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Live Streaming and the Arts: Showcasing Creativity in Singapore


Singapore has not been left untouched by the live streaming trend. However, it would appear that content consumers from more traditional mediums are much quicker to adopt live streaming. A study conducted by researchers at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information showed that there was considerable potential in using live streaming to engage Singapore’s arts audiences. They did a small-scale project with local theater and dance group, The Kaizen M.D., where they used Google Hangouts On Air to broadcast live post-performance discussions. This allowed those who did not attend the performance, particularly students who were participants in The Kaizen M.D.’s workshop, to gain a deeper understanding of the performance. It was reported that the video garnered 79 views and watch time totaled at 304 minutes. While this sample size is very small, the strong evidence of engaged views suggests that live streaming can be a viable way to engage arts audiences in Singapore.

In recent years, live streaming Singapore has gained increasing relevance as a popular medium for novel video content. Live streams are real-time transmissions of audiovisual material, often showcasing an event or activity taking place. This is particularly relevant today, as the ease of access to high-speed internet has made live streaming Singapore accessible to anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection. The ease with which people can stream video today means that content creators from many walks of life, from professional gaming to getting a haircut, are using live streaming to showcase their activities. This also includes the arts, particularly with respect to performance-based arts like theater or dance. In fact, even traditional artists who work from their studio stand to benefit as they can show their audience a ‘behind the scenes’ look at their process.

The rise of live streaming in Singapore

Live streaming has experienced a surge in popularity, becoming a normalized fixture of the internet and daily life. It is defined as a live transmission of multimedia content across the internet to an audience, who can continue to view the streaming at the same time as it is being produced. Live streaming is arguably a fundamental component of Singapore’s digital economy, with the country ranked as having the world’s highest smartphone penetration rates and the fastest mobile connection speeds. In recent months, the live streaming platform Twitch has recruited several popular content creators from the video sharing platform YouTube. Live streaming of video content has significantly lower latency than traditional video-on-demand services, a key feature for platforms such as Twitch, which offer real-time in-game chat with content creators. YouTube attained a quarter of a million people watching the live final of the 2017 League of Legends Championship compared to 43 million on the same event on Twitch. Live streaming is here to stay.

The impact of live streaming on the arts industry

The Orchestra began live streaming its concerts in 2009. In interviews with audience members involved in live chats alongside the performance, one person stated that he was watching from an airliner at 30,000 feet, while another reported that she was watching on her iPhone during her work break. This indicates the sheer diversity of locations and situations from which the audiences were accessing the live concerts. These are completely new audiences that would have been unlikely to try the orchestra in the concert hall. This accessibility and diversity of audience has the potential to revitalize or repackage the arts so that it becomes relevant to a new generation. Live streaming is a means to an end, and this end is to reinvigorate the arts and bring it to a wider audience. It is not without its problems though. Although live streaming has the potential to widen audiences, there is concern that it may devalue the arts product if it is too easily accessible. This is echoed by the concerns discussed earlier about a drop in live concert attendance correlating with the rise of internet media. A case study of the UK opera company, The Opera Group, offers insight into these pros and cons of live streaming.

The interest in live streaming is quickly growing and it is fast becoming a mainstream online activity. This shift into the mainstream has great implications for the arts and how the public engage with the arts. Live streaming allows audiences to access arts from the familiar environment of their own home. It is an experience that is far removed from the formality of the theatre or concert hall. This gives rise to a more informal, impulsive mode of engagement and opens the doors for arts organizations to reach out to new audiences. These new audiences may not have tried the arts in a different context. The example of the US orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, highlights the potential of live streaming to reach these new audiences.

Objectives of the work

Building on this, the research also aims to lay the groundwork for future discussion and investigation into how live streaming can be utilized as a platform for arts promotion and a potential alternative to traditional public art funding. This is achieved by identifying key points for consideration and discussion.

– Providing an overview of technological developments that have led to live streaming being a viable platform for the arts. – Conducting a survey with Free Comic Book Day attendees on their interaction with the gaming and arts industries. – Providing analysis on live streaming by looking at online viewer statistics for popular streamers. – Interviewing industry practitioners on live streaming and its impact. – Comparing live streaming with traditional performance and viewership. – Suggesting future applications of live streaming for arts promotion.

The key objective of this work is to provide industry practitioners, policy makers, and the general public with a better understanding of the live streaming landscape and its place in the arts in Singapore. In order to do this, the research will seek to provide a platform by which to understand the current gaming and arts landscapes and also its reception by the public. This is done by:

Live Streaming Platforms in Singapore

The most popular live streaming platforms used in Singapore would be Facebook Live and YouTube Live. Thanks to their wide user base and easy accessibility, both platforms allow individuals and businesses to reach out to an extensive audience. This is especially true for Facebook Live with its integration to the Facebook page and profile for direct access to friends and followers. Twitter’s Periscope is also an upcoming platform and has been used by Mediacorp for some of its programs. Other smaller companies would opt for paid live streaming platforms such as Livestream and Cleeng, which provide various features, customization, and technical support.

Live streaming platforms have increasingly grown in popularity over the last 5 years with the development of new technologies in broadband and mobile phones. In Singapore, these platforms have been used by MNCs, SMEs, as well as government organizations to reach out to a wider audience base locally and internationally. These platforms provide various means of communication ranging from simple webcasting using a webcam to fully interactive broadcasts with mobile phones.

Overview of popular live streaming platforms

Twitch Twitch was launched in 2011 as a live streaming service that was a spinoff of the streaming service justin.tv. It was originally intended to be an outlet for gamers to stream their gameplay for their friends, but as it grew in size, Twitch began to foster communities and a culture of its own. It is now a service not only for video game streams but has branched out into IRL (in real life) streaming and creative content. It has become an avenue by which visual artists, musicians, and other creative types can connect with an audience. Twitch differs from most alternatives in that it is almost entirely funded through the usage of its users and a unique feature known as Bits. These are effectively animated emoticons that users can buy and use in chat to support streamers financially. They have a direct cash value to the streamer. Viewers also have the ability to “cheer” for a streamer by using an animated emote in chat, where 1 bit is equivalent to 1 cent. Ads can also be run by affiliate and partnered Twitch users to earn revenue, and Twitch’s partnered streamers can also earn money relative to the number of subscriptions they have. Due to the fact that Twitch is built for the user, there is a high level of customization for channels, and this has led to many feeling a sense of ownership when they watch a streamer they like. This, in turn, makes it easier for streamers to grow a dedicated fanbase. Twitch is known for its chat interaction between viewers and streamers and a vast number of emotes that are used to communicate. This dynamic creates an experience that makes many users feel as if they are a part of a community.

Comparison of features and functionalities

The general consensus on account management was the easier, the better, and Hangouts and Ustream achieved this best.

All of these applications require a simple account sign-up in order to use. It was found that Ustream had the easiest account management settings with a simple user interface, so users are not mistakenly streaming from their personal account. TwitchTV also had this feature; however, compared to Ustream, it was much harder to differentiate between the streamer’s channel and the rest of the site. It was found that TwitchTV has an extremely modern layout; however, it seemed to detract from the functionality of the site, as the video player was reported often to lack. GOTV’s account system was more complicated, as a channel’s account must first be upgraded so it can be used for broadcasting.

The comparison of Ustream, Google Hangouts on Air, and TwitchTV was based on each platform’s availability and ease of use. Firstly, Ustream and TwitchTV were Android-only applications. This greatly reduced their availability by default, as Google Hangouts on Air is available through any PC with Google+ access. On the other hand, GOTV requires streaming through a PC, deterring mobile users. However, Ustream’s ability to stream from any phone with an internet connection actually increases its availability, as it can be streamed from anywhere.

Case studies of successful live streaming events

One well-known event is the use of Ustream in the live broadcast of the Singapore Arts Festival. The Singapore Arts Festival is the country’s premier arts festival showcasing a myriad of events such as theatre, dance, and music concerts. In 2010, the festival included a fringe event called The Studio, which was a micro-festival featuring the best of international and local theatre in an informal setting. During this event, selected international performances were broadcast over the Ustream website. This was an experimental approach taken by the festival to see if webcasting events would open up new audiences to the arts. This included people who were unable to attend local arts events and international viewers who were interested in the content of arts events in Singapore. The Ustream platform was chosen as it was rated easy to use and it could provide both live and recorded content to viewers. Measures were taken to try and promote the broadcast by making a sticky post on the festival’s blog as well as the use of social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter. An event page was also created on Facebook to inform users of the event details. Although the specific details and statistics of viewership for this event are not known, it was regarded as a successful trial as a further initiative was taken in webcasting the events of the 2011 festival over the more professional platform of ‘liveStellar’. Viewing statistics for that webcasting effort are also not known. The use of live streaming platforms to webcast arts events is a low-cost and low-risk initiative that could potentially bring in new audiences to the local arts scene.

Case studies are specific instances of engaging in the use of certain media or technology. This is the idea behind ‘case studies of successful live streaming events’ that features the use of well-known live streaming platforms in the broadcast of events showcasing the arts in Singapore. The case studies will look at the level of user engagement, user experiences, and effectiveness in the presenting of featured content.

Showcasing Creativity through Live Streaming

Tage and van Leeuwen tell us that “meaning is not only communicated through language, but also visually and aurally”. Thus, the live streaming environment provides a unique platform for artists to engage with their audience. Visual artist, Alecia Neo, shares how this form of technology opens up opportunities for her to engage her audience in the experience of the art making. By bringing the audience into her studio, she is able to share with them her thought processes, the ideas behind the art, and even the conflicts and struggles that she faces. Neo tells us that it is important for her audience to see the behind-the-scenes of art making, for that is the process that influences the product. Thus, it is a way for the audience to gain a better understanding of the art. Through opening her process up to her audience, Neo also sees it as a platform for art education. This is especially important as the closure of art schools during Covid-19 has left many art students without guidance. By explaining and sharing the different techniques involved in her art making, her live stream can be an educational tool for many. Neo can also interact with her audience, taking in their suggestions and critique. This can, in turn, influence her art making, blurring the lines between artist and audience.

Through two case studies of Singapore-based artists, I would like to explore the different ways that creativity can be showcased using live streaming. In the first instance, we see how an artist engages with his online audience in a real-time environment during a performance. The second case study shows us the collaborative efforts between an artist and a live streamer in producing an innovative approach to showcasing a live music performance.

Engaging with audiences in real-time

This project and others have seen extensive use of audience comments and questions with the streamed content. As prepared promotional materials gave way to the live stream, there was also an increased usage of streamed content to capture impromptu performances and speeches. This ability to capture a candid, real-time performance and speak with the performers and artists at a time and place that traditional media would not allow has been an integral part of promoting more enriched audience experiences with the arts, adding a greater experiential depth to performances and art forms.

Even in more conventional forms of art, live streaming offers potential to broaden audience experiences, combining higher quality, more interactive methods of viewing with the creation of new digital democracies to involve the audience in artistic content. One such example is the online opera webcast project run by the ABU with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. This project saw live international coverage and in-depth behind-the-scenes coverage for its final event held in Brisbane, Australia. Pre-event live-streamed interviews and promotional materials allowed the streaming to be used as a platform for artist-to-audience discussions and discussions between backstage staff and the audience, providing unique insights into the operatic process.

Audiovisual artist and academic Michael Johnson of Newcastle University speaks of the potential of audiences experiencing the creative process of an artwork in discussion of his own work and research using streaming as an innovative art tool.

Though the first part of the idea to capture the artistic process in the digital age was through asking artists to take photographs of the development of their work, this proved to be unfeasible as the pictorial content often did not offer suitable viewing and insight for the audience. Live streaming provides a solution to this, capturing the process with an active moving image stream, and with the added functionality of two-way communication, it would allow for artists to audience/artwork to audience experiences of unprecedented depth.

The study resulted in a series of related projects, including one called “The Seduction of Motion,” where it was proposed that using a streaming network, more in-depth coverage of the creation of an artwork could be done, involving the artist and audience more directly. With the art world nowadays being so conceptual, immersive, and digital, it becomes hard to capture and even understand the processes and experiences the artists are trying to create.

The ABU and NHK conducted a joint study in 2002 and 2003, looking at the potential for using broadcasting technologies to reach audiences with better, more interactive content. The study wanted to look at the ways that broadcasting could use its traditional strength of being a tool for communication to involve more active participation from the viewers in the creation of content and creative acts.

Innovative approaches to live streaming performances

Creative live streaming is not just about performing live. This could limit your full potential to be innovative. An example is the establishment of an interactive online theatre created through a partnership of The Substation’s Directors’ Lab and Drama Box. This 12-hour live performance titled “The Importance of Being Public” that took place on 16th May 2009 involved multiple role-playing on a specially created social networking platform on Facebook. Over and beyond the live web telecast, audiences could log into the Facebook accounts of the various characters and communicate with them in real time. This project took live streaming performances into a realm beyond websites such as Facebook where users are already engaged in various sorts of social activity. By having the performance integrated into a platform that people are familiar with, it creates the possibility of online performance becoming part of an audience’s daily routine. Another important aspect is to think of live streaming as an opportunity to engage in activities that you may or may not be able to execute live in front of an audience. This is because unlike a live performance at a local cafe, online content is stored and can be viewed by anyone at any time. In the case of an indie band Caboose, members of the band created a live acoustic jamming session. This video was streamed live on Stickam and viewers could post live comments. What was more significant was that this video was later compiled with footage from interviews and small segments of their daily lives. This final video was then adopted and used as a means to promote their music on various social networking platforms and blog sites. Coming with a small fan base, this act now gives an opportunity for people to discover their music and share it with others when they may not have been able to do so with a live performance.

Collaborations between artists and live streamers

Another case is the collaboration between Ming Ke (Artistic Director of ‘Ming Ke Dance Theatre’) and Ku-Huang Wong from Theatre4All. The two have been working together on a number of projects to explore how dance can be adapted for the camera and new media. This has led to a series of experimental dance shorts as well as a full-length dance film. Although the latter was created at the request of the National Arts Council for archival purposes, it was broadcast on television and streamed online. These works serve as examples of how live streaming is being used to promote both traditional and contemporary art forms in Singapore.

Especially interesting and novel are the collaborations between traditional artists and live streamers. Artists in various fields such as music, dance, and Chinese Opera have been working with live streamers to extend the reach of their performances and appeal to younger audiences. One example is that of the electronic musician B-quartet, who worked with a team of students to make a video game themed by their original music. They found that a large portion of their audience were those who came across the game on the internet.

Challenges and Future Directions

Issues with software also proved to be a major roadblock, as many artists were generally unaware of the programs necessary to live stream video from a video game console or capture card, often confusing live streaming software like Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) with webcam-based applications such as Skype or Google Hangouts. This naturally led to confusion and difficulty in using the software, which was compounded by insufficient tutorials available online. It was quite common for artists to spend several hours attempting to configure the software for the first time with little success, leading to frustration and in some cases, complete forsaking of the project. Confusion was higher yet for video game streamers, who often had difficulty understanding the need for a capture card and the ability to incorporate an additional computer into the live streaming process. Finally, the complexity of configuring software was matched by the frequent occurrence of software and hardware malfunctions during the live stream, often leading to a sudden termination of the stream and preventing the establishment of a consistent viewership.

Varying widely in technical expertise, arts groups encountered a range of technical difficulties in the live streaming process. The most common problem encountered was the use of improper equipment for live streaming. Despite claims from equipment vendors that video cameras are capable of live streaming, arts groups found them to be technically difficult to configure and limited in ability. Furthermore, many artists were not inclined to go through the additional investment of building a new computer and acquiring a capture card to live stream from a video game console. Unable to utilize professional equipment, artists also attempted to use smartphone cameras to live stream, but found them to be limited in functionality and provided less than desirable video quality. This matched the findings of Lee, wherein participants only accepted the use of consumer-grade electronics like cameras and microphones insofar as it did not compromise the integrity of their practice.

Technical challenges and solutions

Arguably the biggest technical concern for the organiser is that the resulting online audience is of significant size, and it is worth investing time and money into the production of a live stream. If a concert or theatre company is using streaming as a method to increase the exposure of their event, they will be quite disheartened if the live stream viewer numbers are in single figures. To combat this, it is common to see organisations like this using social media to ‘hype up’ the event in advance and encourage people to watch the live stream at a specific time. An example of a world-leading live streaming event was the Redbull Stratos in which Felix Baumgartner conducted a space jump from 120,000 feet. This event had over 8 million live stream viewers, and this demonstrates the potential streaming has as a method to bring in a vast audience.

One of the major problems when trying to organise an event live streaming from another venue is the logistics. Assuming an internet connection is already in place at the other end, arranging a test is wholly feasible. However, it takes time and money to send the technician and the equipment to the venue to get everything set up in advance. This can be very impractical if the production is a one-off such as an outdoor event. In a worst-case scenario, the equipment may arrive and an unexpected problem such as a firewall may prevent the streaming from taking place. Solving these kinds of issues will require more widespread use of live streaming, so a method would be in place for the technicians to control the equipment from their own office, ensuring it is set up correctly ready for the event.

Ensuring artistic integrity in the digital realm

There is a common perception that artworks are devalued and degraded once they are translated into digital form online. Especially for traditional art forms such as Chinese calligraphy or Indian dance, their perceived aura and the sheer presence of the art object may indeed be lost when they come in a reproducible form. Although Benjamin and many others reckon that this is a good loss as it opens the doors for mass reception, there is an underlying fear amongst artists and art organisations that there is a risk of the art losing too much of its essence and value. Steps must be taken to ensure that the digital representation is a faithful and valuable one. A system must be created to ensure high standards are maintained, preventing the oversaturation of the digital realm with mass reproduced low quality art. This includes building a knowledge base of best practices for delivering high quality streamed art content and setting benchmarks for the equipment and skill level required. Another interesting concept is that of ‘dynamic authenticity’ where different forms media can each create a work that is authentic to its own context. An example is how a theatre company might give a live performance of a play for a physically present audience while simultaneously creating a separate performance in a Second Life environment, with both performances being equally valid and authentic, yet different. This concept is particularly useful in the context of audience specific arts and arts by diaspora communities who can create work that is authentic their audience yet may be out of reach due to geographical barriers. Configuration of this concept into a relative system of value for different types of art and audiences may be a way to ensure that a wide range of art forms maintain their integrity in the digital realm.

Exploring new possibilities for live streaming in the arts

Mention live streaming today and one will undoubtedly think of webcasts or video live streams designed for viral marketing, training, and instructional videos, and the social webcasting services are further still predominantly focused around “hanging out”. How do these services shape up when applied to live arts and performances? What new kinds of performance art might emerge when artists and audience exploit live streaming in new ways? To answer these questions, we must first look a little at what the authors observed during the study. For the most part, attempts by arts companies/organizations to live stream performances have been to cheaply replicate what occurs on stage inside a theatre or venue. This is most in line with the usage of live streaming video on the internet today. Imagine live streaming something akin to TV broadcast, only not to television sets but to PCs. Such attempts present two problems from our perspective.

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