Generation Start-up: Basita connects audiences to cultural performances digitally during the pandemic

The start-up aims to offer the global culture sector a 'safe-landing' and provide artists with an income-generating online platform

The founders of Basita, from left, Reem Kassem, Eddie Hasweh and Adnan Joubi. Basita
The founders of Basita, from left, Reem Kassem, Eddie Hasweh and Adnan Joubi. Basita

At the height of the Covid-19 crisis, the streets of the world’s most vibrant cities fell eerily quiet, with a few lone shoppers, their faces covered by masks, the only signs of life.

However, the digital scene was markedly different, with a growing number of people going online to seek cultural events to relieve feelings of isolation and find comfort amid a pandemic that, as of yesterday, had infected more than 135 million people and killed more than 2.9 million worldwide.

An Abu Dhabi-based technology start-up set out to address the shift in the way people consume cultural content and developed, an online venue that connects global artists and cultural institutions with their audiences globally.

Developed by entrepreneurs Reem Kassem, Eddie Hasweh and Adnan Joubi, the platform offers artists a secure way to share their content online, protect their intellectual property and set their own ticket prices.

Basita also offers paying viewers their pick of performances – from plays to independent films from around the world.

“We wanted to offer the culture sector a safe landing during this time,” says Ms Kassem.

“Everyone was under impression that the lockdowns would take weeks. No one had the vision that this would take longer and that artists would have to find alternative ways to be resilient, self-sustaining and have different revenue streams.”

The pandemic left the art world reeling as lockdowns, travel restrictions and social distancing rules shut or limited the capacity of theatres, concert venues, museums and art galleries.

Global art and antique sales dropped by 22 per cent from 2019 to about $50.1 billion last year and by 27 per cent compared with 2018, according to UBS and Art Basel’s Art Market Report.

Of the 365 global art fairs planned last year, 61 per cent were cancelled, 37 per cent were held live and the remaining 2 per cent held hybrid events.

Basita – Arabic for simple – reflects the founders’ heritage, sounds “catchy and memorable” to non-Arab speakers and is a guiding principle for the business, they say.

“It resembles the simplicity of the platform and the solution itself,” says Ms Kassem.

The platform allows artists to create an account, gain access to specific features, create events, upload content, start live-streaming, sell tickets linked to the events and collect ticket revenue that is transferred to their bank account after the event.

Basita charges its clients 25 per cent of their ticket revenue.

The start-up gives content creators a tool to host online, ticketed cultural events.

The Basita founders say it would be difficult and expensive for artists themselves to set up online events their own apps or websites.

“It is unfeasible for the artists or culture institutions to develop this technology, which needs a lot of money and a team of developers,” says Mr Hasweh, one of the platform’s founders and a digital marketing and communications expert.

The pandemic hastened the use of technology in the arts and culture sector, underscoring the importance of supporting creative content, according to the founders.

“Before the pandemic, people were consuming content online and were used to paying for it, such as Netflix subscriptions,” says Ms Kassem.

“The cultural sector is crucial for the well-being of society and deserves financial support similar to what mainstream content gets.

“During the lockdowns, people turned to cultural content to support themselves and become more resilient mentally ... This momentum is important ... it is the right time to shift to supporting cultural content.”

The platform hosted 23 cultural performances from August to March. Viewers are unlikely to buy a ticket to online events for an artist they do not know, according to a Basita study of their ticketed events.

About 87 per cent of ticket buyers on the platform already know the artist and have an idea of what to expect.

Films, theatre plays and dance performances sold more tickets than music because access to such content was mainly available through physical events while many online platforms offered a range of music choices.

Ticket prices ranged from Dh24 ($6.50) for documentaries to Dh5 for short films, with performances from around the world in countries such as Macedonia, Spain and the UK.

Audiences tuned in from Egypt, the UAE, the US and other regional and European countries.

The founders invested up to $170,000 in the start-up, which is licensed in the Kizad free zone in Abu Dhabi, and they expect to break-even by the end of the year.

They intend to raise $1.8 million over the next three years to fund technology development and marketing costs and introduce a new ticketing service for physical events.

Basita intends to host an average of 20 online events a month and register 10,000 general users and 550 creative users.

It projects the sale of 60,000 tickets at an average of price of $10 and earned income of $150,000 in its short-term one-year plan.

Basita app on tablet and phone.
Basita app on tablet and phone.

Company Facts:

Company: Basita.Live

Date started: July 2020 is the date of the licence was registered in Abu Dhabi while the first online ticketed event was on August 4, 2020

Co-Founders: Eddie Hasweh, Adnan Joubi, Reem Kassem

Based: Abu Dhabi

Sector: technology, arts and culture and entertainment

Size: three full-time employees and one freelancer

Stage of investment: seeking seed funding

Investors: self-funded

Q&A with Basita co-founders Reem Kassem, Eddie Hasweh and Adnan Joubi:

What already successful start-up do you wish you had started?

Start-ups that use technology to disrupt the way people usually do things, such as Airbnb. With we aim to disrupt the way people consume and engage with culture.

What is your next big dream to make happen?

To engage people from disadvantaged communities with culture through the Basita live app.

What new skills have you learnt in the process of launching your start-up?

Reem: I learnt more about technology and its importance to drive the cultural sector forward.

How has Covid affected your business?

Eddie: Covid has inspired the idea of, and is what has kept us sane and resilient during the past year.

What was it like running a business during the pandemic?

We did not have any challenges starting a business during Covid. On the contrary, it was an easy process due to the digitisation of all government procedures. Covid inspired our business idea as we saw an opportunity to use our skills and technology knowledge to offer the cultural sector a tool to become self-sustained and more resilient during a time where its normal operational structure was disrupted. So, Covid was an opportunity for our business. Our business depends on shifting the cultural habits, hence our challenges are not Covid-related but we see an opportunity in how Covid is changing our social dynamics, which help us address this challenge.

What changes in the art world should audiences expect in the next decade?

Reem: Art should not be free all the time. It is about time to shift the cultural habits towards paying for online cultural content. Cultural content deserves the same support that mainstream content gets.

What is next for Basita? Where do you see your business in five years?

Adnan: We envision as the industry leading platform for online and hybrid cultural events, and a tool that helps the cultural sectors worldwide achieve sustainability and growth.

Published: April 11, 2021 08:00 AM


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