Tell us about Piping Live!
Glasgow International Piping Festival – Piping Live! is a week-long celebration presenting the UK’s and the World’s biggest spectacle of piping. In 16 editions, Piping Live! has become established as a key festival within Glasgow’s annual events diary. It takes place in early August and in previous years has attracted local, national and international audiences of around 33,000.
The Piping Live! programme before 2020 had included street performances, top artists and workshop sessions held at indoor and outdoor venues in and around Glasgow city centre. This was the 17th edition of the festival and we were keen for something to go ahead.
What were the key reasons for creating a digital event?
With the effects of the pandemic, the entire summer of in-person piping events across the world were cancelled. Piping Live! is a real highlight of the season, providing events for piping enthusiasts of all genres, so by putting on a small number of events this would bring a sense of the summer of piping that our audiences are accustomed to. This was the main driver for creating Piping Live! 2020 Online Festival, the 17th edition of the event.
Tell us about your digital event
Piping Live! Online Festival was a small series of events across the week that the festival would have ran in 2020. There were 7 events in the programme, an online amateur piping competition in collaboration with The Competition League for Amateur Solo Pipers (The CLASP), The Silver Chanter, an event where 6 invited players performed MacCrimmon Piobaireachd, Pipers of the World Talks with players from Ireland, Brittany and Bulgaria who discussed their art forms, The Pipe Major Alasdair Gillies Memorial Recital Challenge, where 5 players performed 25-minute recitals of their favourite tunes and the Old Blind Dogs at Piping Live, where traditional music group the Old Blind Dogs performed in concert.
Did you come across any challenges?
The main challenge was the short time frame between deciding to put on the event, to launching a paywall and website which worked seamlessly together, to the events beginning – all with the key staff working from home.
These effects of the pandemic made staging the festival a challenge, but they also acted as a catalyst and driver to make the event change and develop and give our audience a small slice of their summer of piping.
What was your approach?
The approach was to create a live festival online, presenting events that would usually be presented through the festival week to an online audience. The events took place at The National Piping Centre in Glasgow, with performers and team there to host the event, so it was streamed live, then available to watch on demand for 24 hours after. This meant that there were extra challenges in terms of COVID-19 safety plans, but a full risk assessment was carried out and event plans drawn up to minimize risks for all involved across the event.
The livestream was implemented by Inner Ear, a company Piping Live! and The National Piping Centre had worked with on previous livestreams. They presented the events through Vimeo, but were hosted on the Piping Live! website, behind a paywall system which was from InPlayer, an online software that allows a paywall to be wrapped around the outside of the iframe of your video.
How did you monetize your event?
Piping Live! usually has a mix of free and paid events throughout the week. This made knowing what to charge for easier, as the three evening concerts were ticketed events in previous years so would be ticketed in 2020, and the talk series was content that would have been free to view performances if the festival was live, so were free to view. The worry was that even though the three events were paid events in previous years, we had no experience of paid livestream, so we were concerned that people wouldn’t pay to watch these events as any livestream we had put on in the past was free.
As we had no reference point for this, the team were very conservative in their ticket sales estimate, so our sales target was very modest, and easily surpassed due to the much larger than predicted (but hoped for) audience who registered. In 2019 the in-person Silver Chanter event was a sell out at 110 people. This year the viewing figure was just over 200 throughout the event, but festival organisers think the actual total may be double or treble this due to more than one person watching per registration.
The price point was another key sticking point. We didn’t want to under-price the event, thereby diminishing its value. But felt that charging what we had charged in previous festivals for in-person attendance would be too high. In the end, we charged £10 per event or £25 for a festival pass access to all three. This was a reduction from in-person concerts (£15 / £12.50 usually), but not hugely undervaluing the performances and giving the inherent worth of the live performances a value.
Sponsors and advertising opportunities were maximised through a PDF downloadable programme which was promoted across social media. We also publicly thanked our sponsors and advertisers on social media, tagging their pages where possible to ensure audiences could find them and more about their services. There was also an advertising reel which showed at the start and end of the online programmes, giving some direct promotion of our sponsors and advertisers directly to our livestream audiences.
Feedback from one advertiser was very positive. As a craft pottery maker in Nova Scotia, they personalise mugs with pipe tunes chosen by the customer. They had already received orders at the start of the week to cover their investment and this only continued through the week, so they were very happy with the exposure they gained from the festival.
We had a very successful donation campaign for individual giving. We had a PayPal donation available through our website, as well as text to donate system for UK mobiles only. These were promoted through social media, e-news and through the festival website before the event, as well as asking all our MCs at events to read out the details during the stream to promote donations. Altogether, this represented a significant donation amount being generated.
How did you promote your digital event?
Promotion of our digital event was done through many digital routes, as well as in mainstream media. A press release was sent out to the mainstream media and three significant piping media channels. As well as this, a significant investment was made into our social media channels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to ensure that messaging was available at all times during the run up to the events.
Additionally, a dedicated Piping Live! e-newsletter list was used heavily to promote the event to a pre-existing audience. Piping Live! also reached out to people who had been due to take part in the 2020 festival before its cancellation. With pipe bands and solo players across the world already committed to our cancelled festival, this was a great market to widen reach internationally. We also had the support of the Scottish Banner, a major Scottish diaspora publication, which ran a feature online.
Originally a new website was due to be released for 2020. This was put on hold in April, so wasn’t finished in time for the online event. A new one-page website was created, which held the livestreams, the PDF programme, donation information and other key points. This one-page website was simpler and more streamlined; it was effective as it swiftly took people to the events and gave them what they needed to know quickly.
All-in-all a significant amount of time was invested in promotion across the digital sphere for this online event to ensure we maximised reach across the world in quite a short space of time.
Overall, Piping Live! Online was a big success. With a very conservative audience prediction, we were delighted to surpass it, with over 650 paid registrations across the three events. We think that the audience was also double or treble this as one paid subscription could be watched by two or more people at the one time. Also, the numbers watching each event were more than expected. We also had the events on “catch up” for 24 hours which allowed those around the world to watch it in their own time zone. Our most popular event amassed over 1,300 re-watch views in just 24 hours.
This event was also a success in another respect, in that this was a trial of pay-per-view events online for our festival. The numbers registered showed that there is an appetite for this livestreamed content and that audiences would pay for it.
This event was a bit of a dive into the unknown for our organisation. We weren’t sure if there was a real appetite for online events, if there was an appetite for paying for these events, and if it would be worth doing. The results were very positive. Tickets purchased and feedback showed that these events were very well received, people were happy to pay for them, with many saying they would be happy to pay more, and also that there would be a desire to see these livestreams continue in future for those who are unable to attend the festival in person.
Reputationally, it has also been good for the festival and The National Piping Centre. As the global home of piping, we felt a responsibility to put on something if possible. We put on seven events across the week in a fully risk-assessed and safe way, with absolutely the highest standards of piping still in place. We did what we could – sadly, no pipe bands were able to take part – and to the highest standards possible. The world of piping seems to have recognised this and we hope this will result in more in-person attendances to future editions of the festival.
We were very pleased with the results and learnings from the online festival. We are actively looking at how we can include more livestreamed events into our future events, even going back to our in-person focus, bringing in the global audience through our livestream. We have had livestreamed events in the past, so we know that they work for sponsors, advertising and donations, but to have it confirmed that audiences are willing to pay for the livestream has helped open a new revenue stream which we can now predict more confidently going forward.