plan and diligent execution"! And I don't want to be left in the dust by some start-up who understands the future of storytelling better than the storytellers. New technologies are what make a culture/society of our size feasible.

About Sean Buvala said...

Liz, keep talking like that and I will have to come help with Mesa.Ya' think you can make it happen out that way?

Please don't die of shock. LOL.

Liz Warren said...

I'm sure going to try and I think the MAC folks are up for it, too. I forwarded this most to several of them. I'd be most grateful for your assistance and the festival would surely benefit from your involvement.

Anonymous said...

The commonalities of audience qualities listed by The Met should awaken any storytelling festival producer, and so should their solution or some workable fascimile of it. Thanks for the researched facts to my original post, Tim.

And Liz, go for it! For these kids today don't wait around for adults to committee things to death. If The Met can convince the Unions of their plan, certainly people are beginning to recognize we live in a technological world that can compliment an artform, not necessarily destroy it, as some think.

About Sean Buvala said...

Did you see this one? Wow! An inspiring idea: whatever happens gets released as something. Wow.