As I listen to Elena Park, Assistant Manager for Editorial & Creative Content at the Metropolitan Opera, talk about what is currently going on at the Met, I can’t help but think of Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, and his idea that everyone should get on the bus and go in the same direction, with Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs).
Whether it is Web 2.0, wig design or Playbill content, everything at the Met (and they really mean everything) comes back to core guiding principles. Says Park,
“Our thinking about the web ties in with the overall philosophy of the Met under the leadership of Peter Gelb. Peter wants to take away the veil of formality that envelops the Met. It’s really about access and opening up this place, which has so many stories and so much behind-the-scenes drama.”
Gelb has made a huge commitment to opening up the Met to a broader public, and to sharing its great stories and music, without compromising artistic content.
This is an adjustment for some, and it requires an understanding on the part of the artists and directors to open up and reveal what is happening before opening night or dress rehearsals.
Ms. Park notes, however, that both cast and crew have “been game,” explaining how they used a sports model for their radio and HD broadcasts:
“We’re interviewing them live during intermission. It’s a new experience and it’s very exciting. We don’t always know what is going to happen. This new approach is very much in keeping with Peter’s background as a producer for the Met in the 80’s. People are excited, and they are responding. One of the most memorable experiences was giving away 3000 tickets for our first Open House. People were walking around backstage, and there was such a thrill generated internally by seeing all the people that wanted to come to the Met.”This energy translates into people buying more tickets, and the Met reaching a broader audience. After 5 years of steadily declining ticket sales, this year the Met box office was up 7%.
At the Met, everything is rolled out from a central governing approach. When they think about questions like: “How do we use Web 2.0? How do we take advantage of all the technology available to us to have a social conversation and link people?” they are also asking, “What does a live HD transmission mean in terms of stage lighting, or more generally giving people access?”
The Met’s website was revamped last year. The first phase of this project was to convert the site from a purely ticketing and sales oriented vehicle to an editorial destination. The site is rich with editorial and media content, including multi-media interviews with artists and directors, in-depth articles, video and audio clips, blog posts with insider perspectives on upcoming productions, as well as links to their “Live in HD” broadcast series and Sirius Radio Channel.
A key part of the Met’s new strategy is forging links with contemporary culture. Park says that “cultural conversation pieces” that appear on the website or in Met publications will help people find points of access to opera and to the Met.
People might not be thinking about going to the Met website, but find their way there through these [other] links and connections… Much of our content appeals both to the connoisseur as well as to people that might come across it inadvertently. That might be the interview with Academy Award–winning filmmaker Anthony Minghella in his role as director of the new production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, or the challenges Anna Netrebko faced in performing the ‘mad scene’ in I Puritani.”
The Metropolitan Opera’s web traffic has increased over 37% from a year ago, and online sales have gone up over 25% in the same time period, so it’s clear that they are meeting with some success. But meeting the challenges of accessing a broader audience through the Met is a constant process.
As Park notes:
“What we’re working on now is the next phase of our web presence. We‘re thinking about how it can be more interactive, have a greater sense of community, and link the international network of opera lovers together. We have extensive media agreements that allow us tremendous flexibility to utilize our huge archives of video and audio footage.
Things we need to be focusing on – whether that’s making the Met’s MySpace site a cool destination, or creating more forums for conversations and discussions – are all about creating this sense of community.”
One of the things that is challenging not only for the Met, but for any arts organization, is acquiring and responding to audience feedback. If you have an open forum where people are talking about performances or repertoire, you want it to be free flowing. At the same time, particularly with opera, people have very strong and sometimes over-the-top opinions. The Brooklyn Museum, Park says, was able to create an open forum and in so doing, earned praise from audiences and industry insiders alike. Guided by the understanding that is important to invite conversation that is entertaining as well as enlightening, the Met is garnering similar praise.
This holistic approach, Park says, is a reflection of the Met’s “core values.” Park believes that an important part of this new strategy is their web presence, saying,
“Our web strategy reflects our identity. When things are considered more holistically, the results in the long term will be better. If an idea is great, it will work on every level – whether that be artistic, fundraising or marketing. If we try something new – like HD – and people respond, then funding falls into place. If the product is compelling and the buzz is really good, and if you are able to talk about it in every single form in which you are communicating with the public, then you’ve met your goal: a positive audience response. At the end of the day, if you give people captivating images and fascinating stories, then naturally they will be interested in buying tickets.”