Has The Time Come For Digital Program Delivery?

When I saw a story on CityLab about restaurants replacing their printed menus with digital ones, I began to read it eagerly. Staff at a couple of venues at which I have worked have long had conversations about the paper waste generated by discard or unused programs. (Even if I printed 200 fewer programs than we had people in attendance, I would inexplicably still have multiple boxes of unused programs left over.)

The trend away from program distribution due to Covid has seemed like a good opportunity to eliminate printed programs in favor of digital delivery by QR code or large lobby screens and by emailing copies to ticket purchasers in advance of a performance.

There is some great opportunity to be proactive with advance distribution of program content to provide additional materials to help people prepare for their experience. If people are inclined to peruse the program book file prior to attendance, they would probably welcome a short, clever explainer video the venue creates to enhance the upcoming experience.

As I read the CityLab piece, it became clearer that digital delivery, like all technology has the potential to be a double-edged sword. I was already aware that there was some psychology involved with pricing and placement on printed menus to direct people to certain dishes. I wasn’t as aware that alcohol distributors had been printing the beer/wine/spirits menus for bars and restaurants and using design tricks to steer people toward their own products. Though obviously that makes sense.

Likewise, digital menus format can be beneficial because you can swap between breakfast/lunch/dinner/brunch menus at the appropriate times while using the same QR code or screens. When you run out of an ingredient or product, it can be removed from the menu so people don’t try to order it only to be told you are out of that food.

On the negative side, digital menus can be adjusted so that people at one table are being charged more than people at the next table based on data compiled about their spending habits and interests. The article also points out that cameras on phones are built in eye tracking sensors which can help the restaurant learn a lot about its customers and what is getting noticed on the menu vs. what is being ordered.

In terms of arts venues, there is already capacity to use the data tracking integrated into ticketing and email software and Google Analytics to discover when people are viewing digital program book content on websites and what devices they are using. With just a little more sophistication in software tools added in, it is entirely possible to gain additional insight into audience interests and habits to assist with decision making. Really well developed tools can reveal a great deal more.

I feel like I am just scraping the surface of what is possible. Anyone see other possibilities?

Actually, it would be interesting to know who many people out there are considering shifting primarily to digital programs, outside of any content you have available for persons with disabilities.

What Can Cotton Candy Teach Us About Sculpture?

Among the biggest questions I have when it comes to creating a presence for my organization on a social media platform are: 1- Is it worth/appropriate for our organization to present in this space and 2 – How do we participate without appearing to be a clueless, self-promoting business trying to sell something.

Seema Rao over at Museum 2.0 addresses these questions in a post she made last week about lessons learned during Akron Art Museum’s three month foray on to Tiktok.  Rao is the Deputy Director and Chief Experience Officer at Akron Art Museum.

Her advice basically not to approach TikTok with the intent of disseminating a planned calendar of information about your brand, goods and services.  Instead go in planning to have fun and follow cues about what other users are interested in.

As soon as I saw what she and her team had been doing on their TikTok account it was so obviously the way museums could talk about art while not talking about themselves I kicked myself for not thinking of it before. Many of their posts amplify the work of other content creators while pointing out the technique being employed.

Additive sculpture with cotton candy, for instance:


#duet with @feast24seven additive sculpture #arttiktok#arttok#museumtok#museumtiktok#edutok#learnontiktok

♬ The Simpsons – TV Hits

or use of lines:


#duet with @fridacashflow line #arttiktok#edutok#learnontiktok#museumtok#museumtiktok

♬ original sound – ourfriendsonfacebook

There is also a really relatable Art Appreciation for the Average Person series of posts:


#greenscreen #arthistory #artappreciation #eternals #contemporaryart #art #hats

♬ original sound – Akron Art Museum

Rao says their account is small in the context of all museum TikTok accounts, though two of their posts have been in the top 10 in terms of number of views of #museumtok posts. If you are considering starting an organizational account TikTok, read her post and watch some of their posts to get a sense of how to think about using the space.

Is E-sports The Next Big College Degree?

So here is something to keep on your radar and  consider the long term implications – Activision Blizzard, one of the biggest names in video gaming, donated $25 million to the University of Michigan to help them launch an esports team.  If you are not familiar with esports it is basically teams of people competing against each other on some of the marquee video game titles.   The competitors may be sitting down, but reflexes, timing, strategy, leadership and teamwork are significant determinants in success.

It is already fairly widespread and lucrative as hell which means it will inevitably continue to expand. Especially if Covid or other pandemics continues to be prevalent because the teams communicate over headsets and can therefore be easily isolated from each other.

So it is no surprise that universities are beginning to get on board. Not only is it an area of interest for students, some of them are already competing professionally.

Kotick’s enthusiasm to establish esports at Michigan is part of a bigger movement that has legitimized gaming as a path to a college degree and career.

There are nearly 200 colleges and universities nationwide with varsity esports programs and more than $16 million in scholarships is awarded to esports athletes each year.

The growth of collegiate esports allows institutions and their students to tap into a market that is expected to surpass $1.5 billion by 2023, per Esports Ecosystem Report.

Not only do video games present competition for live performance, (Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said video gaming was a bigger source of worry for them than Disney & HBO streaming services), but also a potentially expanding source of employment for creatives.

The small university in southern Ohio at which I worked three years ago had long been recognized as a top 10 video game design program. It taught both programmers and artists and included classes in composing and designing sound/music for video games. There wasn’t an acting for video games class, but it did have a motion capture studio and independent companies in town were working on related technologies.

It is a lot more difficult to design and program for video games than most people imagine. Increasing demands for realism mean serious calculus for the physics and intense execution of detail in the art. As computing capacity and processing improves, it is only going to get worse–or better if you are a highly skilled creative being sought after by gaming companies.

After realizing their professors were right and enjoying playing video games does not translate into being able to create them, many students would change the focus of their majors. But they were still pretty adept and enthusiastic video gamers. And so 3-4 years ago, that small university in rural Ohio started an esports roster alongside their athletics teams.

Now there were other universities that started esports teams a few years ago as well, but the fact that a small university could have an organized a roster of ~50 competing on 6-7 game titles for years while the University of Michigan was operating at a recreational level provides some indication about the shifting dynamics of who is and can participate in esports.

Things Getting Better For Virtually Singing Together

An article on FastCompany recently caught my eye that suggests a company in Sweden is helping to solve a big problem in collaborative virtual concerts. One of the big impediments has been getting music and vocals coming in from different video/audio streams synchronized.

The article quotes San Francisco Opera general manager, Matthew Shilvock, who says his organization has been using the tool called Aloha, which marries low latency technology with now very familiar video chat interfaces:

It allows a singer and a pianist to essentially be in the digital space together making real-time music—which is just transformational for us,” Shilvock tells Fast Company. “A pianist can now hear a singer breathe, and that may sound very basic, but those breath cues are the things that allow the pianist to really mold their sounds to what the singer is doing.”

“To see the emotional reaction of a pianist [who is] now finally able to hear those cues is just amazing,” he adds.

While the software is still in beta, some music schools in Sweden have been using the technology for classes since last Fall. Even if everything goes back to full in person performances that existed before, tools like this might expand the window of rehearsal periods and cut down on the travel and housing expenses previously associated with live productions.

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