Thanks to live-streaming, museums are turning the crisis into an opportunity to reach new audience. In February, eight Chinese museums joined a 12-hour live-streaming relay race and attracted 10 million viewers, which equals to the number of visitors to Louvre in a year. Then the museum day in May became a live-streaming party, with over 20 museums broadcasting on TikTok. In June, the Mauritshuis in The Hague also tried to ride this wave. In 2019, its Chinese visitors rose to No.4 place among all international guests, with a total of 15,000. But its first attempt reached a wider audience of over 21,500.
“Live-streaming is a new chapter in my working life,” laughs Simone Hollen, the Manager of International Sales, who has been promoting the Mauritshuis for almost two decades. Indeed, live-streaming is not as simple as turning on the camera and going with the flow. There is a lot of ingenious thinking behind. This article reflects on the live-streaming lessons from the Mauritshuis and others and offers the recipe to cook up a cultural feast.
Apply the peak-end rule
In one hour, a live-streaming can cover everything from the museum entrance to the shop and even hand sanitizers. However, cognitive science shows that people evaluate an experience largely based on how they feel at its peak and at its end. Hence when planning a live-streaming, the museum could design an intensive experience and a nice finishing touch.
“Everyone knows Girl with a Pearl Earring. But many don’t know it is painted by Vermeer and the painting is at the Mauritshuis,” says Hollen. Therefore, the live-streaming started directly on the second floor, showing Girl with a Pearl Earring and all the other highlights. Interestingly, it ended with a relaxing time at the brasserie terrace. The host pair showed the lunch menu inspired by the Dutch Golden Age and “shared” cheesecake with viewers, thus adding a sweet flavour to their whole experience.
Connect with daily life
“Most viewers are laymen in the world of art. Those aspiring ones usually join master workshops, instead of merely watching a live-streaming,” admits Yan Song, a Chinese museum influencer and host of the Mauritshuis live-streaming. Hence it would be wise to explain in an easy-to-grasp language and help the audience connect with daily life. Interestingly, Song told viewers that the status of Rembrandt equals to that of Li Bai. Every Chinese knows Li Bai, the romantic poetic genius in ancient China’s Tang dynasty. He also amused viewers with a rubber duck girl with a pearl earring, a popular museum gift that brings fun to the bathing time.
During 2020 museum day, Guangzhou Museum of Nanyue King Mausoleum, built on the underground palace of the Nanyue King who passed away two thousand years ago, chose a topic that everyone can relate to — sleep. Why did the King “sleep” on the porcelain pillow? Is it really comfortable? While the audience was both curious and puzzled, the expert explained that porcelain pillows are actually designed in curves to support the neck and they are cool for the summer. There are color glazed paintings, poems and proverbs on these pillows, making them artworks that reflect Chinese philosophy of life. Some pillows are even in the shapes of tiger and lion, which are believed to scare away evil spirits and protect owners during sleep. As the museum hosts the world’s largest collection of porcelain pillows, over 20 pillows of various styles were showcased during the live-streaming.
But at 8pm, it was too early to sleep. The viewers got a rare chance to follow hosts to the underground palace, which is usually closed after sunset. What’s more mysterious and thrilling than “tomb raiding”?
Stimulate more senses
The more senses are stimulated, the more people remember an experience. While the live-streaming seems only for the sight, there are ways for the audience to “smell and taste” a live-streaming. For instance, the Mauritshuis hosts took the audience to the brasserie to enjoy the mint tea and sweet cakes.
During the colorful Sanyuesan festival in March, Guangxi Museum, which houses fascinating cultures of the ethnic minorities in the Guangxi autonomous region in southern China, chose to wow the audience with ethnic flavours. From a lucky plate of five-color glutinous rice dyed with wild flowers and herbs to oil tea (a famous soup with tea leaves, spices, beans, fishes and more), hosts shared the stories between indigenous people, nature and food in Guangxi.
What’s more, there was a live cooking show of the Quanzhou vinegar duck. When the chef poured various ingredients including tender ginger, pepper seeds, garlic, fennel leaves and bitter gourd to the pot, the screen was “flooded” with enthusiastic comments like “I could smell from my mobile screen” and “Can’t wait to come to Guangxi and take a bite”. Full of colors and flavours, this one-hour feast attracted over 300,000 viewers.
Make a good pairing
Having two persons, preferably a male and a female, would make the live-streaming smoother. “I have a partner who holds the camera and coordinates questions from the audience,” says Song. Questions often have some time lag. With thousands of viewers, their questions also fly all over the small mobile screen. Thankfully, his partner paid attention to the screen and selected good questions for interaction. Some were curious to know if the museum souvenirs could be shipped to China.
This pair needs to have some tacit understanding, too. “When I talk about some details of the painting, she needs to move the camera quickly to show the details,” says Song. As Song is slightly more reserved than his bubbly partner, they struck a delicate balance.
Reveal more possibilities
For the next live-streaming, Hollen sees a chance to inform potential visitors of the hidden possibilities at the museum. “We have a Maurits Mouse program for children. The mouse will guide them around and they could also draw the mouse,” says Hollen. The museum offers free entrance for children up until 18 years old.
“During the summer seasons, children are free to take part in the painting workshops. So if they get enthusiastic after the visit, they can come to the workshop area and paint with the guidance from our very experienced museum teachers,” says Hollen. She believes Chinese families with children could take this opportunity to create something at the museum.
“2022 marks the 200th birthday of the Mauritshuis. We will have special activities throughout the year. That is a good reason to visit us in 2022,” she adds. To welcome Chinese visitors, the museum offers family packs with quizzes, museum guides, audio tours, guide books and a WeChat mini program (in development). For Chinese who couldn’t travel so soon, there is a variety of “Mauritshuis at Home” activities, including creative challenges to recreate paintings with food.
The future of museum live-streaming
Song believes museum live-streaming has more potential than that of other attractions. “I will not watch the live-streaming of the Disneyland, because I want to go there and experience it myself. Watching others playing in the Disneyland is not that fun,” he says. In May, the first live-streaming of the Dutch “Disneyland” Efteling had a few hundred viewers.
“Actually one hour was very tight and I explained around five paintings. It would be great to develop a series of live-streaming with different themes. So we could tell more stories and accumulate more audience,” Song suggests.