Edinburgh international festival to hold more online events after 1m views

There were 26 specially staged opera, classical and ballet performances after the cancellation of live concerts

The Edinburgh international festival will use far more digital technology and film-making after its online opera, classical and ballet performances were viewed more than 1 million times last month, its director has said.

Fergus Linehan said the festival would embrace digital content in future following its enforced move online last month, with a much lower number of shows, after the city’s summer festivals were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The festival said its 26 digital productions, which featured specially staged performances involving about 500 artists, musicians and technical staff, were watched 1.013m times in nearly 50 countries worldwide. Last year, its live shows in Edinburgh had an audience of 420,000.

The Edinburgh book festival said its programme of 146 online readings and interviews with authors including Hilary Mantel, Ali Smith and Ian Rankin were watched 210,000 times during the 17 days the event is normally staged in its tented city in the city’s new town.

All Edinburgh’s summer festivals, including a visual art festival and the city’s jazz and blues festival, were cancelled in early April for the first time since 1947 after the pandemic hit arts events and festivals across the world.

In recent years, the five Edinburgh festivals staged in August normally encompass more than 5,000 events, watched by audiences of 4.4 million and produced by more than 25,000 artists, performers and writers.

Previously sceptical about the role online productions might have in future, Linehan admitted he was surprised about how successful they had been. “It’s really interesting, but we will have to dig into it a bit,” he said. “The degree to which it would complement live performances [in future] is really interesting as well.”

In a series of coordinated announcements about this year’s events, the fringe said it had raised £250,000 to help fund performers who lost out from the cancelled festival but was unable to say how many viewers its 300 online productions received.

A fringe spokeswoman said it directly oversaw only a fraction of those events; most digital fringe shows were hosted by independent producers. But it said the 390 videos released in its Fringe Pick n Mix season, sponsored by the investment company AJ Bell, were watched 282,000 times over the three-week duration of the fringe last month.

Boosted by continuing sponsorship, donations and crowdfunding appeals, the festivals focused on producing much more limited digital programmes.

Alongside those, there were two live events from the international festival – a vast light show involving more than 260 spotlights beamed into the sky at major venues and a sound installation of classic music in Princes Street Gardens. The visual art festival also displayed work from artists on flagpoles and poster sites in the city.

The international festival said its viewing figures were based on YouTube’s standard measure of at least 30 seconds’ viewing and Facebook’s measure of at least five seconds; the book festival said the average viewing time for its events was 42 minutes.

The book festival’s overall viewing figures were slightly below those for the Hay-on-Wye literary festival in May, which is thought to have had 250,000 viewings.

The Edinburgh book festival’s most popular event was Nicola Sturgeon’s interview with the Booker prize winner Bernardine Evaristo, which had an audience of more than 5,000 on the night and 11,220 views using its catch-up service.


Severin Carrell Scotland editor

The GuardianTramp

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