The tech giant Amazon has recently launched a new service which allows people to access experts in their field and to enjoy virtual touring experiences. Billed as Amazon Explore, the service aim to boost creativity by showing people how to do something while being face-to-face – over a computer screen – with someone who can offer expertise and insights. As well as providing the opportunity to learn new creative skills in the hands of a tutor, Amazon Explore has the capability of providing a virtual touring experience. It is in this particular area that the museum sector could find very useful applications.
In a world where visitor numbers have fallen dramatically around the world as a result of the global Covid-19 crisis, virtual tours and live streaming presentations have been one of the best ways that institutions have been able to reach their audiences. Amazon Explore may still be in its infancy as a virtual touring platform but it may be a service that helps lots of institutions which have yet to provide virtual experiences with a cost-effective way of doing so. How could the platform work in the museum sector and what are the ways that institutions could monetise their virtual offerings through it?
How Does the Service Work?
Firstly, it should be noted that Amazon Explore is not yet a truly global platform. Anyone who currently wishes to sign up for an online experience or tour through the service must be a customer of Amazon in the United States. Of course, this could well change as the service is rolled-out into other territories but it certainly is a limiting factor for institutions that want to build virtual audiences around the entire world.
That said, the tours and experiences on offer through Amazon Explore are global in their nature. In a world where travel restrictions mean that people are not exploring holiday destinations in anything like the numbers they did even twelve months ago, the service provides a virtual alternative. Consequently, many of the service providers using the platform at the moment provide virtual tourism to some far-off places and overseas cultural landmarks. For example, one operator provides an online wine tasting experience from their vineyard estate in Argentina. There is another course provider who shows subscribers how to make smoked fish tacos from their kitchen in Mexico.
While some of the virtual experiences on offer take users on a tour of some of the upmarket shopping boutiques there are in a given location, others have a distinctly more cultural feel. For instance, with Amazon Explore, it is now possible to sign up for a guided tour of the famous Nanzenji Temple in Kyoto, Japan from the comfort of your living room. There is another one that allows you to explore a mansion in Peru that dates back half a millennium and yet another that explores the world of coffee production in Costa Rica.
Above: Nanzenji Temple in Kyoto
Amazon says that its service differs from other virtual guided tours that are on offer through competitor services, like Google Earth, because all of the ones it offers will be led by local experts. These guides are real people who, according to Amazon, will be trained and supported by the service provider. If that turns out to be the case and the quality of the experience is higher than, say, watching a guided YouTube tour, then the greater individuality of the service could make it much more attractive to institutions where expertise and knowledge is already a differentiator, namely museums and galleries.
Furthermore, the people behind Amazon Explore reckon the experiences on offer through the service are different from anything else currently on offer. This is because they are always one-on-one session between the guide and the subscriber. With a one-way video stream to show the location off but a two-way audio stream over the top of it, Amazon Explore means that meaningful interactions can occur in real-time. The idea is to give the subscribers to the service a more in-depth feeling of being in the place they are exploring. Amazon claims this will mean a more comprehensive experience as opposed to passive consumption from merely watching.
The Possibilities For the Museum Sector
One of the keys to the service is that it allows hosts to provide tailored content that is contextualised by experts. With so many galleries and museums with hosting staff and curators with little to do at the moment, this service could open up new avenues for audience interactions and the ability to teach. It could also do this on a subscription basis, thereby allowing institutions to form a new income stream in the absence of physically present visitor numbers. Pricing over the service varies with some shopping tours starting at as little as $10 a session. However, with access to experts and unique collections, it could be possible to charge at the higher end of the scale for high quality museum tours.
As reported on MuseumNext in 2018, Airbnb offer a similar service called Airbnb Experiences.
Museum professionals may not feel that either of these companies are the ideal partner because of ethical concerns, but this is yet another sign of the shifting digital landscape and increased demand for live streamed experiences while in person visitation is limited.