Branding the arts on a digital stage for a post-pandemic future

NCPA@Home has made available its musical and other performance archives for free
How does one recreate the experience of a live concert, a museum walk-through or, an evening soaked in laughter, when the venues are locked out and audiences are all locked up at home? For the past few months, this is a question that has riddled artists, theatre and auditoria owners and ticketing firms, as much as it has challenged brands that found themselves out in the cold, looking for ways to engage with consumers.

Be it hoary performance venues such as the NCPA (National Centre for Performing Arts) in Mumbai, or BookMyShow or the city’s museums and artists across disciplines, the lockdown has thrown a huge spanner in the works. It has pushed them to explore new and hitherto untapped business opportunities of course. But more importantly, it has driven home the need to create a distinct identity for their brand of art. Hence NCPA has a special initiative called NCPA@Home, the museums across the country have a special logo for their digital identities and an aggressive social media team promoting the online calendar of events and companies have a special activations team that is working with artists and art institutions to craft unique, branded experiences.

Tasneem Mehta, managing trustee and director for the Bhau Daji Lad (BDL) museum in Mumbai that has a packed calendar of events said that people may or may not choose to spend money on a digital experience. “But we (the arts community) are looking at a future where this will have to be factored in, as travelling to visit museums or attend concerts may not be physically possible for a long while,” she explained and was quick to clarify that the museum is a not-for-profit entity and will focus on making art available to all. 

Bhau Daji Lad has created a virtual walk-through for some of its art collections

Not all art institutions or artists can plot a similar path. Hence the need to create a sustainable future without live audiences is driving many into new relationships. For instance, HSBC has a platform that supports stand-up comedy sketches, poetry readings and such other experiences. Several alcohol brands are promoting singers, musical acts and so on and the online ticketing platform, BookMyShow, has just launched a virtual music festival.

The pandemic has levelled the playing field in the world of Art; the virtual world plays by a common set of rules and brands are democratic in their hunt for the best fit for their consumer groups. This has thrown up several challenges; one being the need to define one’s institution or performing discipline sharply, so as to stand out in the crowd and second, a new toolkit for copyrights and monetisation.  

The arts at home

Within weeks of the lockdown, NCPA@home opened up it archives free of cost. “Covid-19 has put a big dampener by not allowing audiences, so we are forced to go online. With the gramophone in 1901, offline consumption of performances is not a new thing, this time there is visual available too,” said Dr Suvarnalata Rao, Indian music head for NCPA.

BookMyShow is hosting live performances on its platform

The BDL museum developed a range of digital programmes for different constituencies. Its digital calendar is full with lectures on Indian art and history and workshops for people across age groups, its social media team has been aggressive in keeping the recall high and the museum visible in the mass of activations in the world of art.

Without a vast documented library of content, emerging artists and individual purveyors of the arts have had to plot a different path to their audiences. For them, brands such as Decathlon, MakeMyTrip, HSBC and Asian Paints among many others have helped engage with audiences/consumers holed up at home. 

Protecting the brand

NCPA has been very careful in its rights and permissions so far, ensuring that they have all artists in agreement before they broadcast a performance. However this limits the number of such performances and the institutions ability to sustain itself in the future, and NCPA@Home said it will soon put an end to the free content.

While monetisation is one challenge, guarding copyrights is another, and a tougher one. Rakesh Nigam, chief executive officer (CEO) of The Indian Performing Right Society says IPRS is working on a new tariff model to meet the new requirement. “We have kept two things in mind – how to make it affordable for all users and also ensure that the authors and composers of music can successfully thrive.” 

As the pandemic rages unabated, it is likely that copyright, monetisation and branding sit at the same table as the artists and their talent teams. Are the audiences ready for the brand makeover?

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