Like many performing arts organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst for a drastic shift in strategy and a complete digital transformation for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
In the spring of 2020 the pandemic forced the ASO to cancel their Q2 concerts, which had an immediate and significant financial impact, with roughly $3 million lost in anticipated revenue for the organization.
These cancellations also had a ripple effect on the broader ASO community. “We heard a lot of feedback directly from our patrons, our donors, and our subscribers about how much joy music brings, and especially in a time where people feel really isolated and disconnected,” says Natacha McLeod, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. “They really needed us to show up for them.”
As the organization looked at the road ahead, the team knew they had to get creative, and quickly. “Many of our peer organizations around the country were forced to cancel their entire 2020 seasons, but for us, that was not an option,” says McLeod. “We were challenged by our senior leadership and our board to get really creative about how the musicians could perform safely, first and foremost. And then determine how our music could be delivered to our most loyal patrons.”
McLeod and her team quickly adapted and experimented with some pre-recorded videos and even a few drive-in, and socially distanced outdoor concerts. But it wasn’t enough. They also needed to strike the right balance of providing greater access to their music without devaluing their product by offering all of their concerts for free. “So that's when our relationship with Brightcove started.”
RETAINING SUBSCRIBERS AND GROWING REACH, IN PERFECT HARMONY
Before 2020, the marketing team at the ASO used video sparingly, maybe a few times a year. “It was a minor part of our strategy,” says McLeod. So in the beginning, the ASO started small and remained laser-focused on just retaining their loyal subscriber base by pre-recording their Delta Classical Concert Series and offering that video-on-demand for fans to watch at home. Then came a musician spotlight series and special behind the scenes footage. “For us, video quickly became an opportunity to give our patrons an up-close and personal view so they could feel more connected to our musicians and the ASO.”
To broaden appeal and access, the ASO also decided to offer some flexibility with their virtual subscription model, where music fans could customize their own concert package. The ASO also wanted to surprise the people who were helping to keep the music alive with an unexpected perk. “For all of our subscribers, we gave them access to all of the concerts we streamed, regardless of the number of concerts they purchased,” says McLeod. “We just wanted to make sure they felt loved and special. Our patrons are part of our family.”
Interactivity and subscriber engagement is also something the marketing team has been experimenting with – everything from hosting pre-concert VIP virtual Q&As with musicians, to live chats during the show, giving patrons the opportunity to virtually “applaud” and “Bravo!” after a performance they particularly enjoyed. The ASO “tech squad” also takes questions and works through any challenges patrons may have up to two hours before the start of every virtual concert. “A lot of times, we find people just want to connect with someone else and have a conversation,” says McLeod. “We have made ourselves available to be there for them and really just make the experience a little bit better.”
Video has also helped the organization broaden its ambitions and look beyond just reaching audiences in Metro Atlanta and Georgia. “We have had views from 21 countries and 43 states. So we're definitely growing and expanding our reach through this model.” In fact, the ASO earned more than 1,000 new virtual subscriber households within weeks of launching their new video strategy. “We continue to see the numbers grow, and we're really proud of what we've done so far.”
VIDEO IS THE FUTURE OF PERFORMANCES
One question McLeod and her team have been thinking about: what happens when the world does eventually return to live, in-person performances? “Live performance is definitely our bread and butter. There's no substitute for the live concert experience,” says McLeod. “We're trying to figure out how video can complement and enhance that experience.”
While Atlanta, Georgia is known for being the home of many music genres, it’s also notorious for its traffic. “So imagine you've worked this really long day, you need to go home, eat dinner, get dressed, and go back into the city for a concert. Sometimes, some days, that's just not what people are going to want to do,” says McLeod. So the ASO is turning this patron pain point into an opportunity when in-person performances resume, with plans to allow their subscribers the option to trade their ticket for the virtual show instead.
For McLeod, video is not just a nice-to-have, but something that will continue to be an essential part of the ASO’s audience engagement strategy. In fact, the ASO recently invested in robotic cameras thanks to a very generous donation. “So we have committed to video being a part of our strategy going forward, for sure,” says McLeod. “Video is a real area of opportunity as we continue to think about how we can make people feel like they're deeply connected and involved in the full performance experience. Thanks to Brightcove, we can finally invite people, from all walks of life and every corner of the globe, to hear and experience our world-class orchestra. Brightcove is an essential partner as we continue on this journey."
Nick Iuliano is Brightcove's Senior Director of Content, helping to tell our best brand, product, customer, and partner stories across global marketing channels.