The Digital Season: Scottish Ballet (Achievement in Marketing/Audience Development, UK Theatre Award Winners 2017)

The Digital Season: Scottish Ballet (winner of 2017's UK Theatre Award for Achievement in Marketing/Audience Development)

Filming The Perfect Place, Scottish Ballet. Photo by Christina Riley
Filming The Perfect Place. Scottish Ballet, Digital Season. Photo by Christina Riley
Date Published: 01 August 2018
Tony Currie Scottish Ballet

by Tony Currie, Content & Digital Executive, Scottish Ballet.

When people speak of digital in the performing arts, they are often simply referring to websites and digital marketing, or perhaps to live cinema screenings of dance, opera or theatre events. Look beyond this and many organisations feel the prospect of digital innovation is just out of reach, that it's not part of their core business, nor something that they can justifiably explore.

At Scottish Ballet, we wanted to push the boundaries and try something different, to open the entire organisation – dancers, choreographers, technical, administration and support staff – to new ways of creating work, new technologies and new collaborations. In April 2017, with our inaugural Digital Season, that is exactly what we did.  

The Digital Season was a month-long programme of dance, created exclusively for a digital format and was, as far as we know, a first worldwide.

Run as a close collaboration between the artistic and the marketing departments, led by CEO / Artistic Director Christopher Hampson and former Head of Sales & Marketing Charlotte Gross, the Digital Season included the premiere of four new dance films, including a 360-degree film and a work created ‘live’ in 5 days (daily Facebook Live streams showed the choreographic process), plus the stream of a full company class and a digital art installation.

The Digtial Season was housed primarily on social media, with content distributed through Scottish Ballet’s own channels as well as by key partners including BBC, Nowness and Pointe Magazine. We also created a pop-up gallery in Tramway (Scottish Ballet’s Glasgow home).

Above all, the Digital Season aimed to explore unique and engaging ways that digital technology can inform or enhance dance as an artform. We resisted technology for technology’s sake and were excited by work that altered our perceptions of how dance can and should be represented in digital formats.

The goal of the Digital Season wasn’t solely to acquire new online content or to increase tour revenue. Yes, these were certainly both factors, especially as we were looking for ways to engage with our Scottish audience whilst the company was touring in the USA. We also wanted to increase engagement with our dancers and develop relationships with digital partners who can distribute our content more widely.

Filming What Dreams We Have. Scottish Ballet, Digital Season. ®David Eustace
Filming What Dreams We Have. Scottish Ballet, Digital Season. ®David Eustace

Social media gives arts organisations a level playing field to reach new audiences.

Although Facebook’s algorithms are evolving to favour content shared from friends and family (rather than pages) and paid activity has become the most reliable way to reach large audiences, the size of your budget remains much less relevant than in other, more traditional marketing channels.

It all comes down to how much people engage with your content and how quickly they do it. A ‘comment’ or ‘share’ within the first hour after posting are worth their weight in gold in comparison to a ‘like’ and are what’s needed to get your content spreading across social networks like wildfire.

If your content is well targeted and resonates with your audience, its success is a sure thing. The Digital Season proved this with engagement up to 85% higher compared to similar content (videos/live streams) related to main stage touring programmes.

Alongside engagement, we set several key performance indicators to measure the success of the Digital Season:

  • Video views    
  • Fan acquisition     
  • Increase in visits to Scottish Ballet’s dancer profiles on the website    
  • Increased tour sales following the Digital Season.    

Before the Digital Season, Scottish Ballet’s average video views for a full year were around 300,000. Digital Season content alone attracted over 870,000 views in 2017.

During the Digital Season, Scottish Ballet’s Facebook following grew by nearly 10%.

We were also delighted to receive industry recognition and a generous nod from our peers in the form of a 2017 UK Theatre Award, when we won the Achievement in Marketing/Audience Development Award.

It was a privilege to be ranked alongside many ambitious and inspirational organisations throughout the UK and the prestige of the award and the peer recognition it attracts will contribute to a solid foundation for future Digital Seasons.

It has given confidence to Scottish Ballet (and possibly many other organisations) that digital innovation is not reserved exclusively for the big players in the tech world.

The Digital Season was supported by the John Ellerman Foundation, KPMG, Baillie Gifford and the Garrick Charitable Trust.

UK Theatre Award Statue

Submissions are now open for the 2018 UK Theatre Awards. The deadline to submit your nominations is 31 August 2018.      

The awards are open to UK Theatre members working in both the commercial and subsidised sectors of the performing arts.

UK Theatre members can apply for 4 award categories, including the Achievement in Marketing/Audience Development Award.

Find out more here.

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