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Sunday, 26 June 2011

Google Trends

A bit of a sad post I admit, but I love graphs, data and maps.

At the ECHO digital conference recently I included a screen grab as an example of the kind of information you can easily get from the web. It was done using Google Trends  a site you may or may not have used but one that is easy and quite fun.
Searches for Dance Classes

This was what I used as an example. Searches for Dance Classes, which showed that, like going to the gym, people make a resolution at the beginning of every year to learn to dance. Anyway, huge data sources are truly fascinating and I tried a few other things.

Aftershave and perfume are seasonal searches too. Though the market for perfume is definitely on the rise, I presume as it becomes part of every celebrity brand offering. Some more traditional seasonal trends are rather more predictable.

Searches for Aftershave

Searches for Perfume

Searches for Turkey Recipes

Naomi Campbell vs. Kate Moss goes to prove one major indiscretion can't compete with being a badass on a regular basis.

Searches for Naomi Campbell

Searches for Kate Moss

One of the interesting things is noticing the major trends up or down and then figuring out the reason why. Though Google sometimes helpfully reminds you.

Searches for Glastonbury

Searches for MDMA
Searches for Stingray

Tracey Emin vs. Damien Hirst makes an interesting comparison.

Searches for Tracey Emin

Searches for Damien Hurst

The rapid growth and decline of a global phenomenon...

Searches for Guitar Hero

...and everyone's gift for Christmas 2010

Searches for Kindle

And finally in case you were planning on getting one hot tubs are sooo over...
Searches for Hot Tubs

Ok, I need to stop now.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Guardian goes "Digital First"

I have not had time to post about this until now but it promises to mark a huge change in the way that the Guardian and Observer deal with content. Whether it has wider implications for the future of the UK newspaper industry, or is just a drop on the blood trail that leads to corpse of the Guardian remains to be seen. For those who missed it the Guardian have announced that from now on they will have  a policy of digital first. This is a dramatic change, and one prompted one suspects, less by a conviction that the future for newspapers is purely digital but instead by the huge losses the Guardian and Observer make (£33 million in the last financial year). After all GMN spent £80 million on brand new Berliner presses just 6 years ago and it wasn't as if anyone thought the web was just a fad back in 2005.

As part of this shift it has been announced that the GNM group will make £25 million worth of cuts over the next five years, so there will be a reduction in staff. Shifting direction like this is always difficult for any company that has an existing and long established business model. If you were to start an online publication from scratch you would, I am sure, begin with a very different management and staff structure. Unfortunately GNM have to adapt their existing print led structure to this new direction; shedding staff, retraining others and taking on new ones with brand new technical skills.*

There has been a lot said about the financial difficulties that GNM face but not much about what a digital first Guardian will be like. I wonder how this move will change how they deal with content. If they are not introducing a paywall what other measure of success will they use? Ad revenue of course, but page views and comments? We are endlessly told that only "real journalism" offers the expert analysis needed to make sense of the world, and that amateur bloggers don't have the experience and skills a "proper" news source can offer. Possibly true if you still have a full staff of credible journalists left and are not chasing web traffic by any means necessary. The Guardian has a passion for blogs but predictably those posts that get the most comments are either the most general or those that provoke most outrage. I can imagine a future where generating comments is seen as a measure of success, which inevitably will change the type of stories they pursue and the nature of the coverage. Certainly where commenting becomes a significant part of the plan it naturally has an impact on the tone of the site (as all you secret readers of the Daily Mail website will know).

What else will a digital first Guardian be like? Well there will be more video for sure. In fact, for the arts not having video, or at least enough images to create a gallery will put you at a distinct disadvantage I'd have thought. As to the impact this shift has on the amount and nature of reviews on both website and newspaper, we will have to wait and see.

*This change process to adapt to new technology and falling revenue is very interesting and theatre in many ways faces some similar (though less threatening) situations. After all if you built a theatre today what size phone room would you have bearing in mind over 80% of sales might be online anyway? Would you even have one at all? If you started a theatre company today where would digital fit in the business plan? As an old timer I find it funny that knowledge that was once essential for all staff (about print production for example) is needed far less now across the communications team. But, we have a foot firmly in the past even as we embrace the future. As digital grows steadily in significance we still produce thousands of leaflets, and to be fair a large section of the audience continue to want their information in this format. 

As I often say when asked about the application of modern non-arts marketing  to theatre, we should not forget we work within a great tradition that goes back over 2000 years, long pre-dating any 20th century ideas of brand based marketing. The issues we face today when selling shows have always been around and theatre marketing is probably the world's oldest form of mass marketing. There was probably a poster outside the Coliseum that said "Lion vs. Christians. Wednesday Matinee. Kids go Free!" and I bet Ancient Roman theatre owners worried how they could get a younger more diverse audience in to see those dull Greek Classics. Interestingly as more and more diverse channels of communication open up, and brands try and turn customers into audiences mainstream marketing comes to resemble theatre marketing more and more. But more on that another time.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Google adwords - competitor bidding and related ads

Following up on my post about the Royal Opera House bidding on Sadler's Wells as keywords for its current Adwords campaign I thought I would follow up with some more observations.  Again, I am using the ROH as an example, not because I have a particular problem with what they are doing, but because they are running an extensive campaign that is not show related and so highlights very well how Google Adwords work.

The first covers competition for page placement on Google and what this means when adverts are added to the equation. As you can see in this screen grab a search for English National Ballet gives you an ad for the Royal Opera House that sits at the top of the main column rather than in the familiar position to the right. Ad positions like these set you up in competition for your own name in search and force you (assuming it matters to you of course) to take your own ads to outbid your rival and regain top position. Great for Google's income line, but it would be a shame to see arts organisations waste money in a bidding war.

The second screenshot features something called Related Ads. These are Google ads that appear on keywords you may not necessarily have bid on. As far as I know their appearance is related to previous searches done, what Google considers is relevant to the user, and the broad match terms the advertiser may has used in their campaign; but I'll leave the definitive answer to any adwords experts (assuming they even know). It is a feature that has been around a while and is so often the case with Google appeared without much explanation or warning. A few people have gone as far as call these Evil Ads though of course Google say they are just offering customers better service.

There is more on this subject here and here for Google Adword junkies.

ECHO digital conference - Gateshead 20/21 June

The ECHO (European Concert Hall Organisation) Digital event was a big success and it was great to be asked to join the panel on Digital Media as a Communications Tool. There were some excellent speakers and case studies all in the lovely setting of the Sage, Gateshead. A stunning building with wonderful, welcoming staff.

Particularly interesting to hear from were some of the overseas speakers. Marie-Helene Serra, the Head of Education and Library of Cite de la Music, Paris showed us some of the extensive resources they offer online (check out the Media Library and Education sections on the website). Christoph Franke and Robert Zimmerman who look after the live broadcasts of the Berlin Philharmoniker via their Digital Concert Hall gave a fascinating insight into the seriously heavyweight set-up that they have in place to film and stream all their concerts. Benton Dellinger spoke about the New World Symphony in Miami and their incredibly versatile concert hall. There was also a great case study from the Manhattan School of Music and its distance learning programme. There was a scale to these overseas projects that was incredibly impressive. Tony Hall from the Royal Opera House did his bit for the UK however, talking about how much they have achieved globally through their cinema broadcasts, and it was great to see an impressive local  initiative, Live Theatre's Be A Playwright interactive course.

A big well done to Anthony Sargent for pulling together a truly international line-up and also for creating an event that was so wide ranging in its scope.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Personalised search in Google - the Filter Bubble

When I was a very young I remember talking about a TV programme on that night (it was probably Doctor Who) and a friend said "Will that be on my TV as well?" I had to explain that what was on my TVs was on all TVs and we would be watching the same thing at the same time. Of course things are very different now, but even today we still have our shared must see moments like the Apprentice (if I don't watch it when broadcast I have to hide from the metro, facebook and all work chit-chat till I see it).

The reason I thought of this is that you might imagine things were the same if you and a friend searched for exactly the same thing on Google. But I recently did a search on the term "dance" and found my results very different to the ones our web manager Mark got. Of course search results we assume will vary by country, or even by region but it really does seem that personalised search for all of us is now here. Last weekend there was a large piece in the Observer on this very topic which makes interesting reading. It certainly messes with your SEO strategy if searches are primarily based on an individuals previous activity. What does this mean? Well I suppose Google would say it makes your search more targeted so you get what you want but is that always a good thing? Or does it just reinforce your positive or negative opinions by never exposing you to anything new or challenging? Cynics would say it encourages businesses to spend money on Adwords to ensure your message gets across. Some people would say it just balances out the work done by companies trying to force their own messages on us. I mention all this because in the arts our aim (I hope) is always to reach new people and widen our audience. This was something the web offered that was very exciting. By narrowing down what we see to what we already think and like, Google is perhaps only giving us the illusion of access to information.

Eli Pariser has written a book on this very subject that comes out on 23 June and follows on from a powerful TED lecture he gave. His term for it is a Filter Bubble and it is an interesting concept with big implications for how we use the web to find information. The impact it has on how we will access news in the future is immense. Interestingly, Google may say this all makes their search engine more efficient and faster but at best it may make it a duller place to spend time, offering you more and more of the same. At worst it may limit how you think about the world.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Building Digital Capacity for the Arts - Arts Council and BBC partnership

On 10 March I was one of the speakers at the launch of the new BBC/Arts Council initiative Building Digital Capacity for the Arts. The event marked the beginning of an exciting series of seminars on a wide range of issues around digital and its impact on the arts.

The first seminar took place on 23rd March and covered Internet TV and Apps while the second will take place on 5th July and cover Audio and Audio Visual content. All the seminars will be available to watch online if you cannot attend adding up to a invaluable resource.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Royal Opera House bid on Sadler's Wells name in Google adwords

An interesting thing happened when we Googled ourselves recently. The Royal Opera House had bought Sadlers Wells (sic) as keywords in an Adword campaign. Just to be clear, there is nothing legally wrong with this, nor is it against Google's terms and conditions but it is a subject that has caused much debate since Adwords began. Google allows you to bid on competitor* names (even those that are trademarked) if they do not appear in the text of the advert (and in some cases even if they do). This was a big shock for a lot of companies that were not wise to the ways of the web and many people still regard it is as a dubious practice. It has certainly been challenged in a number of territories and Louis Vuitton lost a five year legal battle with Google over this issue. Over the years Google's own position has changed a number of times and has varied from country to country, so the position has hardly been clear. It is a fascinating topic (well to me anyway) so I have added some more links below.

As far as I could tell the ROH had not bought the word Sadler's (just Sadlers) and I could speculate this was a deliberate decision.  I also assume they aim to pick up customers that are new to dance since the ad copy is so general. Personally I'm not sure pushing the fact they have seats from £4 is the best idea. Even if is the best ballet in London in a £4 seat you would not see much of it. I sat in one of those seats once and only saw about 30% of the performance. For a first timer it would be a wretched experience and if you tried to upsell them to a decent seat the price might come as a shock.

Interestingly the advert itself points to the What's on page. I would have thought it made sense to link to a page aimed specifically at new visitors. If you are serious about encouraging new attenders to book tickets a dedicated landing page would ensure potential customers were not abandoned at the front door without guidance. Online ad campaigns do not end with the click through, they need to follow through and take you on an appropriate journey once you are in the site. Unfortunately when I looked there were seven ballets on sale that were currently only available for Friends booking (which costs an extra £79) and just one single 12pm performance that was available for public booking so the timing does not seem ideal for a value based message. 

*Personally I do not believe too much in the idea of competition within the arts. I think arts attendance of any kind is a good thing whatever venue people go to, and energy has been wasted in the past applying traditional marketing theory on competition to arts and culture. Competition within our sector is a wasteful use of precious resources and for me the biggest competition has always been staying in (or the pub and a bite to eat). That said, I do feel this ad is slightly different due to its generic aim and the tone of the copy. 

There is a good tradition of co-operation within the sector and I see that increasing. But in some cases (mailing lists, e-lists) organisations that have achieved success through a lot of hard work should have the right to protect that data from its misuse in supporting short term goals (Artistic Director A says to Artistic Director B "Can you just get your Marketing team to send a solus email to your entire list to promote my show that is on this week? For some reason it is just not selling. It must be the marketing..."). But that is a whole different post.

Monday, 6 June 2011

QR codes - theatre video on the go

I first came across QR (Quick Response) codes in June of 2010 when City Center in New York added one to the poster for Swan Lake. Since then we have experimented with them at Sadler's Wells adding them to posters for shows at the Peacock Theatre like Shoes and Merchants of Bollywood, and increasingly on adverts. The technology is easy to use and well worth experimenting with for theatres that have video.

If you have not come across them yet keep your eyes open. You may notice small white boxes on adverts filled with patterns of black and white squares like the one below. When the image is scanned by a tag reader on your phone it can be used to link to  a video clip or other content.

So far views have been relatively low (129 for the Metro ad below) but I think they will increase as more and more people become aware of what these codes are and also as they are used more on adverts, leaflets and in season brochures. In London adding codes to ads in papers like the Metro and Standard will probably become the norm. Certainly every morning on the way to work everybody around me seems to have the Metro in one hand and a phone in the other.

The great thing about this technology is the fact you can access all the stats so you know if they work. You can look at video views by the day of the week, time of day and at the users location at street level (including two from Wembley for Merchants which was reassuring!). You can also see whether the viewer is accessing via a mobile (iphone, android, blackberry) or from a desktop. Exciting stuff and above all an easy way to get more use out of the video you already have.

Swan Lake Window Card

Metro 15x2

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Power of online video seminar - example video

1) Flipcam video - Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

This video was made in Times Square when Sadler's Wells co-presented Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake  at New York City Center. The event itself was a PR stunt where the Swans were taken down to Times Square one morning to recreate the classic Swan pose for photographers. There was no permission sought to do the photoshoot so we had to get in and out fast. I was one of three people recording the event for City Center with flipcams. That gave us a lot of video to work with for the edit and most importantly lots of angles to cut between. For example while the event was recorded from the front I was able to go to the rear and shoot the photographers. Additional content from before and after was added to give extra character to the film.

The whole thing was edited together in a couple of hours by someone at City Center and put online. It was cut to some music not connected with the show which was easy to edit to. The key thing was it went online within hours. I think perhaps more could have been done to make it visible within YouTube. The lesson here is that if you use YouTube as a way of putting video up on your own site don't forget the views you could be getting through YouTube; it could be thousands.

2) Bounce Michael Jackson tribute

The streetdance company Bounce created this event as a tribute to Michael Jackson after his death. In the end two clips were put up on YouTube and in total they received around 15 million views. Other people then went on and created their own versions inspired by Bounce. The video came out just before they performed with us and by the time we did the campaign for the show it had over 3 million views giving us something new to say about a show that was returning for a second time.

3) Rosas - Early Works

This video made by Lyndsey Winship and David Kaplowitz and uses existing clips from shows that had previously been filmed for broadcast. To promote a retrospective season at Sadler's Well they were cut together with an interview with choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. De Keersmaeker does not agree to many interviews with the press so there are not many opportunities to hear her discussing her own work. This approach allowed the public to hear about these important works in her own words.

4) Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

This video uses interviews and rehearsal footage cut with clips of the performance.  The interviews and rehearsals were filmed on the same day. I did the interviews accompanied by just one person (Michael from Flutterby) for camera and sound. Note the board in the background as a reminder of the show and a way of dealing with a dull room. This was the poster artwork blown up and mounted on polyboard. I actually did two different sizes as the filming was done off site and I had no idea where we would be for the interviews. We switched the set-up for the interviews by moving the camera and the board to stop it looking the same each time. In the end we had to use a room with a skylight and did the interviews through the course of the day so lighting was a bit of a problem! Matthew was excellent at providing introductions for the different characters so we could easily edit in the other interviewees. The editor, Chris Clark, at Evolutions did a wonderful job of integrating the rehearsal shots with the performance footage which I think really adds something.

This clip was created to promote the New York shows but a version was also done to promote the shows across the rest of the tour so I ensured the backing board was deliberately generic. This is a long clip I know, but I think it is very watchable. We also divided it up for some websites so they could release it week by week in the build up to the show.

5) The Most Incredible Thing

A video by Lyndsey and David that combines rehearsal footage with interviews. Filming in the auditorium is always a good easy option as it provides a clean controllable environment. If you have to interview two people filming them in the theatre seats also works as they can sit next to each other and still look natural. There were two versions of the film done. One, a shorter promo clip to drive sales and second, a longer clip that formed the first stage of documenting on video the process of creating the show. See the shorter version here. By the end of the run of The Most Incredible Thing this short version had 36,500 views, either directly from our site or through being embedded on other sites. It was actually embedded on 58 other websites. These figures do not include YouTube views. For marketing purposes short clips are definitely best and most of the show excerpts we use on the site are only 1-1.30 minutes in length. In the long term however, I feel there is value in creating more detailed content for archival purposes. Plus in this case the huge popularity of the Pet Shop Boys and the fact that there was also an accompanying album being released ensured there was a strong interest in watching a longer film.


Read the seminar introduction here.

ECHO digital conference - Gateshead 20/21 June

On 20/21 June the Sage Gateshead is holding an international conference on digital technology and the performing arts. The sessions cover all aspects of digital and its application to the performing arts including marketing, audience development, publishing, distance learning and creativity.

Speakers include:

Hannah Rudman, Director, Rudman Consulting & Envirodigital 
Christian Payne Documentalist at OurManInside
Millicent Jones, Executive Director, Marketing, Communications and Fundraising, Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Liverpool 
Marie-Hélène Serra, Head of Education and Library, Cité de la Musique, PariChristoph Franke, Creative Producer and Robert Zimmermann, Managing Director, Berlin Phil Media GmbH, Digital Concert Hall (Berliner Philharmoniker)
Steve Jelley, 
Charlotte Spencer, Head of Development, and Manus Carey, Head of Artistic Planning, Manchester Camerata Streaming
Christianne Orto, Assistant Dean of Distance Learning & Director of Recording, Manhattan School of Music, USA
Jim Beirne, Chief Executive, Live Theatre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 
Benton Delinger, Project Director for New World Symphony (Miami Beach, Florida) for Theatre Projects Consultants 
Tony Hall, Lord Hall of Birkenhead, CBE, Chief Executive, Royal Opera House, London and Chair of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Board
Richard Slaney, Head of Digital, Philharmonia Orchestra 
Dan Efergan, Creative Director of Aardman Digital, Bristol 
Maximilian Madile, Product Marketing Manager, Google, and Core Team YouTube Symphony Orchestra
Tod Machover, Composer and Professor of Music and Media, MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts, USA
Klaus Obermaier, Digital Video Artist, Interactive 3D Rite of Spring
and yours truly.

More details here. 

Flick Colby - RIP

Flick Colby the choreographer for Pan's People, Ruby Flipper and Legs and Co. sadly died on 26 May. Anyone of a certain age will remember those classic dance routines on Top of the Pops. I pity poor Flick trying to create routines for some of the songs. Some of my favourites as inappropriate dance material? Tusk by Fleetwood Mac! Spirit of Radio by Rush? Something Else by the Sex Pistols!? The theme from Jaws?!?

Of course the mid 70s were the classic years as Pan's People danced to soul and disco by US based artists in the era before the music video.

But if I am going to choose one clip to show it has to be Linus's favourite, the classic never to be forgotten Gilbert O'Sullivan - Get Down. A huge influence in its use of dogs on stage on Pina Bausch and Alain Platel's Ballet C de la B apparently.