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It’s beginning to dawn on many that COVID-19 would be around for some time, specifically for Malaysia.
As of the time of writing this post, the Southeast Asian nation is currently embroiled in leadership and political crisis and experienced a sputtering start to its inoculation process.
Globally, experts are predicting that intermittent social distancing and quarantine measures are necessary and should be practiced until 2022.
As days, weeks, and months drag on with seemingly no end to the pandemic, many in the arts & culture community have begun to see that the only way to sustain themselves is by going digital.
In Malaysia, two platforms have emerged in the form of CloudTheatre and MyPentas, providing an avenue for performing art organisations and the event industry to live-stream and upload their shows.
Copied and pasted from Eksentrika.
Dennis Lee Haw Feng and William Yap Yai Leong are no strangers to the Malaysian performing arts scene. In fact, Dennis is an actor who also runs a web and app design business while William, is a household name among the Chinese theatergoers.
The inception of CloudTheatre began way back in 2018 when a client had approached Dennis to design a unique online wedding website. At that time, the idea was out of this world because the entire wedding, from the ceremony to all the guests from over 40 countries, will take place online.
“That project became Cloud Wedding. It was a hit. The hosts and the guests were all surprisingly delighted by what they saw,” Dennis revealed through an email interview.
However, following the wedding, the idea was shelved.
Then COVID-19 happened and William approached Dennis with a problem: The performing arts community needs a viable solution to charge tickets to stream videos.
“It wasn’t apparent at first, but after a few brainstorming sessions, suddenly the idea of combining Cloud Wedding with streaming and ticketing could become something really special and feasible in digitally transforming theatre,” Dennis, who hails from Taiping, Perak said.
The both of them immediately got to work. It took them two weeks to convert Cloud Wedding to CloudTheatre and another two weeks to ramp up publicity and ticket sales.
At the same time, William produced and directed the first pilot show for CloudTheatre which was streamed live at 8 pm on the 30th of May, 2020.
“231 people tuned in to catch the one-hour live-stream show and it blew everyone’s expectation out of the water. That final curtain made what started as a quick-fix for that one-time experimental show took a new turn,” Dennis said.
The 38-year-old added that following the pilot show, word got out and this led to interest from other directors and producers.
“Requests started pouring in but the platform was so new that it could only host a single show at any given time. We took on all the incoming challenges while improving the platform rapidly.”
Copied and pasted from Eksentrika.
Today, the platform has grown into a full-fledged fully automated ticketing solution for both online and on-ground shows while hosting multiple shows and selling hundreds of tickets in multiple currencies on any given weekend.
According to the duo, CloudTheatre operates very much like a physical theatre, only online.
“We are the digital venue for shows. Organisers come to us to put on shows while CloudTheatre provides the digital space, technical facilities, and ticketing service. All tickets for online shows automatically contain a watch link to our digital space where video streaming and audience interaction happen.”
The platform is able to sustain itself through four major revenue sources: Event setup, ticketing commission, platform subscription, and systems white-labeling.
Furthermore, the platform is also able to collect data on behalf of the organisers of shows each time an audience member purchases a ticket.
“All tickets and watch links have built-in security measures to prevent sharing of links. A watch link is accessible by one person per device at a time only,” Dennis added.
To give audience members a sense of connection and familiarity, CloudTheatre also provides various interactivities like live chat, live vote, questionnaire, and photobooth to empower engagement and interaction among audience and organisers.
Because both Dennis and William understand the performing arts industry and its challenges, it only charges a tiny fee which is borne by the audience members.
“CloudTheatre operates like a physical venue. So in a broader sense, we are renting the space and services digitally. Organisers set the ticket prices and keep all the ticket sales. We are only charging a small amount of ticketing fee on top of a small setup and platform fee.”
Due to this, CloudTheatre is able to set itself apart from its on-demand competitors such as Netflix, YouTube, and Disney+ due to its unique live, interactive, and watch-party-style experience.
“Doors open half an hour before showtime and attendees can enter the space and start to mingle. The show starts at a specific time and there is no fast-forward or backward allowed. Attendees get to chat, comment, read and engage throughout the entire show. Or you can go into full-screen mode if you prefer to focus solely on the show. If you are watching a show, you know you are not alone. When you are feeling happy or sad from watching the show, you get to express it through the live chat or you will be able to know someone else is feeling the same way as you do, and that’s something special. What makes this even more special is that you are experiencing all these with people from all around the world.”
At the heart of it, CloudTheatre aims to connect audience members with one another and at the same time enjoy the show. The duo aims to continue pushing the boundaries by creating more engaging and interactive experiences like live emojis and reactions, on-demand watch-party, and post-show hangouts.
“To remain sustainable and relevant, CloudTheatre will be going international. We have just upgraded the platform to be able to sell in different foreign currencies so organisers from other countries will be able to sell the tickets in their preferred currencies while audiences from around the world will be able to pay in their respective currencies. This includes making the platform able to switch in between different languages like English and Chinese,” Dennis revealed.
It doesn’t end here though. The duo has created another platform called CloudTix to handle both online and on-ground ticketing.
“While CloudTheatre will be focusing on local and international online shows and being a digital venue, CloudTix will be focusing on becoming Malaysia’s SISTIC (Singapore’s largest ticketing platform); listing and selling all performing arts-related events in Malaysia, making discovery and purchasing tickets to performing arts events easier for locals and tourists.”
Dennis revealed that both of them have also received a lot of requests to serve art and film festivals which will require the same services as what CloudTheatre is offering but with their branding.
“So we have upgraded our system to become not just a ticketing and streaming platform, but also moving into the business of IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service). We have created Theatron, a white-labelled CloudTheatre for organisations who wish to have a ticketing and online streaming platform without the need to worry about development, maintenance, and server infrastructures.”
The introduction of newer features together with diversifying its offering is necessary because the duo foresee the performing arts industry going digital due to two reasons.
“Firstly, technology is rapidly improving. When devices are getting smarter and Internet speed is getting faster, having an immersive multi-angle live streaming experience of a performance at the comfort of your home will no longer be a dream. And what we are doing now is the first step to get there. Secondly, the advantage of reaching out to a wider audience no matter where they are in the world is compelling to theatre-makers,” Dennis explained.
In 2021 alone, the platform will be hosting three international art festivals: Along The Edge Arts Festival (Hong Kong), George Town Festival (Malaysia), and Let’s Get Together Arts Festival (Taiwan) — in May, July and August respectively.
“It is evident that countries like Hong Kong and Taiwan who are less affected by the pandemic, have a more matured performing arts industry that already foresees the need and trend of going digital in the near future even in a post-pandemic world.”
Watch the variety of shows available on CloudTheatre here.
The live-streaming and video-on-demand platform was found by four individuals. Three have chosen to remain anonymous, according to MyPentas Chief Digital Officer, Muralee Pillay.
The 47-year-old, however said that the idea came about in September 2020 when four friends including himself had a chat about ways they could assist impacted art practitioners.
“Why the artist you may ask? All of us come from a service industry; events, media, public relations, digital, so this is when we said let’s do something digital and at the same time get the artist in the entertainment industry to make some money. MyPentas or Mystage is where we get artists to showcase their talents on a digital platform.”
Pillay, who hails from Seremban, revealed that it took the team up to five grueling months to build the platform from scratch.
Similar to YouTube, the platform is designed to be a sharing platform that enables creatives to co-create new content or share archived content through a monetization partnership.
“It also provides the artist an opportunity to monetize content that has been sitting idle by digitalizing and enhancing it for a global viewership. We are constantly on the lookout for independent artists, as well as artists with labels to work with us and grow together,” Pillay said to me through an email interview.
Copied and pasted from Eksentrika.
Possessing more than 22 years of experience in the event industry, Pillay added that MyPentas aims to create a personalised viewing experience for the performing arts with the opportunity for users to provide feedback and reviews to the artists.
The platform also allows users to request other content that they would like to watch.
“It can also function as a crowdsourcing platform for the artist. We are currently working with brands to create customised experiences for brands’ targeted audiences,” he added.
Should performing arts and creatives opt to partner with MyPentas, they’re set to keep 40% to 50% of profits of ticket sales made via the platform.
Touting itself as the ‘+flix of the performing arts’, Pillay is unfazed with the competition the platform faces with the likes of Netflix, YouTube, and Disney+.
“MyPentas is perhaps the only OTT platform in the region and possibly the world to be the +flix of the performing arts. With the additional content to empower the arts scene end-to-end including teachers and budding artists, we are positive that we can help empower and connect these performers to a borderless audience.”
Despite being Kuala Lumpur-centric at this point, Pillay revealed that the platform has plans to expand its catalogue from the Klang Valley into other states of Malaysia rich in art such as Sarawak and Sabah.
“Eventually, MyPentas would like to target our neighboring countries such as Singapore, the Philippines, and Indonesia. We are open to collaborating with the entirety of the APAC and ASEAN region to promote representation to Southeast Asia, globally,” he added.
MyPentas is free to register for now. Users will get to watch all the videos on the platform for free but there will be a paywall for a few of its offerings which could range between RM2.99 to RM4.99. Check it out here.
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Cover image obtained from MyPentas and CloudTheatre.