Sotheby's Auction of the Future Behind the Scenes
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Oct 2020

Livestream Case Study

Sotheby’s has been uniting collectors with world-class works of art since 1744. Sotheby’s became the first international auction house when it expanded from London to New York (1955), the first to conduct sales in Hong Kong (1973), India (1992), and France (2001), and the first international fine art auction house in China (2012).

Today, Sotheby’s has a global network of 80 offices in 40 countries and presents auctions in 10 different salesrooms, including in New York, London, Hong Kong, and Paris. Sotheby’s approached its long-time production partner Chrome Productions, with whom it has been working for over eight years and challenged them to begin imagining ‘the auction of the future.’

The Challenge

In March 2020, Sotheby’s realised that the global Covid-19 pandemic would present significant challenges to their conventional business model for marquee auctions. Without the ability to travel, and with strict social distancing measures in place across the UK, US, and Asia, the traditional auction room setup was impossible to create; however, there was still a need and demand for Sotheby’s to continue with the key marquee summer auctions, with global bidding expected from around the globe.

The Solution

Together, and in only two months, Chrome and Sotheby’s developed and implemented a solution that successfully came to fruition on June 29, 2020. Chrome developed a new virtual event template that enabled the auctions to go ahead by combining client telephone bidding through Sotheby’s experts, online bidding, and state-of-the-art broadcast and streaming technology.

After an intense planning phase, Chrome quickly assembled a global team of 49 across London, New York, and Hong Kong to begin designing sets in each location and implementing a technology solution; this production encompassed sourcing the correct equipment, selecting the best-in-class cameras, and connecting network infrastructures across three continents. Additionally, Chrome worked with Sotheby’s to create over 180 film assets covering every single work of art being auctioned in the evening sale. These video assets were made available online via Sotheby’s digital catalogue for clients to view in advance of the big night.

Joel Mishcon, Founder and CEO of Chrome Productions said, “For us to be able to help one of our long-standing clients completely reimagine, through technology and production, how their business can continue to operate is an amazing success story. You now have a global, high-production-value auction experience that is accessible to people around the world. We have been very careful about how we operate our crews and are ensuring we adhere to all guidelines.”

The Results

The New York Evening Auction combined three separate sales and ran seamlessly across Hong Kong, London, and New York with Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s Chairman and principal auctioneer, orchestrating out of a purpose-built command centre set in London. The 5-hour long show, broadcast on both Sotheby’s website and live on Cheddar TV, was the first-of-its-kind event in the auction world, allowing global, real-time bidding in a high-definition broadcast.

The event realised $363.2 million in sales, led by a Francis Bacon triptych that eventually hammered at $85 million after a fierce 10-minute bidding war between a client on the telephone in New York and an online bidder in China. The Bacon set an auction record of the highest price ever achieved via an online bid, underscoring the ever-increasing appetite for high value purchases placed on the internet.

Oliver Barker, the evening’s auctioneer, said, “To have achieved what we did, and in the space of just a few months, is absolutely phenomenal. In the early days of Covid-19, when we were challenged to reimagine the live auction experience, I don’t think any of us could have imagined we would go on to create a live television event of this magnitude, with a beautiful new auction format and production. Despite my own history as an auctioneer, I will admit that it didn’t seem possible even a few months ago to orchestrate these marquee New York sales via London and around the world. Something this complicated came with its own set of challenges and risks, but the team at Chrome truly distinguished themselves, both in their creative vision and in their execution of the event. I am immensely proud of what we have achieved together.”

“Something this complicated came with its own set of challenges and risks, but the team at chrome truly distinguished themselves, both in their creative vision and in their execution of the event. I am immensely proud of what we have achieved together.”
– Oliver Barker, Chairman and Principal Auctioneer at Sotheby’s

Moving Forward

Following the success of this event, Sotheby’s again engaged Chrome to implement the same process for their marquee summer auctions in London that took place in July 2020. Chrome again produced the entire event, creating over 100 assets and overseeing the whole production. As well as the live broadcast on Sotheby’s website, this event also had the added complication of a socially distanced audience in attendance at their New Bond Street saleroom in London. Similar to the previous auction, this event went off without a hitch, and was broadcast across Sotheby’s social media channels, generating an audience of over 150,000, furthering global media coverage, and realising sales of over £180 million.

“Another extraordinary, slick production from Sotheby’s, with the results to match…these marquee sales are now the public face of the entire art market.” – Wendy Goldsmith, London-based art adviser quoted in The New York Times

“Live online art auctions ‘better than Netflix’ as sales rebound from Coronavirus pandemic” –

“It was a marathon, but Bravo. I can see how this could become full blown reality TV with Sotheby’s broadcasting from Honolulu, Moscow, Dubai…” – The New York Times

“An anonymous telephone bidder paid $85 million for a Francis Bacon triptych during a marathon series of live-streamed, online auctions held at Sotheby’s on Monday that could go a long way to bolstering confidence in the art market amid a global pandemic.” – Wall Street Journal

“Knocked down in lockdown: reinventing auction houses for the coronavirus age” –

“An auction of contemporary, Impressionist, and modern pieces on June 29th showed that buyers are no longer reticent about bidding online for art.” – The Economist

“Sotheby’s live-streamed auction a sign of things to come” –

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