The Royal Opera House has been sharpening its commercial agenda over recent years. Alastair Roberts describes how it has developed its brand licensing and media activities.
In common with many other arts organisations, brand licensing is one of the longer-standing commercial activities at the Royal Opera House and we have a growing portfolio of partnerships that help take our brand around the world and raise the profiles of the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet and the work they produce. We have clothing deals with partners such as Freddy, Joules and M&S, we have developed a range of opera and ballet-themed holidays with the Ultimate Travel Company, diaries and calendars with Frances Lincoln and iconic images from the Royal Ballet have recently become available as bespoke prints from online image specialist Surface View.
All of this licensing activity starts with a solid core of Intellectual Property (IP), whether our brand, our images or other aspects of our IP base. This side of our business has not historically been so robust but we have invested a lot of time and effort to bring it gradually up to scratch. We then work with our partners to develop initial ideas into viable products and back them up with press and marketing initiatives. Not everything works first time, but we work hard with our licensees to hone and refine our collaborations and, when something works well, our brand and our work benefit hugely from this additional exposure.
We are just as excited that cinema has enabled us to double the number of people seeing our live productions
Alongside brand licensing, our growing programme of media activity is also increasingly important. For many years we have reached out beyond our theatre in Covent Garden to audiences on radio and television, and via our series of live outdoor BP Big Screens. Now with more and more cinemas around the world becoming digitally equipped, we are embarking on our third ROH Live Cinema Season, taking ten live performances this year to more than 1,000 cinemas in almost 40 countries around the world. There is clear commercial potential here, but we are just as excited that cinema has enabled us to double the number of people seeing our live productions and to reach new audiences on every continent.
Our Live Cinema Season puts the Royal Opera House in very good company. The Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Bolshoi in Moscow, and a number of other opera and ballet companies are also relaying performances live to cinemas. The National Theatre has enjoyed huge success with its NT Live programme; the RSC has just followed suit and the British Museum’s Pompeii project was one of a number of high-profile live cinema events from our museums and galleries.
Cinema chains in the UK and abroad are embracing this new genre of ‘event cinema’ and audiences are becoming increasingly attuned to the wealth of content that the arts sector has to offer. Royal Opera House productions of The Nutcracker, La Bohème, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Turandot and Don Quixote have all been the second highest grossing titles in the UK on the night of their live cinema relay, an amazing testament to audience’s enthusiasm for this relatively new medium. The Royal Opera House’s quest for the elusive No 1 spot will continue…
On smaller screens, we are also actively exploring a number of other digital technologies in tandem. Services like Netflix and the BBC iPlayer have led the way in Video on Demand, and we recently announced a deal with Digital Theatre, a leading VoD platform which focuses exclusively on distributing world-class performances via PCs, tablets and connected TVs. So now our productions are available for audiences across 192 countries to access whenever they want them and wherever they want them. We expect this to be an increasingly important way of connecting with audiences as on-demand viewing continues to grow. Alongside this we continue to build vibrant communities on Twitter and Facebook and are attracting millions of views to our YouTube channel.
Although our commercial activities are increasingly diverse, there are nonetheless a couple of core themes that link everything together. The first is that whatever we do commercially has to have complete integrity and authenticity. It has to come from and contribute to our mission to enrich people’s lives through opera and ballet. That is what the Royal Opera House is here to do and everything needs to feed back into that. The second is the emphasis we place on partnership: we just are not big enough to do everything on our own and that is why, for example, we are building our cinema business with our partners Mr Wolf and our Video on Demand programme with Digital Theatre. As the imperative to grow our commercial division increases, the ability to develop these and other partnerships will become an increasingly important part of our commercial DNA.
Alastair Roberts is Managing Director, Enterprises at the Royal Opera House.