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Can arts organisations reach new audiences through strategies like digital capture? Recent successes offer insights into the potential of a creative and inclusive approach, write Fiona Morris and Sarah Butcher

Production image from Peaky Blinders
Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby is a shining example of digital capture

Amid the challenges posed by a post-pandemic focus on live events, rapidly followed by a cost-of-living crisis, arts organisations find themselves at a crossroads, making difficult choices about how to spend precious resources. 

For many, digital capture of live performance has become more of a luxury than a strategic choice. However, there have been some inspiring stories for those still confident of the value of a hybrid or parallel digital model. 

Rambert's Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby, which aired on BBC4 on New Year's Day, stands out as a shining example of how a deliberate and thoughtful approach to digital capture can not only preserve the essence of performance but also act as a catalyst for reaching new and diverse audiences. 

Reimagining Peaky Blinders 

What began life on screen has been reimagined and relaunched as a dance performance, bringing new audiences and old fans to see it on stage. In this digital iteration, it has found its way back onto BBC television and iPlayer and into cinemas, adding new fans and followers and demonstrating how live, digital, cinema and broadcast all have nuances and audiences to bring to creative work. 

As Peaky Blinders' creator, Steven Knight - who also wrote the script for the stage show - acknowledges: "It's something for the screen that goes to the stage, and now is going to the BBC. I was really pleased it felt so natural to rebound. I think someone watching the screen version will get a different but equal experience because it's done so well." 

Translating Rambert's vision from stage to screen 

When we first embarked on this project with Rambert and Birmingham Hippodrome, Rambert's Artistic Director Benoit Swan Pouffer initially explored turning the show into an on-location feature film, so we knew any stage capture would have to meet that cinematic vision. 

Our collaboration with North South was pivotal in translating the show from stage to screen. Luckily, we were starting with a huge fan base, and what Benoit did so brilliantly was to keep the stage performance true to the aesthetic of the TV show. 

The North South team, at which Sarah is Co-Creative Director, leaned into that aesthetic to ensure the stage capture was in the same world, aligning the creative approach with the style of television and film, ensuring the visual language resonated with screen audiences by employing shots familiar to screen audiences. That meant taking the camera much closer than you might traditionally do in a stage capture and instead playing on action and reaction, just as you would in TV and film. 

Targeting the right audience 

Such endeavours come with challenges. With limited slots available for cinema and television broadcasts, choosing the right platform for digital capture is crucial, and questions about your target audience need careful consideration. For example: 

•    Are you aiming for a premium offer to existing audiences, considering a publication on a subscription service? 
•    Does the performance's scale make it suitable for a cinematic experience, providing a new perspective? 
•    Can familiarity with the title, performers and company draw an audience on broadcast channels? 
•    Does the work have international appeal, considering language, rights and existing global recognition? 

Not a silver bullet

Peaky Blinders ticked all the boxes and gave Rambert a golden opportunity to broaden its audience base. Two thirds of the audience for the stage tour had not heard of Rambert before, with many new to dance altogether, demonstrating the potential for reaching new demographics. 

Jo Taylor, Rambert’s Director of Audiences, stresses the importance of any new venture being part of a broader strategy: "Peaky Blinders is a huge opportunity to radically diversify and broaden audiences, but it is not a silver bullet. It only works when all the other parts of the brand jigsaw are in play.” 

Synchronised marketing and fan engagement 

To market the TV broadcast, Rambert synchronised a collaborative post with all partners, announcing the date of the broadcast with a film trailer which has been seen 73,000 times. The snowball effect generated by fan reactions on social media helped towards the broadcast's success. 

Some of the venues for the upcoming stage tour experienced a spike in ticket sales in the days following the broadcast, which was in turn boosted by a small digital advertising campaign to capitalise on the moment. 

The effect of organic promotion has spread to other Rambert shows, illustrating the positive impact of fan engagement. 

Funding a digital capture 

This makes it sound easy, and it's not. The transition from stage to screen is a complex undertaking involving considerable investment of time and money, and funding remains a significant hurdle. 

Even with broadcaster support, the potential for a tax credit if it can play in cinemas and advances from international sales, organisations may still need to invest heavily. 

Rambert secured funding from us at The Space and the BBC, tapping into the UK cinema tax credit allowance. Still, Rambert’s investment ensured future rights to the production and reflected a broader strategy to grow and diversify audiences. 

Digital capture is not a luxury

As arts organisations navigate the complexities of the digital landscape, this case study offers valuable lessons for creating impactful and audience-centric digital capture projects. 

It shows that with purposeful decisions, strategic collaborations and a deep understanding of your audience, it is possible for digital captures to transcend being a 'luxury' and become a transformative tool for reaching new audiences. 

Rambert’s Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby is currently available on BBC iPlayer. It will also be available on Rambert Plus for international viewers at a later date. To keep up to date with news about the film, where you can watch it, and where you can see Rambert perform, join Rambert Plus

Fiona Morris is Chief Executive and Creative Director and Sarah Butcher is Executive Producer at The Space.
@thespacearts | @FionaMorris_  

Rambert's Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby, is presented in association with BBC. A Rambert Production, it is inspired by the television series Peaky Blinders cre-ated by Steven Knight and produced by Caryn Mandabach Productions. It is supported by The Space, Arts Council England and Birmingham Hippodrome, with thanks to The Lowry. 

This article, sponsored and contributed by The Space, is part of a series spotlighting new ways of creating and distributing digital content, and exploring the wealth of new technologies and platforms coming online.

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