Companies are fighting for our attention and our eyeballs as we spend more time in the digital world. We are busy uploading pictures on Instagram, sending snaps on Snapchat and surfing posts on Facebook. The way we consume media, culture and content is rapidly changing and becoming more digital. Where does this leave museums like the Met, the original content curators before the tech media giants showed up? The digital revolution has forced the Met to radically rethink how people should experience culture and art. As their former Chief Digital Officer Sree Sreenivasan puts it, “our competition is Netflix and Candy Crush,” not other museums. The Met has the largest collection of art in the Western Hemisphere with over 2 million objects. It is also the largest tourist attraction in New York with over 6.7 million visitors this past fiscal year. The Met has plenty of content to share with its large audience but how it shares it will determine its success.
From Museum to Media Company: A Business Model Shift
The Met’s business model was rooted in providing a cultural experience for friends and families to enjoy curated art exhibits. Exhibits have been wide ranging from Max Beckman in New York to Native American Masterpieces. Visitors entered the museum, walked around (sometimes with a tour guide), observed art and then left.
To stay relevant to customers, the Met has decided to embrace technology instead of fight it. It wants to fit in with social media and content creators like Snapchat and Facebook. In 2011, the Met began this digital reinvention. It started by re-positioning its business model not as a museum but as a media company that delivers value to customers by creating, curating and distributing content. Digital would serve as an (1) origination channel to bring in new consumers into physical locations, (2) an engagement tool to enrich the in-person museum experience, and (3) a retention tool to increase engagement post-visit.
Selfies, Virtual Reality and Khan Academy: A New Type of Operating Model for the Digital Age
As part of its commitment to transform its business model into a media company, the Met made critical changes to its operating model:
- Leadership and HR: The Met hired Sree Sreenivasan as its Chief Digital Officer who quickly launched a 70-person digital media team and a 70-person tech hardware team, creating a tech media startup within the organization focused on the Met’s digital transformation.
- Digitization Effort: The Met began digitizing its object collection and made over 400,000 images publicly available. The organization also built a high-powered app that makes it easier for visitors to explore the museum.
- Social Media and Digital Marketing: The days of not being able to use your phone to take pictures are over. The Met is very much “pro-selfie.” Photos are encouraged as the Met’s Facebook and Instagram presence continues to grow with over a million people on each platform. The Met has also been sending out more targeted engagement emails (e.g. 55 billion emails were sent in 2015).
- New Technology Adoption: A partnership is being explored with Oculus to develop virtual reality experiences for the museum. The objective is to inspire greater interest and encourage people to visit the museum to learn more. New technologies are constantly being tested such as Blippar, an augmented reality smartphone app that animates a painting through an iPhone. The museum also hosts a 3D Hackathon inviting artists and programmers to work on integrating 3D art and printing into its content.
- Digital Partnerships and Initiatives: A partnership was set up with Khan Academy to provide educational content on art. The Met also created an experimental video initiative called the Artist Project in which 100 of the world’s most important artists discuss their favorite art in a TV-show format.
Opportunities, Challenges and Recommendations
The digital revolution gives the Met an incredible opportunity to engage more deeply with its audience. There are more and more ways to integrate technology to create more interactive and enriching experiences, while cultivating new audiences. The challenges are also many. There is constant competition from tech media companies in terms of monopolizing people’s time.
The Met needs to take the following steps to stay relevant:
- Continue to invest in immersive technologies such as VR and AR to enrich and re-imagine the museum experience both during the visit and at home.
- Create software that learns people’s interests to create a personalized digital and physical experience.
- Focus on fundraising so it can attract top-tiered developers who might otherwise work at tech media giants.
- Engage its growing international digital audience (the majority of its social media followers) by increasing partnerships with international museums.
The Met has its work cut out for it, but it’s headed in the right direction. Time to turn off Netflix and visit the Met!
(Word Count: 797)
- Amy Henderson, “Can Museums and Other Institutions Keep up With Digital Culture?” Smithsonian Magazine, March 7, 2015, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/can-museums-and-other-institutions-keep-up-digital-culture-vulture-180949926/?no-ist, accessed November 2016.
- Les Shu, “Van Gogh vs. Candy Crush: How museums are fighting tech with tech to win your eyes,” http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/how-museums-are-using-technology/, accessed November 2016.
- Dillon Baker, “Museums, the Next Media Companies,” https://contently.com/strategist/2015/05/12/museums-the-next-media-companies/, accessed November 2016.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Annual Attendance,” http://www.metmuseum.org/press/news/2016/annual-attendance, accessed November 2016.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Current Exhibitions,” http://metmuseum.org/exhibitions/current-exhibitions, accessed November 2016.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, “The Future of Mapping and Wayfinding at the Met,” http://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/digital-underground/2016/future-of-mapping-and-wayfinding, accessed November 2016.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, “The Met App,” http://www.metmuseum.org/visit/met-app, accessed November 2016.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, “3D Scanning, Hacking and Printing in Art Museums, for the Masses,” http://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/digital-underground/posts/2013/3d-printing, accessed November 2016.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Khan Academy,” http://www.metmuseum.org/press/news/2014/khan-academy, accessed November 2016.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, “The Artist Project,” http://artistproject.metmuseum.org/, accessed November 2016.
- Center for the Future of Museums, “Trendswatch 2016,” https://aam-us.org/docs/default-source/center-for-the-future-of-museums/2016_trendswatch_final_hyperlinked.pdf?Status=Temp&sfvrsn=2, accessed November 2016.
- Steve Lohr, “Museums Morph Digitally: The Met and Other Museums Adapt to the Digital Age,” New York Times, October 23, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/26/arts/artsspecial/the-met-and-other-museums-adapt-to-the-digital-age.html, accessed November 2016.