Online Cambridge Festival hailed a success with viewers from 173 countries

Sir David Attenborough 

More than 3,000 people watched live an online talk between Sir David Attenborough and broadcaster Liz Bonnin during the Earth Optimism series of events at this year's Cambridge Festival. - Credit: Toby Smith + CCI

This year’s inaugural Cambridge Festival has been hailed a massive success with viewers watching online from 173 countries.

The festival, which ended on Sunday, April 4, following 10 momentous days of over 350 free virtual events, has chalked up well over 100,000 views so far. 

This makes the Cambridge Festival, even in its first year, the largest and most successful University of Cambridge festival ever – and one of the UK’s most successful online festivals in the last year.

The number is also expected to grow as people continue to watch the various talks that have been uploaded to the university’s YouTube channels.

The inaugural Cambridge Festival attracted online viewers from more than 170 countries.

The inaugural Cambridge Festival attracted online viewers from more than 170 countries. - Credit: Cambridge Festival

David Cain, one of the festival managers, said: “People have really responded to the festival being digital this year and the advantages that brings in terms of watching on demand and from a location that suits.

“Over 1,000 people were involved in putting on the festival and we are so thankful to them all; the speakers, coordinators, university departments, research institutes, museums and many more all fully embraced the online element this year.

"What is particularly astounding is that for many it was their first time of working in this way.

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“We also know our social media engagement has been incredible with interactions on a scale never seen before.

"For example, from festival launch in late January to date we have seen over 1.5 million impressions across our social media channels, and our total net audience growth on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is almost 7,000 per cent.”

Sir David Attenborough 

More than 3,000 people watched live an online talk between Sir David Attenborough and broadcaster Liz Bonnin during the Earth Optimism series of events at this year's Cambridge Festival. - Credit: Toby Smith + CCI

The final day of the Cambridge Festival ended on a high with Sir David Attenborough discussing his hopes for the future of our planet with broadcaster Liz Bonnin during the Earth Optimism series of events.

More than 3,000 people watched it live – and many more have watched it on catch-up since.

There were over 2,500 comments from people across the world, including Australia, Canada, Thailand, Greece, Turkey, America and more, as they chatted with each other on the live chat feature during the hour-long YouTube premiere.

There was a poignant moment during their talk when Liz Bonnin stated that she had had a “lightbulb moment”.

Liz Bonnin

Liz Bonnin - Credit: Casey Gutteridge/Archant

Liz went on to explain that she had suddenly realised why so many loved Sir David; most people alive today had grown up listening and watching his programmes and had therefore “imprinted” on him.

Unsurprisingly, the festival was marked by the considerable interest from viewers in those events showcasing cutting-edge research into many of the issues concerning all of us, including talks on young people’s mental health, COVID-19, climate change, democracy, legacies of enslavement, artificial intelligence, human rights, and Black Lives Matter.

How the NIHR CRF were needed across the CUH campus during COVID-19.

How the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Facilities (CRF) were needed across the CUH campus during COVID-19. - Credit: Cambridge Festival

Of these events, one of the most watched to date is the discussion between Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter and Tim Harford about what exactly all the numbers brought to us through the overwhelming daily reports related to COVID-19 mean.

Other highlights included a live talk and Q&A with Professor Dame Jane Francis, director of British Antarctic Survey, on the first day of the festival, which saw people tuning in to watch from a staggering 20 different countries.

While Helen Scales’ event, The Brilliant Abyss, offered a stunning look into the deep sea and ended with Helen’s emotive message about deep sea mining: “There are places on this planet that are too important and too special… We don’t have to keep telling the same story of exploitation and depletion.”

The Museum of Zoology’s Battle of the Beasts.

The Museum of Zoology’s Battle of the Beasts proved popular. - Credit: University of Cambridge + Julieta Sarmiento Photography

On a lighter note, other popular events included the Museum of Zoology’s riotous Battle of the Beasts, and the engaging exposé regarding the influence on British culture of the mistresses of Charles II.

Also noteworthy was the fascinating talk about poo – which is, apparently, the daily activity that makes people more human.

Because we excrete bacterial cells when we poo, we become more human as proportionally there are more human cells in us afterward!

There were lots of events for children to enjoy online during the first Cambridge Festival.

There were lots of events for children to enjoy online during the first Cambridge Festival. - Credit: University of Cambridge

David Cain added: “The success of the festival is also due to the thousands and thousands of festival-goers who viewed or took part in these online events – testament to the immense interest people have in the world around them.

"We’re now looking forward to the 2022 Festival, which, given all the positive feedback, we are planning as a mixture of both online and in person events.”

Many events are still available to watch via the various YouTube channels. 

Further information about the Cambridge Festival can be found at www.festival.cam.ac.uk

The festival's sponsors and partners are AstraZeneca and RAND Europe.



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