Online streaming is a great challenge for opera houses. On the one hand, this new channel, which has been rather disruptive for this very traditional sector, offers opera houses a development path and a way to achieve one of their main goals: renew their audience and broaden it (Kemp and Poole, 2016).
On the other hand, opera houses need to carefully assess the costs and benefits associated with the development of a streaming offer. They first want to make sure that they can use this channel without losing the key dimensions of the ‘in situ’ experience. Opera houses are wondering if streamed opera is a competitor or a complement to ‘in situ’ opera (King, 2018; Mueser and Vlachos, 2018.
The aim of our research is to analyse, in a comparative perspective, how opera is experienced in an opera house and how it is experienced in streaming, in order to understand the key elements of these experiences, their common points and their differences.
We have chosen the method of introspective reports (Carù and Cova, 2003; Collin-Lachaud and Vanheems, 2016; Özçağlar-Toulouse, 2009; Roederer, 2008). Introspective reports place the consumer at the core of the lived experience, which also links to the consumer’s past experiences (Fornerino, Helme-Guizon and Gotteland, 2008).
We have chosen to collect these reports in writing rather than through face-to-face interviews because the difficulty of quickly organising meetings shortly after a performance soon became apparent; this was specially the case for streamed opera viewers, who are located in different places, cities and countries.
The sample of respondents is comprised of opera consumers from six different countries. Eight personal written reports were collected for the ‘in situ’ opera experience and eight for the streaming opera experience.
Whether the opera is experienced in an opera house or in streaming, all value sources can be classified into affective sources, aesthetic sources, functional sources, epistemic sources or social sources. Besides, in both universes, the intensities of the first four dimensions are distributed in a relatively equivalent way and functional value largely prevails. However, the social component of the perceived value is much less significant in streaming than in the real universe.
Our research shows that value sources common to ‘in situ’ and ‘streaming’ experiences are more numerous than those specific to one consumption mode.
In the case of the ‘in situ’ opera experience, the dimensions of the perceived value that we identified in our research correspond to those previously highlighted in studies carried out in other performing arts. One dimension, ‘status’, stressed by Pulh (2002) and Derbaix (2008) in the context of street festivals and performing arts respectively, has not emerged, however.
The ease of organisation is not valued either, whereas it is the case for the experience of festivals (e.g. Sohier and Brée, 2014) or concerts (Mencarelli, 2008).
On the other hand, we have identified the value sources of the opera experience in streaming, which is a particular case of online experience. They are all close to those identified by Maubisson, Bourliataux and Doueiry (2019), Singh et al. (2021) and Shen (2021) in their work on perceived value of music streaming, entertainment streaming, and video game streaming respectively. Our research therefore shows that the conclusions of these authors are applicable to the performing arts sector.
It thus appears that opera experience value sources that are identical in the real and virtual spheres are those directly linked to the show itself: an opera would be valued according to the same criteria whether the spectator experiences it in a physical opera house or on a screen. An opera, even disembodied, can thus remotely bring emotions to the streaming viewer, who manages to immerse himself and feel empathy for the characters without being in a dark and silent auditorium. It can be the source of social interactions for the spectator at home, even if they only happen during the broadcast. However, the common criteria do not always have the same importance for the spectator, depending on the sphere considered. Thus, the opera experience is less social in the case of streaming and doesn’t allow to relax and escape as much as in an opera house. On the other hand, it seems to provide more intellectual stimulation and deep reflection than the ‘in situ’ experience.
Indeed, beside the functional characteristics proper to each channel, some aspects such as the pleasure the ritual of preparation brings or the sensation of living a magical moment cannot be reproduced in the case of a streamed experience. As for social communion it absolutely requires the presence of an audience and companions in an opera house.
From a managerial point of view, knowing how the opera experience is valued give opera houses numerous levers to develop streaming.
The results obtained lead us to propose the following areas of recommendation to opera managers.
1-Focus on the technical elements of the central offer
Opera houses should take advantage of the constant technical innovations in the field of streaming to provide a broadcast of the utmost quality, with a choice of subtitles understood by the vast majority of their audience. Opera managers must also work on the visual elements of the platform and focus on the directing of the streamed opera – and invest, if necessary, in highly specialised, dedicated teams – because it favours immersion and therefore the blossoming of emotions.
These recommendations nevertheless raise the question of how modest structures, who will not have sufficient means to set up their own platform, could ensure the quality of retransmissions.
2-Develop social levers via social networks
At another level, given the importance of emotions for streamed opera viewers, opera houses should accordingly prompt streamed opera viewers to share their feelings through social networks, not only with the goal to increase the consumption of streamed opera but also to make opera known to population segments less familiar with that art form. Indeed, streaming could be a way of reaching new audiences, as watching an opera in streaming is much cheaper and easier to organise than going to an opera house.
3-Offer peripheral services to viewers to enhance their experience
Opera houses should take into account that neophytes – the youngest ones in particular – might not enjoy being in front of a screen for three to six hours. They could therefore offer, in addition to streamed opera, shorter original programs, that would initiate the newcomers to opera with a more adequate format.
Like entertainment streaming platforms do, they could give detailed information on the opera, on the composer, on the artists – aside from their name. They could also explain the context and the production and the director’s views, which would be interesting to neophytes and to regular opera spectators as well. This information should be interactive and available on demand, during the performance, on a click.
As for the social dimension of the streamed opera experience, it could encourage opera houses to develop live chats on the platforms, which are only present in very few platforms so far. As Netflix or Disney+ do, they could even offer the customers the opportunity to organise viewing parties, which would allow a spectator to watch and discuss an opera together with friends via a live chat bar.
This would also be a way of offering added value to streamed opera and position it as an additional proposal to ‘in situ’ opera, and not only as consumption channel used when consumers cannot go to the opera house – as was the case during the height of the pandemic.
Last but not least, it is crucial that opera houses and streaming platforms managers take into account that some streaming viewers show a high level of expertise of opera. If they decide to develop this broadcast mode, they should therefore reflect on which offer to propose (in terms of show, options, prices), depending on the spectators they target.
You can also browse our abridged research articles here.