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March 16, 2020

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Livestreaming tours bring China museums to life

The COVID-19 epidemic is breeding new forms of sightseeing.

On March 9, the Potala Palace in Lhasa, capital of southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, held a 5G-powered livestreaming tour, the first of its kind by the UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site.

It is reported that the moment the camera began to roll, tens of thousands of viewers swarmed in to take a peek at the 1,300-year-old palace.

As the list of relics being shown grew ­— from exquisite ceramics and jade to imperial robes and boots, from thangka (a type of Tibetan religious scroll painting woven into colorful satin fabrics) to Buddhist sculptures — the number of virtual visitors kept increasing.

According to estimates, the session, which lasted one and a half hours, recorded over 800,000 views in the first hour. The use of advanced technology, most notably 5G communication, enabled a smooth flow of video footage, with little latency. An official at the Potala Palace told media that six experts on relics were invited to be part of the livestreaming tour, explaining in vivid details the history behind the exhibits.

According to him, “routine visits hardly offer this kind of experience.”

Many virtual visitors who toured the palace from afar posted effusive comments, saying they were treated to a stunning visual feast.

“This kind of livestreaming and display, at such close distance, has compensated for what I missed to see during my trip,” says You Lu, a Shanghai citizen who traveled to Lhasa five years ago and claimed that the latest livestreaming stunt had conjured up fond memories.

Empowering partnerships

She also told reporters that she had been following museums nationwide in their latest push to hold livestreaming exhibitions or tours to cater to history buffs as many museums remain closed amid fears of cross-infection. In fact, she’s been to quite a few of them but it was only when they are closed and accessible through the Internet did she realize that lots of relics were unseen before.

She added she was unlikely to visit Tibet again due to health hazards related to altitude sickness. Somehow, livestreaming has helped fulfill her wishes.

In addition to the 5G-enabled live streaming, the Potala Palace also put up 26 pieces of merchandise for sale during the session, another novel experience for the century-old heritage site.

Taobao, a latecomer to China’s burgeoning livestreaming sector, is behind the Potala stunt.

The move to provide museums, galleries and other cultural venues with the digital infrastructure necessary for livestreaming set the stage for further commercialization as it can channel viewer traffic to e-commerce vendors marketing trinkets and memorabilia, among others.

Apart from Taobao, which belongs to tech titan Alibaba, another Internet behemoth Baidu is also leveraging its know-how to partner with museums in rolling out livestreaming services.

For instance, Baidu Baike, a subsidiary under the search engine giant, has planned to release a series of livestreaming programs known as “Civilizations on the Go.” The series aim to take viewers on a virtual around-the-world journey to explore artificial wonders and artworks. The journey began in Barcelona, Spain, where viewers were shown around “Casa Vicens,” Antonio Gaudi’s first masterpiece, and the Barcelona Wax Museum. Broadcast in two episodes, the program was reportedly seen by close to 1.5 million viewers.

By embracing virtual reality, augmented reality, 5G communication and other technologies, many museums have carved out a niche by presenting themselves to the public at a time when people are cut off from international travel due to the coronavirus, which the World Health Organization has now declared as a pandemic.

This is good news to museum curators, who are keen on a balance between arousing public interest in ancient relics and controlling crowds who may have a debilitating effect on heritage protection. Thanks to the mix of new technologies, they can prove to the world that the exhibition of ancient relics can be as stylish and “sexy” as any modern mass entertainment.

Cloud has been a buzzword of late as everything that thrives on the notion of “touch-free services” can be associated with cloud, such as cloud meeting, cloud job interview, cloud tourism and even cloud visit to car showrooms.

Whether this novel experimentation is a fad or has sufficient staying power after the outbreak is over remains unknown. Until then, let’s sit back and enjoy the benefits it has to offer.


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