Marquee TV has been streaming live art and culture for 3 years. We had a chat with founder Simon Walker about the business of streaming the arts and partnering with arts organisations to bring a global audience to their performances.
You describe yourself as the ‘business guy’ in the team, developing the business model. Has your business model changed at all since the pandemic and the shift towards digital content?
Yes, I’m definitely not the arts guy in the team! Fortunately we have a wonderful editorial team who look after all the content curation for Marquee TV. In terms of the business model, it’s fundamentally the same – an ‘all you can eat’ subscription, like Netflix, that gives our members unlimited access to the greatest performing arts in the world. In the pandemic we saw two interesting trends. First, some of our partners wanted to offer free content to stay in touch with their audiences. The Marquee TV app is free anyway, so we were delighted to include more content in front of the paywall. Second, many partners wanted to stream performances as pay-per-view events to maximise revenues, so we’ve made events and seasons a core part of our proposition for both partners and audiences.
What arts organisations in the City of London do you work with?
We are very proud to work with the Barbican’s two world famous residents, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Shakespeare Company. The LSO’s concerts from St Luke’s, which we streamed exclusively, were a huge hit during lockdown.
Do you think City workers are gravitating more towards arts and culture, both as organisations and individuals?
The last 18 months has starved us all of arts and culture and we’re now seeing a surge in demand. As organisations bring their teams back into the office, they are definitely emphasising the rich cultural opportunities of working in cities. We’re all used to hybrid working now – some in person, some remote. That’s also how we consume our culture and at Marquee TV we’re starting to see companies looking for enterprise solutions to keep their teams connected to arts and culture.
Is there a specific genre which has spiked on Marquee TV through the pandemic?
Dance has been huge. We don’t really understand why, to be honest, but there’s something viscerally attractive about movement that lures people in. Dance catches the eye and attracts an audience who then stay for the music, theatre, and opera.
Aggregating online audiences for arts organisations offers them a lifeline at this difficult time. Are you now co-commissioning shows with them? What does this entail?
Yes, the aggregation model is critical. Media and marketing is all about scale, so even if an organisation runs their own digital service, it makes sense for them to work with us too. The foundation of those partnerships is often a co-commission of an amazing new production. The pandemic forced everyone to innovate so we’re seeing the most extraordinary wave of creativity in the sector right now.
Do you bring sponsors to the table at Marquee TV or do you do this as part of your incubator ‘Maidthorn’?
So far we’ve focused on helping our partners’ existing sponsors continue to reach an audience. If a City bank has sponsored a concert hall that no-one can attend then obviously we can help by bringing that relationship into the online realm. Maidthorn definitely helps with that. We’re both a mediatech incubator and a network of entrepreneurs, investors and advisers from across the creative industries, so there’s always an angle to add value or bring in a deal.
Tell us more about Maidthorn
Silicon Valley has eaten our creative industries alive, so I set up Maidthorn to help us fight back. While the media sector is consolidating to compete with Big Tech, we’re focused at the other end of the spectrum by building vertical brands, powered by technology, that speak to people’s passions. In YouTube and Instagram terms a million subscribers is nothing. But if you build a global membership brand with a million passionate arts lovers, or country music fans, or adventure sports addicts, then you have a very valuable model that is also a force for good in that sector.
What keeps you thriving as a business and as a business leader in this space?
I’ve been talking about Big Tech strip-mining our creative industries for two decades, and frankly at first what drove me was an urgent need to warn people not to sleepwalk into oblivion! Now that we’ve found a model with purpose I’m focused on rolling it out to as many verticals as we can around the world and working with the best teams in the business.
What is your passion, outside of business? Although I understand this may be blurred!
I’ve got three school-age children so I’m obsessed with the future of education at the moment. It will definitely blur with business as a core element of our brands is creating opportunities for young people and building the next generation of artists and audiences. Watch this space!
In one line, how do you describe the core of what you do?
It’s about ‘framing’. I was the BBC’s first head of on demand 25 years ago, and my job was to imagine what the media world would look like in 2020. Obviously we didn’t predict everything that the internet enabled, but the framework I developed to understand how digital would impact media and entertainment has proved pretty robust. We see opportunities to use that frame in many businesses in parallel so each of them benefits from the network effect. Sorry, that wasn’t one line, was it?
What was your vision for Marquee TV when it launched in 2018?
To build the global digital brand for arts and culture. Journalists often summarise Marquee TV as ‘Netflix for the arts’ but actually the vision is much broader than just video on demand. We want to be the ultimate arts companion – content, sure, but also ticketing, community, rewards and so on.
Has your audience demographic changed over the past year?
We’ve always had two core demographics – the younger culture-curious and the older arts devotees. This hasn’t really changed and we remain very global. What’s new and interesting is the demand from schools and parents for a service like ours. We can double our business by serving them too.
What’s next for Marquee TV?
Three things: broadening our proposition to audiences, deepening our relationship with arts organisations, and innovating to secure the future of the sector.