31 Mar 2021 10:33 AM

A Post-bandwidth Era for Culture

Digital platforms are seen as important instruments of increasing participation and diversity in arts and culture. Several studies long before COVID have examined digital cultural participation and agreed that the emergence of ‘participatory’ digital platforms has caused a major upheaval in the cultural sector in the last decade (G Bellavance, G. Sirois, 2020).  

 

Every cultural expression, from the worst to the best, from the most elitist to the most popular, comes together in this digital universe that links up in a giant, nonhistorical hypertext, past, present, and future manifestations of the communicative mind. By doing so, they construct a new symbolic environment. (Castells, 2000, p. 403)

 

However, a significant number of studies have highlighted the “Digital Divide”; the gap between those able to benefit from the digital age and those who are not. The concern was that people without access to the internet and other information and communication technologies will be disadvantaged, as they are unable or less able to access content.  This concern resulted in a potent global movement, including a series of intergovernmental summit meetings, which were conducted to "close the digital divide" since the 1990s.

 

Since then, this movement formulated solutions in public policy, technology design, finance and management that would allow all connected citizens to benefit equitably as a global digital economy grows. This involved the advancement of bit rate, bandwidth and internet latency, which led to what we call “a post-bandwidth era”. Though the term “Digital Divide” was originally coined to refer merely to the matter of access—who is connected to the Internet and who isn't—the term has evolved to focus on the division between those who benefit from Information and Communication Technology and online content and those who do not. Thus, the aim of “closing the digital divide” now refers to efforts to provide meaningful access to Internet infrastructures, applications and services. The matter of closing the digital divide for Basita.live is how we can utilize those infrastructures and applications to engage the harder-to-reach target groups and citizens who do not normally engage with culture online or offline.

 

Before COVID, the world had already reached a point where video streaming in most countries was feasible. This feasibility depends on the average internet speed and average price per GB. But COVID disrupted the way cities work and conduct their daily activities; communities around the world have moved to remote working and homeschooling, while businesses across all industries have been forced to innovate and digitally transform on an unprecedented basis to ensure continuity. As the cultural sector had to do the same; Basita.live came in as a tool to fill in a gap for the cultural sectors worldwide. Filling in this gap heavily depends on shifting the cultural habits towards paying for online creative and cultural content. Before COVID platforms such as Netflix, watch-it, Shahid, among others, have been already growing their subscribers base in our region and beyond. Hence, the tendency toward paying for online content existed before COVID, however, merely for mainstream content. 

 

During the period from August 2020 till March 2021, Basita.live has hosted 23 virtual events ranging from Theatre performances in different languages, dance, short and documentary films, children’s performances, puppet theatre, and music. Our observations during the past eight months are summarized as follows:

 

1-    People Pay for Convenience 

People are much more willing to pay for something if it is more convenient for them. We have identified the following aspects that represent virtual convenience:

  •    UX design and User Journey: the user experience is intuitive and straightforward, which accommodates all ages and skill levels. 
  •    Smartphones’ App: our statistics show that 83% of our users login from their phones, therefore having an app enhances the user experience.
  •   Payment Methods: Penetration rate for visa and Mastercard in some developing countries is between 2% and 5% only, hence alternative local payment methods such as Fawry and e-wallets were necessary to be integrated to the platform.
  •    Languages: Once Arabic was introduced, more audiences from our region were engaged. 
  •    Stability: strengths and locations of the servers. 
  •    Support: answering technical questions and audience inquiries on a timely basis. 

 

2-    The Experience

The virtual experience doesn’t replace the physical experience; both experiences should complement each other and coexist. Therefore, emulating the physical experience is highly not recommended, however, using innovation to create a unique new experience for the audience is a recommended solution. We also observed that the average acceptable length for online performances is between 45 and 60 minutes.  

 

3-    New Market Segments:

  • There are target groups that tend to engage more with culture online than offline.

                 o.  These target groups are on both ends of the age spectrum (young tech generation and senior citizens).

                 o.   Audiences who face cultural restriction (especially young women).

  • Audiences who are not in the same geographical location.
  • Hybrid events that sellout don't really sell out anymore, because the virtual capacity is unlimited.

 

4-    Loyalty (Your Family)

Audiences are less likely to pay for online events for someone they don't know. Our statistics revealed that 87% of ticket buyers already know the artist and have an idea of what to expect. That has ramification in the marketing strategy to where artists reaching out directly to their audiences (their family) becomes much more effective, while casting a wider targeting net becomes less effective.  

*The Family is the third step in Brett E. Egan, Michael M. Kaiser’s Cycle – A Practical Approach of Managing Arts Organizations. 

 

5-    Alternatives

All types of theatre performances, dance and film sell more than music. We came to this conclusion due the fact that there are several online music platforms such as Spotify, Anghami, Apple Music, among others, which gives our audiences several alternatives to choose from. The situation is very different for Theatre and the Indie Film industries, where access to such content was merely during physical events. 

 

*It is also worth mentioning that the number of music events we hosted so far was not high, hence our observations may change when hosting different genres and new productions.