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Alan Brown: New Details Emerging On Interest in Digital Performances

By Alan Brown

TRANSCRIPT FROM VIDEO: "Good morning. Since audience members began sheltering in place at home back in March, arts and cultural organizations have scrambled to roll out a wide range online programs, drawing from digital content old and new. The goal of this work has been keeping constituents engaged in mission-based activities, while they’re unable to attend our programs and facilities. Almost all of this content has been free of charge.

We’re closely following the topic of online programming in our research, and today I have just a few topline observations to share with you based on the first wave of surveys across a number of US cities.

The first graph I’d like to show you charts the percentages of audiences and visitors who say they’ve “…watched any digital broadcasts or other digital content offered or recommended by your organization since the health crisis started. The yellow and green bars in this chart show the percentages of audience members who’ve watched once or more than once. The figures range from a low of 13% for a cohort of New Jersey and Connecticut theatres, to a high of 29% for a diverse cohort of cultural organizations in the Detroit area. Bear in mind that people who respond to surveys tend to be the most loyal and committed audiences. So, the fact that a majority of them don’t engage with digital content at all, or aren’t aware of what’s being offered, strikes me as a little disconcerting.

When we look deeper into the data, we find a great amount of variation in results for this question across individual organizations. The next chart gives you a sense of the variation across different types of organizations within the same city. Here we see an orchestra achieving the deepest penetration for digital content, following closely by a zoo, and also above-average results for an opera company, but much lower figures for other organizations.

It’s important that we don’t see this as a competition with winners and losers. In fact, some organizations might legitimately decide not to prioritize digital programming, or might simply direct their patrons to digital programs offered by other organizations. But looking across the hundreds of organizations participating in the Audience Outlook Monitor study, we find dozens of examples of organizations who’ve managed to deeply penetrate their audience base with digital programs. As time progresses, we hope to bring you more information about the digital strategies and approaches those organizations have used.

Moving on to the next graph, we asked people about a number of different ways they can support arts and cultural organizations during the pandemic, and one of the answer items was, “Buy tickets to live-streamed programs you can watch at home, in case venues aren’t open.” Here you see results for a number of our cohorts, with average figures hovering around “somewhat likely” or just below “somewhat likely.” This suggests that a good number of audience members have positive feelings about buying tickets to live-streamed programs, and a good number don’t. But it certainly suggests further investigation.

The last graph I’ll show you stems from a question about programming preferences. Respondents were asked how much they agree or disagree with the following statement: “Once I buy a ticket to a live performance, I’d like to have the choice of attending in-person or watching a live stream at home.” Here you can see that between 15% and 20% strongly agree with the statement, and another 25% somewhat agree with the statement. There are certainly plenty of folks who don’t want the option of a live stream, but I find it quite encouraging that somewhere around 40% of our most loyal audiences are open to the live stream option, at seem willing to pay for it.

I encourage you to think creatively about what the live stream experience looks like, and how to position it as a distinctly different value-added experience, so that the live stream experience is not just seen as a poor man’s substitute for a live experience, but as a premium educational experience. As time moves along we look forward to gaining more perspective on audiences’ relationships with digital content."


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