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The people behind museums: Ciprian Melian, Livdeo

As the co-founder and CEO of Livdeo, Ciprian Melian heads up a business leading the way in inclusive digital solutions for museums and cultural institutions. From camera-based artwork recognition to advanced geofencing and indoor positioning, Livdeo’s award-winning projects can be found in museums and venues around the world.

MuseumNext sat down with Ciprian for a virtual chat to understand how Livdeo is innovating in the multimedia experience space and to get his thoughts on how the future of digital might look as we emerge from the challenges of a global pandemic.

“I’ve been involved in digital for the last 20 years, working on multimedia experiences for cultural institutions in one capacity or another. For much of that time I’ve been focused on the arts and culture sector, and my last business was one of the first to develop cloud-based collections managements systems.

“Livdeo is now my third company and really it feels like a natural transition from my previous businesses. We’ve been running for 6 years and our portfolio of museums, galleries and cultural institutions is growing quickly.”

In setting up Livdeo, Ciprian’s ambition was to create digital experiences that are more agile and, importantly, future proof in a world of fast-evolving technologies. While many multimedia solutions are still based around pre-loaded devices loaned out to visitors, Livdeo’s objective was to enable users to simply utilise their most frequently used possession – their smartphone.

“While we can still use loaned hardware devices, 80% of our projects now use our GEED platform – which is independent of any network and located in a museum’s premises. The platform hosts all media and visit apps, which are essentially broadcast to a visitor’s device.

“The key for us is to take out some of the obstacles that are usually faced with a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) format. Those can include a reliance on 3G or 4G to download an app from a “store” or visit a website.  While many institutions offer guest Wi-Fi as an alternative to mobile networks, this can create huge issues in terms of bandwidth and also data security. Ultimately, it reduces the quality of the experience and sets limits on the experience.”

By using a closed network as their starting point, Livdeo not only ensure safety and reliability for users, they can also enable institutions to develop content and explore multimedia opportunities without limitation – issues relating to data, signal, compatibility or operating system are no longer a concern. Instead, museums are able to focus on creating truly immersive and exciting experiences.

“We believe that anyone should be able to arrive at a venue with their mobile device – be it a smartphone or tablet – and access all the information and content created without barriers.

“Using a web browser on a closed network helps museums to future-proof their investment in digital. Making multimedia experiences available from a smartphone without having to worry about changes to operating systems or hardware specifics is what gives greater confidence that they aren’t investing in technologies that will become dated very quickly or obsolete in the near future.

“The beauty of what we are doing is that using the camera on a smartphone – something most people are now completely familiar with using – we can use artworks, artefacts and objects around the museum to act as triggers, just like you would a QR code. And where a downloaded app might have a database that’s limited to a few hundred or thousand assets, we’re able to have a database of up to 500,000 assets.

One of Livdeo’s earliest projects at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney remains one of its most impressive to date. With more than 4,000 artworks in the MCA collection, Livdeo’s brief was to develop easy-to-use feature-rich digital content that enhanced engagement with these much-loved pieces.

Another key aspect of the project was to improve accessibility through multilingual content and provisions for both visual and hearing impairments. Ciprian says,

“The beauty of the MCA project is that the ongoing management of the multimedia experience can be done easily by the museum using the GEED studio. As collections are changed or exhibitions are reorganised in the museum space, it’s a straightforward drag-and-drop process for video, audio, image and subtitles. That really puts the control in the hands of a museum – something that isn’t typically offered with a self-contained museum app.

“Not only that but the powerful analytics provide insightful but anonymised data on visitor interactions. For both curating teams and marketing teams that can be incredibly useful.”

Adding value with digital

Asked about his reason for starting Livdeo after launching and developing two other businesses, Ciprian says,

“The challenge of solving some of the problems and pain points I could see in the interactive museum space was what excited me more than anything. We founded Livdeo at a time when the demand for digital content in the museum space was growing and the technologies were beginning to emerge that would allow us to really build a solution that would make visitor experiences better.”

Having been involved in collection management in his previous business, Ciprian says that he had always been struck by how much of a museum’s asset library was not in use at any one time. And he says that all too often there was limited supporting content around an exhibition or collection due to restrictions on space – often just a printed description on a wall in poster format.

“Livdeo gives museums the capacity to offer a much more comprehensive and deeper experience.”

In addition to the on-device features available while navigating a museum, Ciprian points out that the same content can be just as useful online. This topic is particularly relevant as we find ourselves a year into a global pandemic that has restricted movement and forced museums to close their doors indefinitely.

“We are having this discussion at a time when visits to museums are not possible in many parts of the world. But that only highlights the potential for building experiences and supporting content around a piece of art or an artefact. That content may be supported through Augmented Reality (AR), through gamification or simply by improving accessibility with multilingual functionality.

“Our starting point is, how do we make it easier for museums to be agile and cater for their audience – no matter where they are, what language they speak or whether they face impairments or accessibility issues.

“In 2020 we helped our museum clients like the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney to utilise their content online. The GEED platform enabled the pivot to mobile visit applications so that visitors could explore exhibitions on a virtual basis. Put simply, we were able to repurpose VR scenes and 360-degree videos, audio tours and supporting articles for a remote audience.

“We’ve also worked with institutions like the Waterloo Memorial Museum in Belgium to move away from the ‘on-loan device’ format to a BYOD solution. Not only does loaned hardware cost a lot in maintenance, it’s also obviously a problem during a pandemic when the idea of passing around physical devices is a health and safety issue.

“In this way we’ve also given the museum greater agility and helped to reduce their overheads in the long term.”

The Future

While Ciprian admits that 2020 didn’t quite go to plan and he expects that the industry will feel the effects of Coronavirus for many years to come, he is still positive about what the future holds for Livdeo and for the growth of multimedia museum experiences. With expansion into the North American market planned for 2021, Ciprian sees potential to provide institutions with the tools and technologies to become more agile in the future.

“This year has not only been a disruptive one, there’s no doubt about that. We are seeing a lot of tragic situations among cultural institutions in places like the USA and elsewhere around the world. For those that have been able to survive, I think we’ve already seen a significant change in mindset and a desire to become more flexible. We know that the pandemic has given people a greater focus on digital but we are also conscious that budgets will be extremely tight and that institutions will have to look at different models to progress their ambitions in the future.

Above: Ciprian Melian speaking at MuseumNext NYC

“It has, of course, caused us to shift the positioning of our solutions as a result. While we believe we can help institutions to develop incredible in-person experiences at venues with a huge benefit to that immersive, on-site experience, we know that museums will now always have an eye on how their content can be used online for those who are not walking through the doors.

“I won’t say too much more about projects we are planning in the future but I can certainly see that, while there will be many institutions that simply want to push out some content as a marketing and engagement tool to keep connections in place, there will also be others who believe – quite rightly – that there are commercial models to be explored online.

“Museums have never been short of people with bright ideas and an appetite for innovation. But the difference right now is that there is now a greater buy-in at C-suite level. As the primary revenue drivers and daily footfall have disappeared, attention has shifted to the pre and post-visit experience more than ever before. This period has shown us that there can no longer be a 100% focus among boards and executives on the narrow specifics of that in-person, on-the-day experience.

“It’s certainly an interesting time. But I have hope that we can see some positives coming out of this period and that in five years museums are thriving and their communities more engaged and stronger than ever.”

You can find out more about Livdeo and its projects by visiting the website here.

About the author – Tim Deakin

Tim Deakin is a journalist and editorial consultant working with a broad range of online publications.

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