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Live-streaming from the Museum with Operation Night Watch


On 8 July 2019 the Rijksmuseum started Operation Night Watch. This is the biggest and most wide-ranging research and conservation project in the history of Rembrandt’s masterpiece. The goal of Operation Night Watch is the long-term preservation of the painting. The entire operation will take place in a specially designed glass chamber so the visiting public can watch and will be streamed live online.

How did the Rijksmuseum team make this and supporting digital elements across the breadth of social media platforms happen?


Nanet Beumer
Head of Digital

This presentation was filmed at MuseumNext Digital Summit Autumn 2019

Nanet Beumer: Morning, everyone. I’m so happy to be here today and tell you more about Operation Night Watch. Operation Night Watch, the research and preservation of our most iconic painting of the Rijksmuseum and probably of the Netherlands.

Yeah. So, this is not me, obviously. This is my daughter, Avi, and she likes Operation Night Watch as well. I’m Head of Digital at Rijksmuseum for almost nine months now, and what I really love to do is to connect with people by sharing knowledge and inspiration. And I used to do that with my fintech company; we made sure that everyone had access to financial knowledge, and I’m trying to do the same with art and history at the Netherlands in my role as Head of Digital.

So, you might say communicating about Operating Night Watch, about the painting and what we’re going to do with it, is new, but it’s not. I’m going to show you a movie.

Video/Audio: [in Dutch].

Nanet Beumer: So, as you can see this has all been done before, so the big challenge is now for us to do it again and maybe in a better or smarter way than we did last time. This is in the 1940s. Oh, again. And now, before I’m starting to tell you more about Operation Night Watch, just a few things I hope you did not know about the painting. The painting has been attacked three times, in 1911, 1975, and 1990, with knives and with acid. As you can see here, the painting was pretty damaged back then. And you might also not know that the painting used to be much larger than it is nowadays. There were pieces cut off from the Night Watch; four pieces. Why, you might ask. I think it’s a typical Dutch solution. When it doesn’t fit in the building, then we just…

And then it was time for us to go ahead with Operation Night Watch because the painting was damaged before, and the last preservation research was a lot of years ago, in 1975. And, as you can see, the in-zoom of the little dog, there’s a white haze over it, and we want to learn what is going on with the dog, what can we do to restore it and to help it be better for next generations to come? So now, Operation Night Watch.

In July of this year, only three months ago, we announced we would do the research and preservation of the Night Watch in front of the public eye for the world to see. And we do that because we don’t want to hide our most iconic painting for a longer period of time, and we want people to follow our journey because the Night Watch is not just mine, it’s not Rijksmuseum, it belongs to all of us. And, for us, three principles are very important for the whole Operation Night Watch, and those are, you should follow the journey, we’re open about everything that we do.

And, two, it’s for everyone, so it’s not for me, it’s not for you, for art lovers, it’s also for school children, it’s for art lovers all over the world. It’s also for non museum lovers, so everyone. And, three, we want to have this opportunity as well to not only talk about the research but also talk about Rembrandt in the year of Rembrandt. Rembrandt’s life and also tell stories about the Night Watch, the composition of the Night Watch, the story that Rembrandt wanted to tell us. So, we want to tell you things you might not know, and make stories that make a difference. Tell stories that make a difference.

So, then, we started in July with our first video to announce what we’re going to do. I hope this works.

It’s our first… What you see here is our first time, that video, of the glass house that is in the middle of our Gallery of Honour for people to see what we are doing. And it was so difficult to make this video, as you might imagine, because of security, because of everything we wanted to do with the research, so this was a real challenge for us. But, also, for us it was important to show that this was the staring point for us, and it is a big operation as you can see. And now, to our surprise, we have now about half a million views for only this video we posted organically in our socials. Again, sorry.

And then, just something about the belief that we have in Rijksmuseum, our belief. For us, an online visit is just as important as an offline visit. Some of you may know Rijksstudio, and that’s based on the same belief because we think, and we want, to offer a value visit for everyone, also online. And in the end, hey, there is nothing like the real thing, so one day we hope that you come and visit us and see the Night Watch with your own eyes. And the strategy for Operation Night Watch is to reach out to people and to tell the story, and the first speakers were talking about the metrics, and what we measure for Operation Night Watch is social currency. And what we mean by that is really connecting to people through our art and collection. I can tell you about that more during the lunch break.

And we use our own channels, our own Rijksmuseum channels for that. I’m not talking today about our marketing campaigns or the conversion; I’m talking about our social currency part. So, then, we use in our socials three rules, three basic rules you may have heard of. There’s a clear vision what people consume for content, and that is pitch, play, plunge. These are just general statistics from Facebook and Instagram. About 70% of all people are using online content like this; scrolling down their phones and just scanning headlines or looking at nice pictures, and only 20% are really playing the button, looking at videos, just for a very short while. And then only 10% is really taking the plunge, and we want… Hey, our challenge is to get more people to plunge into our content. That is what we really want to do.

And what I’m going to show you now is just a few examples that we have and made the last three months, but I think it’s more important to share with you that we’re testing, so we keep on testing and I think that is the best way to learn about the audience. So, an example, we’re really taking the plunge with our website,, and with our website, And we’re really pitching and playing and hope people will pitch and play with our socials, as you can see on the right, that’s our Instagram channel. And what we do, for example, with this page, is that we make symmetric landing pages. So, we make versions for family, we make a version for a real art lover, because they all have different needs of content so we try to fit that all in and make different pages. So we have a satellite of websites around our core website,

And then just an example we make for the pitch and play. Because we have a website,, there are a lot of stories, a lot of rich stories on it, but it takes you about half an hour to get through all those stories, and maybe people don’t know the website yet so we want to make a pitch and a play.

So what we’re trying to do here is take people into the plunge, getting them into the story, what we want to tell them. And this is an example of our dedicated Instagram account. What we saw was that, on our own account, Rijksmuseum, we have a lot of stories to tell, a lot of topics we want to share with people, so we don’t have enough space, enough room, for only Operation Night Watch. And we can’t go much into detail as we can in this channel, and it is really, for us, a sort of social document to look back at later on. So we share here all the stories and the insights we have for the whole operation but also on the Night Watch itself, so I hope you will follow it, obviously.

And this is an example what we just started a few weeks ago; a live stream from the Gallery of Honour, from the glass house you just saw in the time lapse, and what we’re trying to do is really interact with people. And we will always start with a question someone has asked us offline or online, and we’re going to answer them in our social, so in all the channels you see here. And a Dutch television broadcaster is using our stream on her channel too, as well, so we’re really happy about that. It is for… It’s a channel two Extra, it’s about arts and culture so it is a specific target group. And on the right you see Daily Show in the Netherlands with our Director, Taco, who is giving a lot of updates about Operation Night Watch. Just some insights that we have learned and that we want to share with the public.

And the live streams, we’ve done now, I think, four in total. What we’ve learned is that we started with some cameras in the Gallery of Honour and just doing nothing at all, so just streaming, letting people see what was going on, but then we got a lot of feedback from our audience, saying, “What is going on? What is the scanner doing in front of the Night Watch? Is it just cleaning the painting or is it taking off varnish already?” So we’ve learned that we have a lot of explaining to do offline but also online.

Challenges, we have them a lot. Recent… in the last three months but also we’re still having challenges, and some of them I can share with you right now. For example, we work with a large group of scientists, researchers, and they’re not used to cameras at all, so… They work in labs behind closed doors so we really have to help them and train them. Because, you saw, we’re doing live streams in front of the camera so they have to tell their story and their updates in front of it, and that is really exciting for them and they’re not really comfortable with it for now. Also, a challenge is to talk about the techniques that we’re using. We’re using a lot of high standard but they are difficult to explain, so we want to tell more about the painting and the techniques are just for us for the side, just for the story… to make the story even better, but it’s a difficult challenge.

Also, the metrics you just heard, what are the metrics that we’re using? Nice time lapse. Are we happy with half a million views? So we’re really struggling with that as well. And videos; we see that videos really work well in our social, but making videos, what you see in the glass chamber in the Gallery of Honour, is difficult because of all the security and all the things that are going on already.

And now I’m going to show you another example. I just told you that we use a lot of questions of our social audience in our videos, and this is also an example of the pitch, play.

Video/Audio: Is it day time or night time? Well, actually it’s day time in the painting but Rembrandt using his light and dark as if it would be night. Would you also like your question to be answered? Send it under #operationnightwatch.

Nanet Beumer: So, what we’re doing here is taking people in to the pitch and play because we have a lot of questions that we’re answering and a big story to tell, and we’re trying to get people to the website through these short videos. And then, just to summarise it all up, we are only three months ahead and we have a lot of months to go, and that is also a big challenge because I think we’re going to do some real work around May, June, of next year, so 2020. So it’s a challenge for my social team to make more stories and to be active about it, but we’ve reached now about four million people organically, so we’re not using any paid media in our socials yet. So, we are happy with it, obviously, looking at our social currency and what that really means to us.

And I think we’ve learned, the last three months, a lot of the behaviour of our public, what people like, what people don’t like. I said videos; they really like very short videos, and that’s why we made the one with Peter, you just saw, answering the questions. But also we keep on interacting with our public and making the live streams even better and giving more context about it. So, what’s up next? I think, at the end of the October, we’re going to start high resolution photography and we hope we discovery some more things about Rembrandt and how he made his painting, especially around the pigments. You see here in in-Zoom of the captain’s sleeve, and we’re seeing the pigments he used, and I hope, I think, it’s going to be a nice story to tell as well, so I hope you will join in then again.

So, as you can see, we’re still in progress for Operation Night Watch for a long time, and for a long time to come because it’s never finished. In future we will keep on working on the Night Watch and I hope you will all follow and join us with #operationnightwatch. Thank you.

Sarah: Thank you very much, Nanet. Great talk. Thank you, and a great… Well, I haven’t visited the digital exhibition yet, but the real one, so if you are in Amsterdam please do visit it, but of course we will visit it on Instagram. So, one question that popped up a lot, what is social currency, how do you measure it? What is it?

Nanet Beumer: Yeah, yeah. Well, we measure our connection with the audience, so it’s not only reach but also the engagement we have, so the time that people really interact with us. So, we have a lot of metrics for that, and I can’t go much into detail but we can discuss it over a coffee, maybe? Yeah.

Sarah: Okay. What happens to the Operation Rembrandt Instagram when the project ends? Do you already know?

Nanet Beumer: What?

Sarah: What happens to the Instagram account when the project ends? Is there already a plan for that?

Nanet Beumer: Oh. So, the dedicated Instagram account for Operation Night Watch is still a bit of an experiment because it’s for a niche, so we’re not really sure what we want with it. So, if you have some advice, please share? Yeah.

Sarah: Go to Nanet in the breaks. We’re still open.

Nanet Beumer: But we’ll… If we want to go ahead with it, I think it will last for a few years, and maybe update it not as much as we do now. But yeah.

Sarah: And we’ve talked about KPIs in the previous presentation. Do you also have specific KPIs for this Operation Night Watch project?

Nanet Beumer: Yeah, we do. So, there are mostly on social currency some really interacting. Not only views but really taking the plunge, like I just showed you.

Sarah: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nanet Beumer: Yeah.

Sarah: You already mentioned a little bit but maybe a little bit more into detail. Did you have issues with the restorators or works council to work under the public eye? Is there some juice you can share with us, please? All museum professionals.

Nanet Beumer: Well, I can share one thing because we had a lot of discussion about what is news. So we had a big meeting and they were saying, “We just saw some feathers on the helmet of one man on the painting,” so I said, “Wow, that’s really news,” and they said, “No, no, we have to look into that and we’re not sure.”

Sarah: Nothing special.

Nanet Beumer: Yeah.

Sarah: Everyone was wearing feathers on their head.

Nanet Beumer: Just some feathers. So, yeah, that was really surprising to me. So we have different way of finding what is news so the press officer said, “This is news, this is for television,” but what we’ve learned also is that everything about the Night Watch is news, so we’re careful with it as well.

Sarah: Oh, interesting. One more question. Let me see, let me see. How do you recognise the various target groups that you make versions for, e.g. art lovers, incidental visitors?

Nanet Beumer: Pixels and tagging, yeah.

Sarah: So, that’s a very short answer.

Nanet Beumer: Yeah.

Sarah: Thank you very much, Nanet. You are also available for questions during the break.

Nanet Beumer: I am, yeah, sure.

Sarah: Thank you so much. Let’s hear it for Nanet Beumer.


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