What The Orchestra Field Can Learn From Playboy and The Financial Times

If your organization is considering developing an iPhone/iPad app to be distributed through Apple’s App Store, you might not need it. As apps have grown in popularity over the past few years, more and more business are discovering that the content restrictions and revenue cuts enforced by Apple aren’t worth the hassle; and their experiences might save orchestras a boatload of cash and headaches.

Cases in point, the Financial Times (FT) and Playboy both launched web apps; which are highly optimized versions for mobile platforms that look, feel, and function just like apps but are distributed and managed directly by the respective publisher.

For FT, the decision to go around the gate was monetary and data ownership driven; they didn’t want to give Apple 30 percent of their app revenue nor did they want to be beholden to Apple’s miserly “data-sharing” practices (think Ticketmaster). For Playboy, it was Apple’s content restrictions; specifically, heavy censorship of adult content.

Their solution was to reject the notion that the Apple gatekeeper retains unlimited control over content and development and focus resources on developing highly optimized versions that run right from any of the standard web browsers packaged with mobile devices (Smartphone and tablets).


By and large, the mobile optimized FT and Playboy web apps function wonderfully. I’ve used both and can attest to the fact that they feel and function just like a platform specific app. Everything is touch interactive, there are no issues with swiping or video and audio playback plus traditionally platform specific app-only items such as push notifications and geo-locators are present as well. The programs even install a familiar App icon on your device’s homescreen so there’s no need to manually fire up the browser before accessing the web app.

In the case of the FT web app, they have free content but additional features are made available when you purchase a subscription. As for the iPlayboy web app, you can’t get past the landing page without a paid subscription (sorry, no free boobies).

Check out the promo videos from FT and Playboy for their take on things:

[sws_2_column title=”Financial Times Promo”][/sws_2_column] [sws_2_columns_last title=”iPlayboy Promo”][/sws_2_columns_last]

Pros and Cons

The pros are fairly straightforward; increased revenue, less concern over content censorship, complete control over user data, less need to create separate Apple/Android versions, and increased content flexibility. On the downside, not using the App Store means losing access to the Apple’s 200+ million subscribers.

But for the orchestra field, that might not be a big deal since the logical initial target audience is your existing ticket buying base. This means relying more on existing promotional and communication methods to help promote an optimized web app endeavor and less on App Store targeted search traffic.

Then there’s the monetization issue. Although the vast majority of orchestras don’t have much along the lines of specialized content to offer by way of an app (at least, not serious ones), there is at least one exception: The Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall.

The Berlin Phil Example

From its initial concept stage, the Digital Concert Hall (DCH) was designed to not only expand awareness but serve as a new revenue stream. To that end, something along the lines of a 30 percent tribute to Apple from a revenue stream that’s only getting off the ground could be a real deal breaker.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the DCH doesn’t have an Apple specific app. According to their help page, it’s mostly related to technical issues:

Due to the high quality encoding of our content the Digital Concert Hall will work only on the iPad and the iPhone 4 with iOS 4.2 installed. Prior iPhone models or iPods will not work. Live webcasts are not supported at this time. To watch a recording from the concert archive simply log in and select a concert as usual. Concerts can not be downloaded and synced with iTunes.

The DCH functioned acceptably on my first generation iPad but not nearly as well as the FT or iPlayboy web apps. That being said, initiatives like the DCH should keep a sharp eye on the proliferation of high definition digital video adaptors, watching DCH videos on your American-sized flat screen television and mega-sound system is easier than ever. In short, if you can watch archived and live videos from your i-device, then you can watch it on pretty much any contemporary television.

Lessons To Learn

In the end, what’s important to take away from all of this is if any orchestras are considering ventures similar to the DCH, it might be best to begin designing the delivery system from a mobile-first perspective focused exclusively on a web app based solution.

Likewise, the next time your organization has the “we need an app” discussion, approach it from a content creation and delivery perspective in order to help determine which direction is best.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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