The Intersection of Tradition and Technology: Live Streaming Festivals in Singapore

Throughout the years, Singapore has earned the reputation of being a global city, and the events it holds have made it an international center for major cultural and economic activities. For example, Singapore is the host of the only stop in Asia for the F1 race. It is also a host city for events such as the Singapore Biennale, Singapore Arts Festival, and Zoukout. Music fans in Singapore are also no stranger to music festivals, both local and international. However, the nation’s recent attempts to cultivate a music and arts hub in the form of music and cultural festivals have been met with mixed results. Given limitations such as land scarcity and a lack of a strong musical culture, live music events, especially those on a bigger scale, have always been a risky endeavor. High operation costs and low attendance have led to the cancellation of many events. In recent years, Singapore has seen a decline in the number of large-scale music events, and cancellations of events such as ZoukOut 2018 and the Sing Jazz series at Marina Bay Sands in 2019 and Legacy Music Festival in 2020 have only served as a further blow to the already struggling music culture.

During the past decade, rapid developments in computer technology have now allowed for widespread usage of streaming multimedia via the internet. In Singapore, live streaming Singapore has been seen in many areas, for example webcasts of National Day Rallies and general elections. In the new digital age, live streaming Singapore has begun making an impact on the cultural scene in Singapore. Most significant would be the streaming of local traditional and contemporary music at live music festivals. With the digital revolution and the Web 2.0, live streaming music has achieved a state where the quality is on par with more traditional forms of broadcast such as radio and television. This represents a shift from the early days of internet radio which was often characterized by high latency, low quality, and frequent interruptions.

Overview of live streaming technology

This technology has become so popular that many global events are covered by live streaming services, allowing viewers from all reaches of the globe to be a part of the experience. An example of such an event would be that of the 2012 London Olympics, which provided thousands of hours of various event coverage.

One of the biggest utilizations of live streaming is for events and is a powerful tool for organizers. It allows for an event to be viewed by people who were unable to attend in person, and is a strategy for increasing an event’s reach. This can be achieved by charging an online viewing fee, allowing the viewer to watch the event at a more convenient time, or a promotional tactic to increase interest in the next event.

Live streaming is a term that is familiar to millions, yet little understood. At its simplest, live streaming is a form of online media that is simultaneously recorded and broadcast in real time. The transmission of data is done over a computer network and viewed by an end user, hosted by a provider. Live streaming is most associated with content viewing and its popularity has increased dramatically in the last few years. This is due to the improvements in technology, the increased availability of broadband Internet, and increased viewership.

Significance of festivals in Singapore

Festivals have diverse objectives and purposes. The objectives of these festivals can be discussed in relation to the various communities that the festival is focused on. These communities can be based on race, religion, or other common factors. For example, in the case of the Chinese New Year celebrations, the specific community is the Chinese community. This would be the same for the Hari Raya celebrations, with the specific community in this case being the Malay community.

Festivals in Singapore have their roots in the various communities that have existed in the country. There are four main types of festivals celebrating the nation’s past and its different communities, building a sense of identity and pride for the nation. The first are national day parades and celebrations. These are festivals that are meant to instill a sense of patriotism and pride. Then, there are cultural celebrations such as the Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, Deepavali, and Christmas. These are public holidays and are an official school holiday for each of the specific races of people, enabling them to celebrate and understand their traditions and customs. Deepavali, the Hindu festival of lights, is the most recent festival to be gazetted as a public holiday. Then there are religious and celebratory events such as the Chingay parade and the Singapore arts festival. The Chingay parade is a cross-cultural event, which involves participants from various community organizations and schools, and fills the entire city with lights and the sounds of laughter and music.

Festivals are social events that revolve around communal activities, such as feasting, music, dancing, games, and contests. They are a segment of life and add humor and curiosity to the cycle of routine life. The main purposes or roles of festivals are to satisfy specific communal needs, to celebrate, and to perform sacred functions.

The Rise of Live Streaming Festivals in Singapore

On the other hand, government agencies such as the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts, Media Development authorities, and the Infocomm Development Authority have also used the live streaming of events to promote the use of ICT and the new media culture in Singapore. This factor is evident with the increased number of IT exhibitions and the aim to make Singapore a nationwide leader, early adopter innovator economy, led by ICT. An example would be the live streaming of the Singapore Fireworks festival organized by the Tourism Board. This event was streamed live in 2007 and also webcasted as a virtual online game. Players would have the Fireworks event as a background on the game itself. This has created a more vibrant digital culture of the festival, which appeals to a younger crowd.

The rise of live streaming festivals in Singapore has been greatly attributed to the rate of technology adoption by both locals and the government. With the high internet penetration rate in Singapore, it is no surprise that live streaming festivals have become an increasingly popular medium for event decision. The convenience of being able to watch an entire festival from the comfort of one’s home PC or laptop makes the proposition of attending a live event less enticing. This is particularly relevant for Singaporeans. With the Exceptional Access scheme announced in 2006, more than 2,500 people with physical disabilities will get a grant to own computers each year between 2006 and 2011. Live streaming festivals are a viable option for these individuals who may find it inconvenient to attend a festival in crowded public places.

Live streaming festivals act as an innovative form of cultural dissemination that is used to both reach out to a wider audience and preserve the tradition and culture of a society. Through the use of new technology, live streaming festivals serve as a complementary feature to traditional festivals and at a fraction of the cost. This essay will address the reasons behind the rise of live streaming festivals in Singapore, the benefits of these festivals, and the impact these festivals have on traditional festival experiences.

Adoption of live streaming platforms

The adoption of various technological platforms is an integral part in setting up the live streaming festival itself. This would include the intricate web of software and hardware applications that are required to convert an entire festival experience into a digital format that can be streamed to the end-user. One of the most obvious platform adoptions is the use of video streaming platforms. In recent years, the amount of platforms that are available to do this has greatly increased, with many being affordable even to smaller festival organizations. YouTube has become a popular choice for many festivals as a platform for live streaming due to the fact that it is highly accessible and provides a reliable video streaming service with good video quality. Other similar platforms such as Ustream, Twitch.tv, Livestream and Facebook Live are also viable options, each with its own pros and cons. The accessibility of social media applications like Facebook Live have made this a popular choice lately, with many of the festivals target audience already using the platform, these applications provide much easier means of reaching out and notification of the festival to its intended audience. Other platform adoptions includes the use of virtual reality and augmented reality applications. Though not widely used in current events due to the infancy of the technology and high costs involved in implementation, this is an interesting and potentially revolutionary direction which festival streaming could take in the future. The idea of being able to put on a VR headset and ‘attend’ the festival from the comfort of one’s own home is intriguing and could provide a completely new way of experiencing the festival for end-users. Though at this stage it is quite far-fetched, it is definitely an area to watch if development costs lower and VR technology becomes more accessible to consumers.

Benefits of live streaming festivals

One of the key benefits of the live streaming of festivals is that it opens up new markets for the festival industry. Boase suggests that the global music industry has been influenced by the evolution of new technology where the consumption of internet and digitalisation has begun. This has changed the production and experience of music attending and music industry involved. Music festivals can expand their market and attract new potential festival goers who are unable to physically experience the festival. They offer an opportunity for those who are travelling, on a daily commute to work or school or for those who are not physically able to attend a festival to be able to tune into the live streams and experience the festival through a different perspective. According to Boase, this is a key selling point for festival live streaming as it allows those people to experience the content for a fraction of the usual cost of access, or completely free. An intensive 16 core 1000 person sample interviewed during the live stream of the Coachella music and arts festival in 2011 showed that the primary reasons that they were watching the festival online was that they were unable to experience the festival live and that they wanted to see exclusive live performances by their favourite artists. The ability to reach out to different segment markets and in various global locations can increase the viewers accessed from tens of thousands to millions from over 180 countries reached.

Impact on traditional festival experiences

The feeling you get from being in a large crowd of people and hearing music played live is something that is almost impossible to duplicate. During a live stream broadcast, many artists will likely be playing outside of the actual festival site in a localized venue as a part of the festival. Usually, these shows are not broadcast over the internet. Any viewer who is watching the live stream and sees an artist play at a localized venue will most likely feel a profound sense of alienation.

The act of people going outside and going to festivals is getting less and less common. Then again, people are getting lazier in general. Instead of driving twenty minutes into the city, finding a parking spot, and walking several blocks to the festival site, people can simply turn on their computer and immediately experience the sights and sounds of a festival from the comfort of their own living room. While this symbolizes a very profound cultural shift, it also means that for many people, the only festival experience they will ever have is a virtual one.

Challenges and Considerations

Multi-faceted problems of balancing the physical and virtual festival experience are found. One event, a live streaming concert, encountered problems as simple as an audience member not realizing the event was occurring in a virtual setting and calling the band to ask where the concert was. Others face problems of competition between virtual and physical site events. Typically, one of the main reasons for holding a virtual festival is to attract wider audiences and in particular an international audience. The hope is that these viewers will then attend a future live festival at the physical site. In the music and concerts industry however, the availability of virtual events may reduce the need for live events. This leads to the consideration of the economics of a virtual event, which are often quite different from a live event.

As suggested by an interviewee from one of the live streaming events, the foremost concern is translating the live experience of the festival into a digital event. Such an attempt is fraught with technical problems. Interviewees remarked that the quality of streaming audio and video is highly variable in Singapore, with high quality generally being expensive and slow loading times being a potential audience deterrent. Other technical problems cited were the construction of a virtual site and hosting a live event within that site. It is often difficult and expensive to find a capable web designer and technical support staff.

Seeking to uncover the challenges and considerations faced by live streaming festivals in Singapore, this study begins by assessing the technical trials faced by festival organizers when attempting to translate the live experience into a digital event. The study’s next focus is the attempt to recreate the experience of the live festival in both the physical and virtual spheres. This dilemma leads into a consideration of the necessity of maintaining cultural authenticity in a virtual festival. Finally, the study will look at methods of audience engagement as an indicator of the success of virtual festival events.

Technical challenges of live streaming festivals

The very nature of live streaming makes it difficult to ensure good quality audio and video. During the Mosaic festival, the live stream cut our video quality in half, which in turn affected the slowed our response time to around a minute. This likely caused many listeners to become frustrated before they exited the stream. A similar technical issue occurred during the Music Online sessions in the Singapore Writer’s Festival, when speakers from Iran and Indonesia were unable to communicate over Skype. In the face of issues such as these, Ning feels it is simply easier to record video and upload it, rather than attempt to live stream; and the recent trends seem to suggest that many feel the same way. After months of consideration, The Esplanade decided not to live stream this year’s highly anticipated Rock and Roots festival, though their decision was based more on properly ensuring the rights to the music with foreign bands than it was on technical concerns. Issues affiliated with live streaming have even affected events that were to take place on site at a later time. The annual Asian Television Awards hosted an “unfamiliar” live stream of their post-ceremony party, which in hindsight was probably disastrous and has the potential to create future complications in planning for the event. With affordable high-speed internet still largely unavailable in many parts of the world, it is likely that most of the technical burdens discussed will remain a primary issue for years to come.

Balancing virtual and physical attendance

Measures taken by the Brazilian government to remove uploaded content of the Rio carnival in an attempt to drive tourism have been unpopular and seen as mismanagement. Regardless, they indicate the difficulties of achieving an ideal virtual and physical attendance ratio without having to sacrifice potential audience.

If too much of the live content is streamed or uploaded, it can cannibalize the audience for the physical event. Additionally, any content that is behind a paywall or any kind of exclusive virtual content takes away from the universality of the experience. For a country such as Singapore, this means having to limit the amount and type of streamed or uploaded content in order to ensure a healthy attendance and preference for the physical event, without alienating those who are unable to attend for whatever reason.

Presumably, the main attraction of any live-streamed content is its unparalleled convenience. This might result in fewer people attending the live event. In the age of digital music, it is increasingly feasible for people to forgo the experience of attending a festival and simply wait for the content to be uploaded or live-streamed at a later date, if there is no difference between the virtual and physical experience. This is true for festivals in both Western and Eastern countries and presents a significant challenge for the organizers.

Ensuring cultural authenticity in virtual experiences

One of the key advantages often cited about virtual events is the ability to reach a wider audience, and this is especially true for those hoping to engage with people outside of the event’s local or usual demographic. One example given in the article is that of the National Arts Council (NAC) of Singapore, whose decision to support virtual events that capture the Singaporean spirit and identity is driven by a desire to reach a generation of youth who consume culture through digital means and are unfamiliar with more traditional cultural events. Usually, the youth demographic is the one hardest to reach for cultural events, but with the pervasive nature of digital technology and social media on the younger generations of today, it is more feasible for them to experience a digital cultural event.

One of the main concerns of festival organisers and government bodies is how bringing a traditional cultural event into a virtual space will affect its authenticity. The term authenticity here refers specifically to the rituals and practices of the event, how it represents the culture it hails from, as well as the experiences and emotions of those involved. It is especially important for traditional event organisers to ensure their event remains authentic, as many cultural events are considered to be intangible cultural heritage, and steps may be taken to preserve them under this category by the respective countries.

Audience engagement and interaction

These methods can potentially maintain audience interest, although the duration and timed availability of the event features may vary.

An alternative is to have question and answer sessions via live stream with key figures involved in the event. This gives viewers a chance to directly communicate with these figures and also helps enforce the purpose of interest in the event duration.

One simple method is to have a message board or chat window implemented into the live stream web page so viewers can discuss the event as it progresses. This creates a real-time social atmosphere and allows viewers to get an opinion from a global audience about the event.

The idea of audience virtual participation and involvement with the event is something that has been implemented in many successful virtual reality applications and role-playing communities. Although the quality of these may degrade given the cultural context of the event, some ideas can be transferable to a live-streamed festival event.

Traditional festival audience attendance at events provides automatic engagement and interaction since attendees are physically involved and present at the event. However, in the virtual world, though an audience may be viewing a festival via live stream, their attention to the event can be easily diminished with distractions at home or the simple ability to switch off the event. NGOs considering live streaming events need to maintain the interest of their audience for the event duration.

Future Outlook and Opportunities

Once the festival organisers are satisfied with the live streaming technology and all its peripherals, the streaming of the actual festival programmes can be made possible. Traditional festival programmes like song and dance performances, or puppetry, storytelling, and theatre, can be tailored and choreographed for live streaming in virtual environments. The Singapore Government is also aware of the technology divide among Singaporeans and is committed to ensuring that the benefits of infocomm technology should be made available to all, including the older generation. There will be trail mix programming suitable for all ages, and specific interactive workshops and activities for the elderly. There will also be a platform for the less fortunate, such as performances by special talent arts groups and exhibition of artwork created by the intellectually handicapped. These will all serve to add vibrancy and dynamism to the local arts and culture scene. With such a wide array of arts genres and interests, the various communities in Singapore can look forward to more meaningful and engaging experiences at virtual festivals that cater to their specific cultural and demographic profiles.

Evolution of live streaming technology

Live streaming technologies have significantly evolved with multiple popular platforms such as Twitch, Periscope, Facebook, and YouTube. Equipment and tools needed to live stream have become more accessible too, with better software and hardware quality. This marks a significant difference compared to the first live streaming site, Jennicam, where an individual’s personal life was live-streamed 24/7. Incorporating the improvements in live streaming technology to festivals would be beneficial. Smooth and reliable video and audio quality will be expected by the audience to whom it will be delivered. The improvement in video and audio means that they can better capture and replicate a live festival experience. Another integral part of live streams in current times is social media integration. This extends the potential viewership reach, as well as audience interaction. Notifications and sharing capabilities through platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube can attract viewers who are browsing through their social media feeds. Live streaming of festivals at this point in time is already an attractive proposition, with the accessibility and lower costs compared to traveling to a physical event. It is exemplified by the fact that Hulu and YouTube have a live stream of the annual Coachella Festival in California.

Potential for global reach and audience expansion

One of the key aspects that make live-streamed events more appealing than the physical equivalent is the ability to share and reminisce in the music and moments. In the wake of the pandemic that has left the general global population in a state of lockdown, online communities and social networks for live-streamed music events have been more active than ever. With audiences and fans being more culturally and technologically diverse than ever before, there is huge potential for larger parts of the global population to become more involved with music from other countries. In an interview with Forbes, Music Xray CEO Mike McCready stated, “In the future, cultures will learn the music of other cultures much more.” He believes this is largely due to the smaller world we live in today and the ability the internet has to connect people and music.

The potential for a live-streamed music festival to go global is being demonstrated by the international initiative, Love From The Lockdown. This is a 10-day live stream event that has been organized by MAMA festivals, the PRS Foundation, the Association of Independent Festivals, and the Featured Artists Coalition, in an effort to raise funds for the global music community. The event will take place between the 13th and 22nd of April and has been created to unite artists, fans, and industry professionals in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, there were over 1.8 billion music festival admissions in 2019, and this number has been forecasted to grow. The ability for live-streamed festivals to tap into this global audience is far easier than a physical festival, with fans having to travel to the event. Annabel McGregor, Global Communications Director at Boiler Room, believes that live streaming has the potential to tap into a global audience of up to 100 million people and has a far greater ability to cross borders than traditional festivals.

Integration of augmented reality and virtual reality

With the aid of live streaming technology, traditional festivals are able to reach a much wider audience, extend beyond physical boundaries, and also archive the festival experience for future generations. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are the next steps for the evolution of live streaming technology and have great potential for traditional festivals. AR allows computer-generated images to be superimposed onto the real world and is accessible through the use of various display environments. This is good for the festivals as they can project images of the festivals’ yesteryears and portray the festival’s significance to the past. Geylang Serai’s Ramadan festival and preparations are a good example whereby AR technology can be used to educate the public on the significance of Ramadan to the Malay community in the light of modern-day Singapore.

Singapore’s rich culture and the proactive attitude towards blending technology and traditions can be documented by the arrival of live streaming technology to their traditional festivals. This advancement seeks to conserve the festivals in the light of the decreasing participation of the younger generation, with hopes of sparking their interest through the way of their technological upbringing.

Collaboration between traditional and digital platforms

In the collaboration between traditional and digital platforms, there is significant potential for exploring new methods of presentation for digital audiences in the form of ‘digital-ethnography’. For example, observational documentary on an arts group or community can be recorded and presented to a global audience through YouTube. The convenience and widespread use of the internet allows for increased accessibility to a more global scale of niche market digital content that is targeting specific cultural groups in Singapore such as the older generations of cultural minorities. There is vast opportunity to use Singapore as a case study for various cultural and artistic phenomena in using digital platforms to promote and present traditional arts. Funding and support is imperative in ensuring that Singapore’s arts and cultures are well represented in the digital age and more work can be done to lobby for this. With the current COVID-19 pandemic and closure of arts venues and cancellation of events, digital platforms have become more important now than ever in keeping arts and culture alive. The future outlook of digital platforms in Singapore’s arts and cultures is an optimistic one with a host of opportunities waiting to be explored.

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