STAGING worldwide broadcasts of major Edinburgh Festival shows is being explored to help generate extra revenue for capital’s flagship events as they grapple with a potential funding crisis.
Signature events being staged could soon be seen on television, in cinemas and streamed online under plans being developed behind the scenes under a five-year digital strategy, a culture conference in the city was told.
Delegates were told that the festivals are looking into how they would retain the broadcast and “intellectual property” rights of shows, many of which are being seen for the first time in Edinburgh in August.
Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, was speaking during a debate on the future funding of Edinburgh’s festivals, which are worth more than £261 million to the economy, but are facing looming funding cuts in the face of the public spending squeeze.
Mr Barley, who compared the level of coverage from the Edinburgh Festival to that devoted to Glastonbury by the BBC, said the festivals were also exploring what infrastructure improvements and facilities would be needed to make “significant leaps forward” with their own broadcasts.
Mr Barley said: “There is lot of work going on within Edinburgh’s festivals thinking about the digital future and there’s a lot of interest from the big broadcasters who want a piece of action from here.
“Bringing money in from digital and broadcasting isn’t quite as easy as you might think. The broadcasters actually find it quite hard in Edinburgh. With an event like Glastonbury, you can bring The Rolling Stones on, point ten cameras at the stage and you have three hours of really cheap programming which can go out right away on BBC1.
“With something like the Fringe, you have hundreds, if not thousands of small performances, a few of which are going to be world-beating Broadway shows in a few years’ time, but in Edinburgh are taking place in front of 25 people in a dungeon.
“It’s not that easy to turn festival content into TV or digital content. However, the festivals think we can do it and we will own it. We will not allow one of the big broadcasters own it. The intellectual property would be ours.”
It is hoped that the Edinburgh Festival broadcasts could replicate the success of cinema broadcasts of performances by the likes of the New York-based Metropolitan Opera and the National Theatre in London.
The Tattoo, which is a sell-out on Edinburgh Castle esplanade each year, already attracts more than 100 million viewers in 30 different countries. The book festival struck a deal with the BBC last year for a live stream from Game of Thrones author George RR Martin.
Mr Barley told The Scotsman: “The stream of the George RR Martin event at the book festival was the most downloaded thing on the BBC Arts website all year.
“We’re developing a five-year digital plan which might involve investment in new infrastructure in the city.
“Changes in broadcast technology are making it easier for us to consider ways of filming material which could eventually make its way on to broadcast networks. No longer would it be necessary to have an outside broadcast truck. With a small amount of investment we could make significant leaps forward in making it possible for things to be broadcast easily.
“If you look at somewhere like Montreal, which also has ambitions to be a festival city, they’ve invested something like $120m (£80m) in infrastructure to make it possible for digital activity to happen. The question is what we could do here.”