How Melbourne Fringe Pulled off the “Art of the Impossible” and Went Digital During the Pandemic

The Challenge

When the pandemic hit Melbourne, a city that essentially froze under lockdown measures, the Melbourne Fringe organizers were unable to plan their annual arts event as scheduled. They needed an immediate virtual alternative that would be easy-to-use for their large slate of artists, performers, and vendors to use comfortably and reliably. They also needed a way to sell tickets to an event that would no longer be in-person but could seamlessly and cost-effectively integrate with their existing ticketing system.

With up to 3,000 artists presenting 450+ works across 2.5 weeks each Spring, The Melbourne Fringe Festival is one of Australia’s leading arts festivals. Operating since 1892, more than 360,000 people annually attend the event. Like many other fringe festivals, the Melbourne Fringe usually hosts performances across 170 different venues, theaters, galleries, outdoor spaces, and an array of unusual venues such as restaurants, libraries, and even the backseat of cars.

But with Covid-19 shutting down just about every possible venue, the Fringe knew it needed to go digital. Not just to prove the show could still go on, but as a relief for the creative community of Melbourne and beyond.

“A lot of artists were really happy to be able to present their work in a time when nothing was happening. It was a dark lockdown in winter in Melbourne. I think for a lot of artists, having something to focus on was a light at the end of the tunnel. It gave them a milestone to work toward at the end of the year,” Mat Spisbah, Artistic Director at EXHIBITIONIST Digital said.

As Broadcast Manager for digital at the festival, Spisbah was in charge of finding a complete video solution to help Melbourne Fringe go fully digital. With just a matter of months to go live, Melbourne Fringe needed a solution to continue the massively popular festival in a way that would engage their audience with the next best thing to an in-person festival.

We got lots of very encouraging and emotional feedback, I think because everyone had been through a lot. It was really genuine, but also profound. What people were saying, how much it meant to important it was to have this [festival go on] and to still be able to showcase music and art in a time of such intensity.

Mat Spisbah EXHIBITIONIST Digital | Broadcast Manager | Melbourne Fringe

The Solution

With the opportunity to reach not just their existing audience, but new potential viewers across the world, Melbourne Fringe used JW Player’s solutions for live streaming and video-on-demand. With a responsive account team at JW Player, a highly-intuitive user interface, and a cost-effective solution for all their video needs, Melbourne Fringe was able to put on a successful festival even during the peak of the pandemic.

The Covid-19 crisis also provided an opportunity to broadcast more widely and reach new audiences. With JW Player’s casting abilities, the Melbourne Fringe was able to broadcast onto larger screens at the fraction of the cost of an OTT platform.

One of the challenges Melbourne Fringe faced while organizing a digital arts festival was the coordination across time zones for event organizers and the over 2,000+ participating artists and performers. With JW Player’s easy-to-use dashboard, performers around the world were able to set up their live streams without having any technical know-how. Organizers were able to run rehearsals for each and every live performance (40+ separate live events, in the end).

Like any other arts organization funded in part by local government, Melbourne Fringe was also cost-conscious. JW Player’s technology seamlessly integrated with the Fringe’s existing ticketing system and website—one less thing to worry about as the entire format of their festival changed.

“If you’re doing a digital festival, the backbone of your festival is your video server. If that goes down, especially when 80-90% of the performances are video or streams…It’s not just one light or one microphone not working, it’s your whole festival that evaporates in an instant,” Spisbah said.

JW Player allowed us to feel secure. It was so robust and secure. All the staff that used it had an amazing experience. As long as you know how a computer works, you pretty much know how JW Player works.

Mat Spisbah EXHIBITIONIST Digital | Broadcast Manager | Melbourne Fringe

The Result

The Melbourne Fringe Festival’s 2020 theme was “Art of the Impossible,” and while the year proved challenging for every arts organization, Melbourne Fringe managed to pull off the impossible. Celebrating the tenacity and spirit of their resilient artists, the Fringe successfully broadcast over 18 days with non-stop art in over 250+ events—all digital via video. Their digital event reached thousands of viewers in over 50 countries, and still managed to succeed in a turbulent year.

28996 + attendees
180 + hours of video content created

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