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Art for the digital age: how streaming will change the art world 


By Rob Anders is CEO of Niio, the premium platform for moving image art.

Were Leonardo da Vinci working as an artist today, would he bother with a paintbrush at all?

The question might appear glib, but the answer is not as straightforward as you think.

We are living in the digital age. The appetite for online experience is insatiable, and the rising consumption of media is fuelling the inexorable rise of streaming giants like Netflix, Spotify and Amazon Prime. With the global pandemic, the lockdown of public spaces has created a digital alternative for experiencing concerts, movies, and culture.

As recently as 2018, Eurostat found that 72% of internet users in the European Union’s 28 member states watched internet-streamed TV or videos. In that same year, CNBC found that nearly 60% of Americans used some form of streaming service. Streaming giants were already motoring along, and the global lockdown has turbocharged their growth.

Netflix welcomed 16 million new account holders in the first quarter of 2020, doubling the number of new sign-ups it experienced in the final three months of 2019, and driving its share price up 30%. It’s a similar story for Spotify, who reported a 31% rise in paid subscribers over the same time period that has taken them beyond 130 million customers.

The art world is modernising at a much gentler pace. Consequently, the art sector is currently undergoing its most profound change in a generation as the impact of the global pandemic forces an acceleration of digital offerings. Over the past 90 days of lockdown, Google has reported an increase in search terms “Arts & Culture” of 190%.  With gallery and museum doors shut all over the world, artists and institutions are turning to the online world as they strive to connect with art lovers and create a viable revenue stream that is lockdown-proof.

Which brings us back to Da Vinci. As with many of the most famous artists in history, he was also a visionary, with a passion for science and technological advancements. Artists tell the story of the world they live in, and they choose how they want to tell their story based on the tools accessible to them. In the current age, the access to technology and digital creation tools enables reaching a broad audience. Paintings and sculpture are the mediums that people have most closely associated with the art world, but that definition of art is evolving.

Digital art was born from a new media based society.The creative output includes time-based media such as AR, VR, video art, generative art as well as physical artworks derived from digital techniques. The current generation of art lovers are not frequenting galleries and museums in the same numbers as their predecessors, they are consuming media through the smartphone, the tablet, on public digital screens – and now even through our moving image Zoom backgrounds. The world continues towards digital transformation and this extends to the future of arts enabling access to cultural experiences with moving image art taking a leading role. Film and software are becoming the paint, the screen has become the canvas, and a new destination for art. The Jeff Koons’, Ai Weiwei’s and David Hockney’s of tomorrow will reflect this and create artworks digitally which are instantly accessible to a global, digitally-focussed audience who hunger for the virtual experience.

What has caused the delay in this transformation? Progress has been stalled up to this point by the limitations of the available technology. The value of the art market for artists and collectors lies in scarcity. Serious collectors are acquiring art because they believe in its value, cherish its uniqueness and want to own something that nobody else has. If everybody can own the same artwork then an artist knows that its value will plummet. The fear and ramifications of piracy are more prevalent in art than any other cultural industry.

However, the emergence of blockchain technology has provided the perfect solution. With blockchain underwriting ownership of digital artworks that are obtained through the Niio platform, we have seen trust in the notion of moving image art as an investment as we are able to safeguard the ownership, provide provenance and establish a permanent link between the artists and the artwork.

In their own way, every artist is an entrepreneur and operates as a micro-business. For those working with moving image artworks, there have been challenges as to how they monetise their practice. Safely storing and preserving the integrity of their artworks, reaching collectors directly and monetising the loaning of their artworks to a mass audience have all been hurdles that were nearly impossible to overcome without a centralised platform and ecosystem to exist on. Now that system exists through Niio, the technology is in place to enable artists to manage every aspect of their careers.

For the first time, an art on demand model that enables mass streaming of art is a viable option both for connecting  artists and consumers around the world. Art streaming will be transformational for the art world, and for the relationship between society and art. Imagine that, just as you would navigate through Netflix or Spotify, you can choose from thousands of artworks to stream onto any screen, instantly, and anywhere in the world. Through Niio, this is exactly what you can do, and it’s why we’ve seen a 400% rise in consumer traction during the pandemic.

The exposure and accessibility of art streaming will create a completely new art-loving consumer who craves meaningful social cultural  experience and is now able to do so from their homes. Architects, designers, and corporates too, will be able to bring dynamic, meaningful, moving art experiences to their customers with ease.

This will have a knock-on effect on investment in the art market. The new media art world is a relatively untapped corner of that market, and subsequently the most undervalued part of the art world. We expect to see this change with Niio and new models from which artists and galleries can earn sustainable and recurring revenues while reaching a vast audience.  Art that exists virtually can’t be damaged in the same way as the physical art world, blockchain can protect against fakes and replicas, and as the digital world becomes more prominent we will see an explosion in digital art investment and the valuations of some of the top artists in that space. This is backed by curatorial AI that can track trends in pricing and consumer choices and help prompt on artworks or artists they might enjoy.

Already, Niio hosts more than 13,000 artworks and has a network of more than 4,000 artists with another 2,000 on the waiting list, and the logical next step is for online collections to come under one umbrella. Galleries are already taking their offerings virtual, as are museums, but what the art sector lacks is a centralised location for the consumer to visit and access everything in one place. As such, Niio has been specifically designed to enable third parties to fit on the cloud based platform under their own brand, and to promote through the Niio marketplace, as well as on their own website.

The commercial upsides to doing this are significant. For artists, there is an opportunity to access a global audience of prospective clients and collectors, and proprietary streaming technology which enables them to create a completely new revenue stream by loaning their works out all over the world. For galleries, diversification is important.. Most will want to maintain a physical presence, as they should, but expanding their digital offerings creates an additional revenue stream that will be crucial at a time when The Art Newspaper estimates that income lost worldwide is at 70%.

Art exists to nourish, inspire and challenge us. What better way to do just that than to make meaningful experiences accessible to everybody, and everywhere?